Arts + Culture
ART X Lagos founder and director with BOJ, Odunsi The Engine and Amaarae at the ART X Live! event. Photo courtesy of ART X Lagos.

Here's What Went Down at the Third Edition of ART X Lagos

We revisit what made West Africa's premier international art fair the place to be in November.

The third edition of ART X Lagos was a meaningful celebration of African art. Held one more at The Civic Centre in Victoria Island, it attracted thousands of guests from all over the African continent and the world. The three-day event kicked off typically, with an elaborate VIP preview evening full of African royalty, dignitaries, people of public interest and art enthusiasts in attendance.

There was a great amount of care taken to enhance the experience with a Tuareg-inspired VIP room designed by Alara Lagos, another Nigerian trailblazer in the realm of African arts and culture. The room, which would later host artist talks, was filled with intricately decorated chests, drapery and furniture that resembled a North African sultan's palace, complete with a 10-foot poster of the nomadic herdsmen in their typical setting: on camels, riding through the desert with no signs of life around. The alluring and mystical nature of the Tuareg lifestyle was realized and contrasted by cocktails, champagne, high fashion tastes, and guests from a wide range of fields who all congregated for this enhanced ART X Lagos experience.


Photo courtesy of ART X Lagos.

Photo courtesy of ART X Lagos.

The art fair followed suit in terms of range and the eclectic nature of the weekend. Ben Enwonwu's Tutuwhich was recently auctioned for $1.2 million, making it the most expensive piece of contemporary African art to be sold at auction—was a highlight of the fair. Yinka Shonibare MBE was this year's 2018 ART X Lagos keynote artist, who gave a talk and curated works, selecting an array of mixed media sculptures, video and books for viewing. During his talk, he provided his take on art-related matters relating to Nigeria and his practice, which are inseparable in the context of his artistry. He also announced that he would be opening a creative living, working and public space in Lekki.

"This being our third edition, the turnout was hugely exciting for us because we brought more Pan-African diversity to Lagos and Nigeria than ever before. What we saw was Lagos attract the best of its city, the continent and even visitors from all over the world," Tokini Peterside, founder and director of ART X Lagos, says.

Yinka Shonibare MBE. Photo courtesy of ART X Lagos.

Photo courtesy of ART X Lagos.

The ART X Live! event went down at the end of day two of the fair. The program was truly a celebration of African youth while fusing the old and the new. Odunsi The Engine was tapped to be the creative director of the shindig by Lanre Masha of Trace TV. The audio visual experience was lively with performances by Boj, Amaarae hailing from Ghana and Teni the Entertainer—who closed the show with her typical part-freestyle, part-rehearsed performance—where she used interludes to talk about millennial takes on life, as well as promoting Nigerian unity. A Yoruba performer using an Igbo call and response to greet the crowd, welcoming and acknowledging the different tribes of Nigerians that could have been in attendance before ending with the words, "We are all one Nigeria."

Joiné aka BaiLikeDubai opened up the night and DJ Aye! ended the musical festivities with an eclectic set of old Nigerian hits, contemporary afro soul and afrobeats, hip-hop, R&B; and house music. Guests were dripping with sweat as they danced the night away typical Lagos fashion—by doing the most. The ART X Lagos team and even the guests invaded the stage—a sight to see. There was also visual art by artists Chukwuka Nwobi, Fadekemi Ogunsanya and Tomisin Akinwunmi where their work centered around the theme of "Old Nollywood." Photographer Stephen Tayo was on ground, taking portraits of guests against a backdrop designed by Nwobi.

Photo courtesy of ART X Lagos.

Photo courtesy of ART X Lagos.

By day three of the fair, red dots (signifying an item has been sold) scattered across the exhibition space. Nigerian painter and sculptor Gerald Chukwuma of Accra's Gallery 1957 sold an impressive 12-foot installation to the Nigerian Stock Exchange. "Gerald Chuckwuma and Gallery 1957's situation is emblematic of what ArtX Lagos is and what we stand for, which is this idea of collaboration across the continent to celebrate African excellence," Peterside adds. "The situation of Gerald—working with a Ghanaian gallery and a British gallerist as an Igbo-Nigerian artist selling in Lagos—just shows the extent to which this is an all-embracing platform."

