By Prisca Sam-Duru

It’s astounding how the Nigerian art industry has evolved over the years; thanks to practitioners, galleries and few available collectors. 

Last Sunday, one of the leading art galleries, Rele Art Gallery, recorded a milestone when it opened its new space on Thomson Avenue, Ikoyi Lagos, thereby, saying goodbye to its previous location at Onikan, Lagos; a space it occupied for seven years.

The fun-filled event that marked the opening of the new gallery space was not without the main reason for which Rele was established. And so, the new space opened May 1st, 2022, with “Subtle Textures”, an inaugural group exhibition featuring works by Osi Audu, Annick Kamgang, Sedireng Mothibatsela, Kelani Abass, Papa Omotayo and Temitayo Ogunbiyi. The exhibition explores the generative qualities of drawing and line in creating composite forms and spheres of knowledge.

The art show which runs till Saturday, June 11, 2022, features artists working across diverse themes in dialogue on modes of mark-making and image production, through a build-up of component parts, simultaneously creating and archiving language and visual experience. The works on display, loosen drawing from the associative, presenting it as an independent form and challenging traditional ideas of technique and material.

 In ‘Subtle Textures’, drawing is considered across process and form, a layered artistic dimension by itself, capable of crafting complex narratives and worlds, as well as acting as a site for the production of self, memory and parallel realities. The art pieces, interrogate the qualities of line, light and shade, while examining the poetics of drawing and its two-fold capacity to represent and to invent. 

With the new gallery space in Ikoyi, a blank canvas for the playing out of future possibilities, the fluidity of drawing and its capacity for transformation, forms an essential starting point. Here, line becomes a promise, one of vast potentiality reproducing endless possibilities in space.

The exhibition investigates nego-tiations between artist and medium, graphic line and background. From Osi Audu’s construc-tivist drawings to Annick Kamgang’s illustrations to the ethereal smoke drawings of Sedireng Mothibatsela, we are ushered into considerations of the possibilities of representation as well as formation of visual elements and landscapes.

Founded in 2015 to act as a critical interface between the African and international art worlds, Rele Gallery according to its founder, Adenrele Sonariwo, “is a dynamic contemporary art gallery with two locations between Lagos, Nigeria and Los Angeles, USA. We represent and exhibit a fine selection of emerging and established artists working across diverse media in Africa and the diaspora”.

Enthused for finally relocating to a much bigger space, Sonariwo, explained that “We wanted something bigger and as you can see, this place is a much bigger space. This shows how we’ve evolved overtime as well as our strong commitment to the art in Nigeria. After 7 years we felt we’ve outgrown the space. This is also reflective of how we’ve grown in the last seven years. This offers more visibility for the gallery as we aim to encourage people to be interested in African art”.

On the title of the inaugural exhibition, Sonariwo said “I think ‘subtle’ is very reflective of a lot of things that we do here at Rele gallery; we are not loud with our approach and we want to retain that. In building our brand, we’ve taken a very calm approach. Over the years, we’ve been able to grow more artists while bringing many more on board and it comes with a lot of responsibilities; knowing that no artist is more important that the other, we have to constantly meet their demands. This space means we can have multiple exhibitions and programming happening concurrently; there’s also enough space to explore. For instance, if you want to do sculpture, unlike at Onikan, we have more than enough space for that”.

 “So, we are excited to finally open to the public after a lot of challenges. We are committed to the art eco-system and will keep showing the endless possibilities in the industry. As much as we can without overstretching ourselves we want to continue to support artists to make great impact. When I see the artists we’ve worked with and how their lives have changed, the ripple effect on the entire society is amazing”, she added.

The curator, Adeoluwa Oluwajoba disclosed that “The exhibition is looking to show artists who work in drawing because we are looking at drawing as sort of foundational basic elements in the creation of works”, adding that “The exhibiting artists engage in the possibilities of creating works, as well as in the idea of subtle textures because of the fluidity of drawing; it can be very attractive but sometimes understated. It is the idea of blank space where a lot of things can happen; several ideas, narratives and expression of diverse materials can come up.

”Papa Omotayo is the CEO/Creative Director of MOE+ artARCHITECTURE and the founder of A Whitespace Creative Agency (AWCA). His work is focused on redefining pragmatic African modernism through collaboration with contemporary artists.

Kelani Abass studied at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, graduating in painting with distinction. He has taken part in several residencies and workshops including Malt Air, Maltfabrikken, Ebeltoft, Denmark (2020), Headlands Center for the Arts, San-Francisco, California (2018), etc. 

Annick Kamgang who was born in Yaounde, is an artivist (political cartoonist, illustrator and graphic novel author) whose works engage feminism and franco-politics. Working between digital and traditional media, her drawings combine the ideals of traditional representation with illustration.

 Sedireng Olehile Mothibatsela earned a degree in General Art from Maryland Institute, College of Art. She is a teacher and studio artist with a long span in art education. Her works explore layers of identity and personal emotional journeys, employing minimalism and abstraction.

Temitayo Ogunbiyi explores the relationships between environment, line, and representation. Moving between mediums, her work links current events and anthropological histories and aims to build diverse communities from her perspective as a Nigerian-Jamaican-American.

Osi Audu is a Nigerian-American multimedia artist whose work explores the dualism of form and void — the tangible and intangible, as it relates to the body/mind experience. Audu’s Self-Portraits, which refer to the intangible self, rather than a literal portrait of the artist, investigate issues of identity and social concepts of the self.

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