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.

Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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