And she is right in saying so. There have been rave reviews from the exhibiting galleries, some of which are first-time participants and other galleries that have been around right from the very beginning. "All our galleries were very excited about the response to the work that they brought and the new connections made," Peterside sayd. "For example, one of our new galleries from Ethiopia completely sold out the work they brought to the fair. And we had another gallery from Spain that brought work by Aboudia, Evans Mbugua and Sadikou Oukpedjo that did very well at the fair as well—and these are just two [galleries] to name about the sales made and connections they forged."

Nike Davies-Okundaye and Tola Wewe of Nike Art Gallery exhibited a collaboration of paintings done in traditional Nigerian style. Lemi Ghariokwu, who is represented by Bloom Art, was a repeat exhibitor and personal stand out artist. His pair of paintings titled, brain drain and repatriation, depicted scenes of a Nigerian flag with people running away from it as it fell in the former, while having the same multitude of people rushing towards it, helping others hold it up in the latter. A comical take on Nigerian current affairs in typical Lemi Ghariokwu fashion.

Photo courtesy of ART X Lagos.

Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru. Photo courtesy of ART X Lagos.

Cyrus Kabiru of Kenya was another standout artist at the fair. His afrofuturistic sculptures made from found materials were on display against an all-black exhibition space and was one of the most unique installations at ART X Lagos. Speaking with the artist, one would get a sense of the importance of ART X Lagos for African art and artists. "I have a lot of fans out here in Lagos," Kabiru says. "Many direct message me on Instagram to send messages of appreciation and it's important for me to be here because this creates the opportunity to connect with people who love my art."

African artists and galleries from Uganda, Sudan, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, the USA, Zimbabwe, the UK, France and St. Maarten all congregated in Lagos for this year's fair. Speaking with Joost Bosland, director of Stevenson in Cape Town and Johannesburg, he touches on the international significance of the fair. "It is so easy to use London, Paris and New York as points of reference when thinking about the international presence of our artists" he says. "But Lagos, Dakar and Nairobi are equally important coordinates."

Photo courtesy of ART X Lagos.

The interactive project curated by A Whitespace Creative Agency included Mad Horse City, a multimedia experience of the futuristic imagination of Lagos in 2115. It comprised a graphic novella, a series of evocative vignettes and a set of virtual reality environments by artists Olalekan Jeyifous and Wale Lawal. The animated film was only a testament in itself to the burgeoning animation space in Nigeria. Lagos Drawings was also an immersive and interactive exhibit that combined touch, digital technology and sound as an artistic representation of Lagos. Four installations by Karo Akpokiere, G. Rizo, Toba Oyefeso and Desmond Okeke were featured where the artists were called to make four illustrations that will play a sonic scape relating to the scenes being depicted, bringing all the elements into an immersive experience.

"Ultimately, as what we aim to do is position Lagos as a cultural capital globally, this year's fair shows more than ever that ArtX Lagos is that essential catalyst for the positioning of Lagos as a global cultural capital," Peterside concludes.

"We created ART X Lagos to position Lagos at the forefront of this cultural explosion that is happening across Africa, and in doing so I felt it was important to embrace and involve the rest of the continent in that conversation. The fact that the continent, country and city are responding is hugely exciting. This is our third edition, but for many people, ART X Lagos has become an unshakeable institution. All we can do is get set for our fourth fair in 2019. We have many projects we want to launch between now and then, because we see ourselves as the ultimate catalysts and that's the role we want to play."

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Photo still courtesy of YouNeek Studios.

The Official Trailer for 'Malika: Warrior Queen' Is Here

Malika surely means business in the clip that sets the scene for YouNeek Studios' newest animated pilot.

After much anticipation, the new trailer for Malika: Warrior Queen, starring Nollywood's own Adesua Etomi, is finally here.

In the trailer, we already see the Warrior Queen fearlessly stand up to defend her people against enemies who have set their sights on seizing her expanding empire of Azzaz. Facing threats of invasion by foreign cultures, Malika now has to decide how to fight a war both inside her kingdom and outside of it.

"War is coming," she declares.

Malika: Warrior Queen was executive produced by Niyi Akinmolayan of Anthill Studios. The series has been three years in the making, with a two-part comic series already available for reading; and even more so in line with YouNeek Studios' mission to create stories inspired by African history, culture and mythology.

Joining Etomi in the cast are Femi Branch, voicing Chief Dogbari, Deyemi Okanlowon, voicing the WindMaker and King Bass, Blossom Chukwujekwu as Abdul and Sambassa Nzeribe, voicing General Ras.

Check it out below.

