Art X’s Melting Pot

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Art X is not x-rated but it signifies a looming meeting of all artists and their various artistic expressions in visual and media arts with a touch of music in Lagos. Yinka Olatunbosun reports on a recent encounter with the founder of this rare art fair, Tokini Peterside

Since her childhood years, Tokini Peterside has been a huge fan of the art. This affinity, fanned by her mother’s close relationship with artists as well as her collection of works, caused her to aspire for a degree course in history. But her father wanted her to study law which she did excellently.

Over the years, she cultivated friendship with the art community; totally inspired by their artistry and enthralled by the profound intelligence embedded in every good piece. When she can, she collects some but more importantly, she toyed with the idea of a big art fair where art works from Nigeria can be appreciated by a larger audience.

That’s the genesis of her idea of a three-day contemporary art fair scheduled to kick off on November 4 at the Civic Centre, Lagos. This all-weekend affair is targeted at people of all age bracket to experience the African narratives told through a wide range of eclectic pieces. Peterside sounded excited about this event which brings 14 galleries on board.

“Lagos is a city with a tremendous history in art and in the global art world,” said Peterside over a large fruit jar atop the table between her and her reporter-guest. “The ‘X’ also signifies the unknown factor because we are a different, unknown art exhibition. We are a lot more inclusive. We have a kind of art project that you have never seen at an art exhibition in Lagos.”

Art fairs had been a frequent sight in major cities of the world such as Paris, London and New York. But for Africa’s most populous city, this is a first. And it’s not to be seen as a replication of the existing model for art fairs worldwide because a lot of independent artists are also allowed to showcase their works alongside established artists from big galleries. Curated by Bisi Silva, the fair offers interactive sessions, live photography studio where people can enter, pose and take all kinds of pictures. Peterside argued that the fair would really be different from the regular.

“You are not likely to see walls that had been designed for you to walk in and paint freely and interact with the artists in other art fairs,” she explained. “At Art X Lagos, you may see one or two artists doing live painting; individuals from the creative sector and we’re bringing music and art together to create a visual and audio piece. We have taken some of the core components of the regular art fairs to use. Lagos is a very vibrant city and it has a massive young population that needs to be engaged. So, we are creating something that works. Each year, we will be adding to that fair, we will take away things that won’t work and replace with new ones until we are able to create our own model.”

Although this commercial art fair doesn’t have a select theme, the guiding principle has been the commitment of the artists to professionalism. Most of the select galleries have participated in art fairs outside the Nigerian shores and are very experienced in selecting high-quality works for the show.

“Five of the galleries are international while nine are drawn from Nigeria. We have galleries coming from Ghana, South Africa and Mali. We also have Art Space coming from Abuja as well. The artists are from all the different parts of the country,’’ she said.

The choice venue for this fair is in itself a melting pot for Lagosians living on the Island as well as the mainland. The first floor of the building is for the talk and speaker series while the ground floor is for some special exhibitions. The drinks and food, which by the way come at a cost, will be put at the water front.

For Peterside, the recent opening of the Museum for African American Art is an eye-opener to the void in our national culture of preserving our artistic heritage. She believes that the government needs to play a much bigger role in rehabilitating national museums for the efforts of the public and private sector to come to fruition.
Regarding the talk sessions at the art fair, Peterside disclosed that two formidable artists will be spot-lit.

“We are going to be looking at the careers of two of our most formidable artists based here,” she said. “We are privileged to have Bruce Onabrakpeya to have conversations with Sandra Obiago. Even more exciting is that we will have El Anatsui to come and give a talk at our event. Just last year, he won the lifetime achievement award at the Venice Bienniale. You don’t often hear him speak at events and we have a session on women artists. This is something Bisi Silva is very passionate about.

We have a session on the rise of cultural enterpreneurialship. We will be looking at different entrepreneurs in the culture sector that are getting it right. We also have a session on art collection that is on how to collect art; how to develop a collection if you are a beginner and if you are an experienced art collector, how to evolve your collection that it becomes an institution of sorts.”

For those who worry about the current economic recession, there’s no better time to invest in art works but now. Works by Nigerian artists are gaining popularity in the global space and the virtual environment has made it easier to access foreign collectors. Besides, Peterside shares the sentiment of the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed that the creative industry is the next crude.

“The thing about the creative sector is the potential that it has in Nigeria’s economy going into the future. In the UK, arts and culture alone contributes to 12billion pounds of GDP annually. In the US, I think in the last three years, the art and culture forms 32 per cent of GDP growth.

We talk about diversifying away from oil and the creative sector is a sector to diversify into because in terms of resources, all we need is talented people and we have them.”
For those who find this idea of ART X Lagos intriguing, access to the venue is free of charge but you have to be registered to be admitted, be it on the fair’s website before the show or at the venue.