At just 26 years old, Oyinkansola Dada is creating the art world of her dreams.
Named one of Forbes’s 30 under 30 in its 2023 Arts & Culture category, the young Nigerian gallerist is stoking the flames of the international art world as she spotlights African artists, and marches the continent’s blossoming creative scene to center stage. Dada is a full-time solicitor, and part-time gallerist living in London after having moved there from Lagos, Nigeria to pursue a law degree at King’s College London. While waiting to convert to training as a Solicitor, Dada moved back to Nigeria to surrender to the energy of homecoming and explore Nigeria’s emerging art scene.
Now, the emerging art mover and shaker is connecting continents, both in person and through her online art publication, DADA Magazine, an art collector’s dream dedicated to highlighting the unfathomable talent found in the motherland.
Image courtesy of Oyinkansola Dada/Okra Agency
POLARTICS and a London law degree
Dada began her ascent into the art world in 2015, when she started her online art blog POLARTICS, while in her second year of law school. “It became a very fundamental part of how things grew into what they’ve become,” she told OkayAfrica. “I wrote about art, politics, and the literature that I was reading and just sort of shared my thoughts on the things that I liked. And then I’d post it." The exposure saw Dada seek out more opportunities to engage with the art world by attending exhibitions, shows, and museums to get a keener understanding of the people behind the creations. Perhaps one of the most underrated gifts that exploring art can give is the tendency to trigger a rediscovering of self — something that Dada can speak to. “It was also a very important time in my life because I started to understand Blackness and my identity,” she said. “Moving to London after living in Nigeria, and what that felt like, and really understanding my place in the world. That was the beginning of everything.”
This introduction was enough to inspire Dada to use her experience to carve out physical space for all of the Black and African creators she connects with along the way. Presently, DADA Museum’s first manifestation sits in London on a temporary basis. “We don’t have to hold the space all year long. So, it’s not quite permanent, but it’s still a physical space,” the gallerist said. Next on the agenda is carving out a permanent gallery in Lagos to fully embrace and house Nigeria’s buzzing art scene. The benefits of an online gallery are great, but, as Dada puts it, “With art, a lot is lost by looking at images”. The young solicitor’s recipe for prioritizing community engagement and support seems to be one made for success. Dada’s bi-continental experiences have given her a certain advantage— assimilating to the needs of two markets and cultures that undeniably bleed into one another.
Spending time between the two bustling cities guided and championed Dada’s decision to create a physical space in Lagos, hopefully opening up later this year. The city is home to a community of artists that has galvanized Dada’s desire to emerge fully into developing and nurturing the talent that is so often overlooked. “It just feels like home to me,” she says, “It’s more personal.” And the importance of community sits at the heart of Dada’s “why”, as the gallery owner explains, “Apart from selling art or finding collectors, physical spaces and exhibitions are sites of engagement and for building community. I think for an artist to grow, both in their practice and in their career, it's very important for them to engage with people in person and let them see the work with their own eyes. London presents chances for expansion because there’s a lot happening in terms of market activity. Although there are amazing artists in Lagos, we also need international exposure.”
Staying close to her roots ingrained in the internet, the curator launched DADA Magazine in December 2022, highlighting the maturation and artistic exposure that Dada has experienced since her first online-based project POLARTICS. “I thought there was a gap, in terms of art magazines and representation of Black artists, and I wanted to fill it.” Dada favored extending the conversations beyond seasonal exhibitions, creating a community of engaged audiences who could interact with one another all year round. “It’s something that anybody can buy, at any point,” Dada said. “I also wanted some sort of knowledge bank and archive for younger collectors and art enthusiasts that are trying to figure out and demystify the art scene. It’s not a magazine that’s hard to understand or too critical.”
The relationship between African artists and the internet has been shown to be mutually beneficial. Having an online presence offers interconnectedness and the ability to be discovered outside of an artist’s own space, something Dada has witnessed firsthand. The discovery of new cultures and artistic approaches isn’t just set for international audiences, either. Africa is home to a myriad of styles, ideologies, and crafts, and Dada continues to learn and grow alongside her company in understanding the range and reach. “It has been eye-opening to experience things that are just so different from where I’m from and to be able to travel. It’s been good to come out of the bubble of what I understand. I think a lot of times people think that their reality is the only one that exists.”
Image courtesy of Oyinkansola Dada/Okra Agency
Dada bases a lot of her work and outreach and an inherent desire to build community
Her wildest dream for the continent and industry lies in something that comes naturally to Africans — community. To center ourselves and rid Africans of the historically compromising act of participation. A world where artists on and from the continent can be self-sufficient, with the support of institutions that affirm creators, collectors, and galleries in their pursuit of personal and professional success. Too often, African stories of triumph become stronger the further away you get from home. Although Dada is still a full-time lawyer, the decision to pivot toward the art world did not initially sit well with her family. “In the beginning, there wasn’t any support, so I had to do a lot of it on my own, with the assistance of any other artists who were willing to take a chance. I would have liked to get an art degree, but it just wasn’t a possibility.” And then, the Universe stepped in: “I got funding from the firm that I was working with while at law school. I was able to save money and plant the first seeds of the business. That’s how I was able to get started otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible.”
Arguably, rejecting creative education or careers is a common theme within generations of Africans. And it makes sense. Many are forced to make those choices based on survival, not passion. However, as institutions grow – in both funding and their ability to offer serviceable degrees and experiences – so will the tolerance for those who are artistically inclined. “It needs to be seen as something that’s valubale,”, Dada says. “An actual career path. Then, I think people would be more incentivized to let their children do it.” As we continue to see ourselves in positions of power and leadership, the reality of what is achievable widens for those who look like us.
Issue #1 of Dada Magazine is available for £29.95.