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All photos courtesy of Remi Dada

Afropreneurs: Meet the Designer Reinventing Nigerian Workspaces

Remi Dada's Spacefinish is shaking up design to create futuristic work environments for African companies

In the digital age when a fancy rectangle in our pockets can find us whatever we want, customize it and deliver it to our door, it's odd that the same thought process isn't also applied to physical space. Why does every parking lot feel exactly the same? Can waiting rooms be designed to make time pass more quickly? How can we bring these new standards of personalization into the areas where we live our lives?

Nigerian designer, Remi Dada, is doing just that. With both architecture and business degrees, Dada started his career in tech working in user experience and product marketing–eventually ending up at Google Nigeria. Once he started working in the office however, Dada didn't find it to be an environment that sparked inspiration or productivity. It felt more like rooms with tables and chairs rather than a place that nurtured new, progressive ideas. Luckily, the perfect project presented itself: redesign the office. Dada jumped at the opportunity to meld his practical knowledge in user experience with his love of design and architecture–and the result turned some heads.

Thus Spacefinish was born, a pioneering design company based in Nigeria that works with companies to transform ordinary office space into beautiful and functional environments that increase productivity and employee satisfaction. I spoke with Dada about the purpose of Spacefinish, the importance of design in the workspace and the unique properties of designing in Nigeria for Nigerians. Read on for insights from the design entrepreneur on the impact of spaces and what the future holds for the company.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Nereya Otieno for OkayAfrica: In your experience, how important is workspace environment in Lagos? How is it viewed?

It hasn't been prioritized. A lot of employers do not invest heavily in their employees and you can see that in work spaces all over the world. Now, people are also beginning to understand that high-performing employees–especially millennials–want to work in a space that inspires them and with people who inspire them. Right now in Nigeria it is still very new.

We've been able to measure how companies have been performing prior to us renovating their space and afterwards. What we've seen consistently is that our spaces help with employee retention, they help with collaboration and they help with inspiration. One important thing that we always measure and that we try and add to our design is what we call 'PIC.' PIC is the measure of productivity, innovation and collaboration–now we can track that within a workspace. These three key things are the pillars of how we create better work spaces.


A sketch showing plans for a space in the PwC Experience Centre, Lagos.

With that data, it's probably pretty simple to pitch Spacefinish to a company. But what was it like in the beginning to try and sell the first Spacefinish idea outside of Google? You're essentially coming into a stranger's space and saying 'you're doing this wrong.'

True. We were very lucky in that the first space we did was a Google office. It's Google. Everyone aspires to have a workplace like Google and people visiting the office were curious about how a space like that could exist in Nigeria. So there was a lot of interest but no commitments. Our first real commitment came from a company called Andela, a tech startup aspiring to be like the spaces you see in Silicon Valley. But they were looking to create a space just to meet their capacity and meet their head count, that was all. They thought they wouldn't be able to afford what we'd done for Google.

I went and pitched for them to do something different instead of creating the standard, generic workspace that we've all seen. Then I took our approach: connect the expense and cost of that project to the potential output of the team working there and how that could affect the company's bottom line. When we do that, it becomes an easier conversation to have. Once we are able to connect with the key decision makers and give them metrics they actually care about—like it's not about having a pretty space but about having a space that will allow people to achieve their short and long-term goals—they tend to be more receptive.

A meeting room at the Google offices in Lagos.

Do you feel like a bit of a disruptor or trouble maker?

I would say when we started we didn't feel like a disruptor. For me, it felt very natural because it was in line with what I was hired for and the world I was coming from. When you work at Google, you tend to live in an innovation bubble. So we didn't feel like disruptors while it was happening, but when we got people's reactions—the industry's reaction—then we realized that what we were doing was actually groundbreaking and very new to that part of the world.

Okay. And then what do you do after that? You just keep poking at that nerve?

Yeah. [Laughs] So what happens after that is the floodgates open up and we start to see a lot more demand than we can handle as a company. That gave me the confidence to quit my job at Google and do this full time. We are now starting to figure out how to do it to the best of our capacity at the same level, and sometimes surpassing, what our peers are doing across the world.

What do you find is the most important element within the workspace? How does Spacefinish highlight that?

People are the most important element in the workspace. One CEO said that his team was very unruly—weren't well composed. There is a mentality that we all subscribe to, especially coming from Nigeria where you see people at the local airports not obeying the rules. But those same people, as soon as they land in Heathrow, they're suddenly very compliant. They're the same people. The only thing that changed is their environment. New spaces can cause people to change their behavior—they morph into the space. For that client, the leadership was very happy that their team members began acting in the way they wanted them to act when we changed the space. The psychology of the whole thing is very interesting. That's why we take a human-centered approach to design, with a lot of qualitative and quantitative research before we begin.

