Arts + Culture

ART X Lagos Founder Tokini Peterside on Celebrating Creativity and Reconnecting Art to Pop Culture

ART X Lagos founder Tokini Peterside speaks on the art fair as the nexus of Lagos' art scene and more with Okayafrica.

If there’s anyone qualified enough to orchestrate Nigeria’s first art fair, it’s Tokini Peterside. The woman behind the strategy and consulting agency, the TP-Collective, has dabbled in various pockets of Nigeria’s creative industry. From her involvement with Nigerian designer, Maki Oh to her work on Alara, the Lagos based concept store designed by David Adjaye, ART X Lagos is a natural progression for the creative maven.


In conversation with Okayafrica, Peterside explains the uniqueness of the ART X Lagos platform, offers insight on how the fair can help structure the Nigerian art economy and reveals what ART X Lagos attendees can expect from the fair.

Ashley Okwuosa for Okayafrica: How did the idea to start ART X Lagos come about?

Tokini Peterside: It came about in a number of ways. For starters, I love art, but I’ve always loved art in a very passive way. From buying art, I’ve gotten to know certain artists and certain galleries, and in the course of developing my company, the TP-Collective, I was paying more attention to the conditions of creatives in Nigeria and the amount of sheer talent that isn’t being put to its best use because of the many obstacles and challenges they face. After this, I started thinking, 'Why doesn’t Nigeria, the second largest market for art in Africa, have its own annual experience where we bring the international world and we bring out the best of the local community to come and see what our artists have to offer?' And that’s the genesis of ART X Lagos.

How do you think ART X Lagos will help structurally change the way the art industry in Nigeria operates?

I think ART X Lagos will help in a number of ways. If you’re looking at structure in the art economy, one of the things you need is for the international and global community to be able to engage with local art. Even smaller countries like Senegal have fairs like Dak'Art Biennale where everyone in the global art world descends on Dakar every other year to see what’s happening in the art scene in Senegal and that becomes a nexus for artists around West Africa to come and showcase their work.

I think that just by virtue of the connection, ART X Lagos will help artists and gallerists establish and develop their international base, because what ART X Lagos does is provide this one focal point in the year where key decision makers in the global art world can come to Lagos and experience what we have to offer. I think the second thing is that ART X Lagos will help artists and galleries form better relationships. For now, a majority of the artists in Nigeria aren’t represented by galleries and what we will start to see is certain artists and galleries developing more formalized business relationship, which is so crucial if artists are to maximize the potential of their careers. The final contribution is that ART X Lagos will provide a platform for a new wave of artists, who are younger and very exciting, to come and show their work to the biggest collectors in Nigeria and West Africa. We’re very passionate about ensuring that the next generation of African artists can also have a seat at the table.

Tokini Peterside, founder and director of ART X Lagos. Photo courtesy of ART X Lagos.

There’s something inherently Lagosian about ART X Lagos. Other than the location, Lagos is infused in the programming and the way the event is marketed. What is it about the essence of Lagos that makes it the perfect city to host Nigeria’s first art fair?

Lagos is a beast of a city. First, Lagos is the commercial and cultural capital of Nigeria and also, Lagos is where you have a very large chunk of the country’s art community. Artists are working in Lagos, galleries are set up here, art foundations are here and it’s not to say that there aren’t pockets of activity in other parts of the country, but Lagos is the nexus, it’s where you have the real concentration.

Also, a lot of the younger artists are based here—they are studying at University of Lagos and Yaba College of Technology, which is one of the foremost art institutions in Nigeria, so even just amongst the millions of young people who are aspiring to be artists, a lot of them are here. If you look at an art fair for what it is, it is an opportunity for commercial relationships to develop and for commercial exchange to happen, and it has to happen in a city with a large group people who have the spending power to buy the art. Lastly, for those of us who grew up in Lagos, this is the city where want to be involved in its change and improvement. I’ve been thinking about how to contribute to Lagos my entire life, because it’s home and it’s a phenomenal place.

