Art X Lagos: West Africa's International Art Fair Returns Bigger and Bolder
We catch up with Art X Lagos founder Tokini Peterside on what to look forward to as West Africa's international art fair returns November 3.
One of West Africa's largest art fairs, Art X Lagos, is back for its second installment with bigger and bolder offerings. The three day event running from November 3 to 5 will showcase contemporary African art from 15 countries and feature 14 galleries representing African artists on the continent and the diaspora.
"This year we have more international galleries," Tokini Peterside, founder and director of Art X Lagos, says. "We've added a gallery from the UK, Cameroon, Senegal and Ivory Coast [to the initial list of galleries from] Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Mali. So there's greater diversity across Africa and the Diaspora."
Though the fair's format remains unchanged, with the talk programs, collaborative performances between artists and musicians and the Instagram contest Art X Prize all making a comeback, several new additions were made. Guests will be treated to two art videos in the screening room as well as curated projects loosely based on the theme of the artist as citizen.
The interactive projects curated by A Whitespace Creative Agency will feature four artists painting and drawing in real time, a danfo bus for attendees to put their coloring skills to use, and a photography session by Lubee Abubakar who will snap adhoc portraits of randomly selected visitors.
The talks and special projects curated by Missla Libsekal will explore materiality and the way artists respond to their environment using everyday scenarios or materials to artistically document stories. One such artist is Yaw Owusu from Ghana, whose metallic sculptures have turned the defunct and 'worthless' one pesewa coin into something of value.
Also among the curated items are Rahima Gambo's photography project on the impact of colonialism and the Boko Haram insurgency on education in Northeastern Nigeria, and Ben Enwonwu's 57-year-old wooden sculptures which have never been seen in Nigeria.
What's more, limited edition enthusiasts can snag one of 10 Absolut vodka bottles etched with red smiley faces courtesy of the inaugural Art X Absolut Commission. Olatunde Alara, the 25-year-old artist behind the design, will also display a large installation piece in keeping with the "Artist as Citizen" theme. His exhibition, "Smile," aims to stimulate conversations about mental illness, a taboo subject in Nigeria.
Another new addition to the line-up is the interactive project "A Conversation With," which will connect university art students with visual artist Victor Ehikhamenor and photographer Uche Okpa-Iroha.
"I wanted to have university art students who are on the brink of commencing their careers as artist for them to have an opportunity to converse with artist who are succeeding," Peterside says of her decision to create the intimate roundtable talk. She adds that it was important students heard from industry insiders about the struggles and triumphs of working in Nigeria as an artist.
This year's talks program will look back on FESTAC '77, known as the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture that captured the imagination of Nigerians 40 years ago, and also explore Fela Kuti's legacy through the lens of Lemi Ghariokwu, the artist behind the Afrobeat musician's album covers.
Peterside intuited the focus on Fela would be new and different because "we're looking at Lemi's role as the chronicler of Fela's era. We'll be showing material he's never exposed to the public, sketches [and] illustrations that he drew [for Afrika Shrine's weekly newsletters]."
The latest recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant, Njideka Akunyili-Crosby will also give a talk about her work as an artist.
Based on the success of the inaugural event, Peterside expects a larger crowd than the 5,000 she received last year. But when prodded to provide an estimate, she demurred. "I'm not going to share it," she said amid laughter. "I'm not going to jinx it. But I have a number in my head, […] a number that feels right based on everything I know we're doing."
Asked what she hopes attendees will take away from the fair, Peterside paused briefly in thought. "I want people to feel enriched, and by enriched I mean in an intellectual way. I see Art X Lagos as an educational, enriching experience. There's so much to learn within the context of visual art, there's so much conversation that we haven't had so far [and] I want Art X Lagos to be the channel for that this year."
ART X Lagos was 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. 3 through Sunday, Nov. 5 at The Civic Centre in Victoria Island, Lagos.