View of the Vibranium Valley warehouse workspace in Lagos.

I'm originally from California and I grew up in Silicon Valley–it's a very peculiar place simply because of the concentration of resources. There are surely different challenges for a developer in Nigeria versus one in Silicon Valley. What is the most unique thing for you, after all your travels and experience, that makes designing for Nigeria special?

That's a really good question. You rarely find imagery of inland Africa that is progressive and modern. The first time in recent times was the Black Panther movie and that's why it was so huge. Kids could see a different version of what Africa could be in their collective imagination. I'm making this correlation because that is what I think is different for us, from a design standpoint. For example, the Google office in Nigeria looks very Nigerian. It has a lot of cultural nuances and it is locally relevant to the region, however it is a very sophisticated and modern space with all the right technology. There's videoconferencing, micro-efficiency, access control and security but with the backdrop of an African space. When people see that, it feels very fresh and new and there is so much content that we can use to inspire–from artwork to traditions–and we infuse all those things in to the spaces we're creating.

Do you have a favorite space you've done?

All the spaces we've done have been fantastic. But I think my favorite to date is the PwC office, it is an innovation hub and a huge cultural departure for PwC. They are more or less known as a rigid, stoic brand and they wanted a space that defied all of those things. So we created an innovation hub that was super, super, super futuristic and the first of its kind in West Africa. Anyone who knows interior fitouts understands that lines are straightforward but curves are complicated. This space has a lot of curves. That's difficult to do anywhere in the world but 10 times more complicated in Nigeria because we just don't have access to the right tools and technology that you will find elsewhere. But it came out very well and that has been my most exciting space so far.

A look at the PwC Experience Centre, Lagos

Was it also the most challenging?

It was, yes, because of the design ideas we wanted to achieve. We have things like revolving doors that were inspired by the hobbits' shire in Lord of the Rings and a single workstation that extends across the entire space. There are a lot of lights, floating elements and Nsibidi—an ancient African writing system that we used to create a new language. The artwork is very deep and gives a timeline of different instances in Africa where technology has inspired innovation. It was a very involved and challenging project. But we do the challenging things because we feel it allows us to move forward and push boundaries.

Sure. It's exciting for you and everyone you work with but also, I'd say, for the local contractors and artists doing the artwork.

You know, that is something that we do differently. Most architecture firms just design but we design and build. We do that because, when we started, no one in the market really understood what we were doing. We were asking for materials that didn't exist so we had to create our own. Also, everything we do is local, we don't import anything–which can be an even bigger challenge. But we want to know that we are helping to build industries here in Nigeria, we want to help fix the lack of resources in this part of the world. We could import but it doesn't help the community and economic infrastructure in the long run.

A meeting room in Vibranium Valley

I think the first time our impact hit me was when we were building a place called Vibranium Valley. That's been our biggest project so far: a 2,000 square meter office that was built in a massive warehouse. I went there on a Wednesday one day and we had over 200 people working in the space. And for the first time I was like, "Wow, we really have the ability to create jobs as well." It put things in context for me.

Are there any plans to venture outside of offices and corporate workspaces with your human-centered approach? Classrooms, waiting rooms, etc.?

We are actually about to embark on our first non-office project. We are designing and building the interior of two international airports in Nigeria: Lagos and Port Harcourt. Two very massive projects that we couldn't say no to because...no one says no to international airports [Laughs]. So it's a good way to toss us into things outside of the workspace. So everyone should come fly to Nigeria and check it out when we're finished.

Catch Nereya on her Instagram here.

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Still from 'Harriet' trailer.

Watch Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman In the Moving New Trailer for 'Harriet'

The highly-anticipated biopic about the life of the iconic freedom fighter is due out on November 1.

Back in 2017, it was announced that Tony-winning actor and singer Cynthia Erivo would be taking on the role of the iconic freedom fighter Harriet Tubman in the upcoming biopic Harriet. We've been anticipating its release ever since, and today, the trailer for the buzzed about film has finally arrived.

The moving and climactic trailer sees Erivo delivering a convincing performance as Tubman. The film follows the hero's journey from escaping slavery to becoming a legendary abolitionist and freedom fighter. Here's the official description of the film via Shadow & Act:

Based on the thrilling and inspirational life of an iconic American freedom fighter, Harriet tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and transformation into one of America's greatest heroes. Her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.
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