The response to ART X Lagos has been incredible, what has that told you about why now is the perfect time to introduce an initiative like this into Nigeria’s art scene?

I’ve been blown away by the response to ART X Lagos. I was amazed at the number of people who said that ART X Lagos is going to inspire a number of young artists and open up contemporary art, which right now is open to a very small group. People understand that ART X Lagos is going to celebrate creativity, which is something that we know is boundless in Lagos and they know it’s going to reconnect art to pop culture. Also, in addition to people recognizing that it’s a good opportunity, so many people connected personally with the project and that led to so much support. In the art community, I’ve met so many people who are excited about what ART X Lagos doing. My inbox is inundated with young people emailing me and saying, “I love to draw, can I show you my portfolio? Is it possible to be a part of this year’s fair?”—and I’m not getting junk. The emails I’m getting are great quality stuff, which makes me think ‘Why is this person not known?” So I’m really excited to see how people respond to the fair and I hope we meet their expectations.

As a consumer of art what do you think about the trajectory of contemporary artists in Nigeria and their move toward using pop culture as a form of inspiration?

With art, I think that is just the natural order of things. If you go back to the Renaissance period, a lot of the art that was produced reflected the times that they lived in. So it’s been weird to me that in the past, there has been a disconnect between the art we produce and the natural hustle and bustle of the city. Now we’re seeing more art that reflects the spirit of people, we’re seeing art that’s inspired by the spirit of the city in which we live, the dynamism, the energy and the youthfulness. This art is coming from an undercurrent of young artists who really have their finger on the pulse and who want to tell the stories of our time.

Living in a digital age has also democratized things a little bit, because there are artists that galleries and curators don’t know who have several thousand followers on Instagram. The answer to your question is that this shift towards pop culture was meant to happen and ART X Lagos is merely a vehicle to bring it all together and ensure that we don’t develop another disconnect between the art that’s produced and the time that we live in.

What do you want people to take away from their experience at ART X Lagos and how will it be different than other art fairs around the world?

I really want people to walk away feeling a deep sense of admiration for the talent they will see on display and I want them to be inspired by it. I want them to have fun, and what we’ve done with ART X Lagos is that we’ve tweaked the art fair model and added things that you wouldn’t see at a regular art fair and that’s because we are building this art fair for Lagos and we understand how the people of Lagos are. Lagosians are not very passive people, they want to get involved in things and interact, so we’re bringing out so many features that you usually wouldn’t see at an art fair. For example, we’ve thrown in a live studio where artists are painting and drawing live, at your typical art fair, you’ll see one but at ART X, we have about six artists who will draw and paint live over the three days of the fair. We’ve got Intersections, which is a project between four musicians, four visual artists and one producer creating a work of art on stage, we’ve got a photography studio with vintage portraits that Kadara Enyeasi is going to be doing. We’ve also got the coloring wall by Karo Akpokiere and the artist has drawn this massive work of art that people are going to be able to color in. So we’ve really thrown a lot of features that aren’t in your typical art fair, but it’s 100 percent an art fair—it’s just a different kind of art fair designed uniquely for Lagos.

What are your hopes for the growth of ART X Lagos?

I want us to engage more young artists and I want us to focus on pop culture and see how we can reconnect art with pop culture. The other thing we really want to develop is the #ArtXPrize, with this call for artists we got several hundred entries and I know that next year we’ll be receiving several thousand entries. I want ART X Lagos to be that platform for the discovery of exceptional art talent, I want us to unearth the next crop of emerging art stars so when you come to ART X Lagos, you know you’ll see the next big art star.

ART X Lagos is a new art fair created to widen Nigeria’s connection to the contemporary art scene across Africa and the world. The three-day affair will run from Friday, Nov. 6, through Sunday, Nov. 8 at The Civic Centre in Victoria Island, Lagos.

If you missed our preview on ART X Lagos, have a look here.

Check out ART X Lagos’ website for more information, and be sure to keep up with them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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(Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images)

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