2016 saw Art X Lagos, West Africa’s first contemporary art fair, burst onto the scene in Victoria Island. Two editions in, and it is already poised to become a leading art fair on the continent.
Founded by lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Tokini Peterside, Art X is an annual showcase and celebration of art from West Africa and the diaspora. With live musical performances, talks from industry insiders, and a plethora of workshops, the atmosphere is far from the typical gallery-type exhibition. Last year’s fair featured 65 artists, 10 different countries and 14 international galleries.
Art X Lagos brings a combination of the established and the emerging, and the effect is a vibrant mix of artists who each have a distinct voice. In 2017, the works of Yinka Shonibare MBE graced the centre, and Access Bank Collection loaned the fair a group of wooden sculptures by Ben Enwonwu MBE, the leading figure in Nigerian modernism. Lemi Ghariokwu, iconic illustrator for Nigerian musician Fela Kuti’s album covers, put some of his collection on display.
At the same time, young, up and coming artists also get the exposure they deserve; to name but one, twenty-two-year-old Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu showcased a collection of surrealist paintings entitled ‘Birthscape’.
Nigerian Tokini Peterside began developing the idea of Art X Lagos in 2015 while studying for her MBA at INSEAD in Paris. Peterside was inspired by her experience at the Venice Biennale that same year, and more specifically by Okwui Enwezor, the first African to curate the prestigious exhibition.
“One of my favourite parts of ART X is its boutique nature – it is possible to see everything and everyone…My favourite pieces were all by female artists, including Zanele Muholi, Nandipha Mntambo, Virginia Chihota, ruby onyinyechi amanze and Modupeola Fadugba” – Hannah O’Leary, Head of Modern and Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s London.
Peterside recognises the need to ‘expose and give greater visibility of African artists’, and with this goal in mind, she took a risk, making the career change to her dream vocation, curating art. Bringing the idea to fruition in less than two years, Peterside has set out to be the ‘business backbone to the many creatives [she] admired’.
Art X Lagos has a number of partners and sponsors – the foremost sponsors include Access, Absolut and the Ford Foundation. The artwork and activities are carefully curated by a selection committee. One member is Missla Libsekal, an art writer and entrepreneur in her own right, who founded the contemporary art and design journal ‘Another Africa’. Libsekal was responsible for curating the panels and special projects for the 2017 edition.
At the fair, visitors are invited not only to spectate, but to participate. Artist Olalekan Jeyifous brought to the fair a ‘colouring bus’, a danfo which could be illustrated on by audience members. Jeyifous is one of the many artists to facilitate audience collaboration at Art X; Whitespace Creative Agency, one of the event’s partners, has curated a series of interactive projects featuring artists such as Dipo Doherty and Queen Nwaneri. These projects aid in the organisation’s mission to make the art world less ‘other’ and more accessible.
The live musical performances are an integral part of the fair, as they address Tokini Peterside’s concern that there exists a ‘disconnect’ between art and music, film and fashion. To tackle this, Art X Lagos has Art X Live!, in which musicians and artists perform together on stage in a ‘dynamic live collaboration of visual and sound artists’. Musicians who have performed at the fair include Williams Chechet, Wavy the Creator, Poe, Tomi Thomas, and Osaze Amadasun.
“…what we often see is a one way cultural (not to mention economic) exchange. ART X represents home-grown and sustainable structure that makes the world come to Africa, not the other way round.” – Modupeola Fadugba, multi-disciplinary artist.
Contemporary art is a conveyance of message, and at Art X Lagos, recurrent themes in the past editions have been society and politics. For instance, Tunde Alara’s project, ‘Smile’, explored the themes of mental health and drug abuse. Furthermore, in an industry that is dominated by males in terms of management and income, a large proportion of the galleries featured at the fair in 2017 were run by women.
The fair aims to have visiting artists, collectors and curators form lasting relationships in order to ‘magnify the patronage of African artists across the continent’. It is an objective that has already borne fruit; Art X has kickstarted artists’ international careers, with a number of them having been offered representation and acquisitions for their work by international galleries.
One of Tokini Peterside’s motivations for the fair is to ‘democratise the art world’ by welcoming people from all walks of life. She recognises the importance of engaging the younger generation of artists and art lovers, tomorrow’s creators and collectors, in order to keep the art world thriving and moving forward.
The first edition of Art X Lagos attracted 5000 visitors. The 2017 fair greeted 9000. Peterside and her team have achieved a landmark in the African art world. As it gains traction worldwide and finds new, innovative ways to build on its success, Art X Lagos has the promise of being a regular beacon for African and diasporic art. If you are in Nigeria at the end of the year, this event is well worth a visit. Keep up-to-date with developments on this year’s fair by following @artxlagos on Twitter and Facebook.