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Women artists walk in grim, gender tale – Part 2

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Njideka Akunyili-Crosby’s I Refuse to Be Invisible (2013). PHOTO: Courtesy of the artist


Though women in the arts have suffered under-representation and been written out of the history books, some are demystifying the art space, which is helping them to make the desired statement. One of such female artists is Njideka Akunyili-Crosby.

Akunyili-Crosby is exploding the myth of ‘authentic African experience’. Her art “negotiates the cultural terrain between her adopted home in America and her native Nigeria, creating collage and photo transfer-based paintings that expose the challenges of occupying these two worlds”.

Akunyili-Crosby mixes the classic academic western technique with her personal life, Nigerian and American culture and African traditions. She composes scenes from her everyday life between two countries, using western elements like portrait and still life to realise non-western scenes. Her work always features scenes of intimacy of she and her husband. She carefully chooses and integrates different materials into her painting, especially small photographic paper pieces. Nijdeka’s art is a personal metaphor of memory and the definition of her identity between two societies.

In May 2018, Akunyili Crosby set a new auction record with the sale of her painting Bush Babies for nearly $3.4 million at Sotheby’s New York.

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While creating, she thinks of her dual audience: American and Nigerian. However, her work cannot be categorised as either American nor Nigerian, but rather the work is an autobiography based on her “character that doesn’t fit into a box.”

Akunyili Crosby’s approach focuses more on syncretism. She has incorporated photo transfers and fabrics to bring in different aspects such as hair styles, fashions, architecture, and furnishings from the two cultures.

She uses photos she has taken herself in Nigeria along with family photos and pages from popular Nigerian magazines. The photos “are layers in her work by collage and acetone-transfer prints, creating a fabric of images throughout her paintings”.

Onyinye Ezennia
A multidisciplinary artist and member of Female Artist Association of Nigeria (FEAAN), Ezennia expresses herself through different medium of art; social/documentary photography, visual communication design, serigraphy, exploration with light and sound, which won her the prize for originality in 2014 at the Life in My City Art Festival (LIMCAF).

In her exploration of string art, which won her the overall winner prize in 2016 LIMCAF and finalist in Visual Art Competition organised by Spanish Embassy in Nigeria, 2018 and 2019 , she showed the growing confidence in young and contemporary artists. Her exploration with threads and nails has shown her as an artist with patience and precision.

Anthonia Nneji Chinasa
Chinasa, whose paternal forebears, were traditional carvers and masquerade carriers, is one of the young ladies gradually making impact in the sector.

“My grandfather carved totems for traditional worship. My father was also a carver but I didn’t know him much because he died when I was a baby. But I still have some walking sticks, figurines and others that he did,” she said.

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CURATORS
Tokini Peterside

Peterside is the founder & CEO of ART X Collective. The London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)-trained lawyer has a vast experience in Africa’s art, culture, fashion and luxury sectors.

In 2016, Tokini reconfigured the company and created ART X Lagos – West Africa’s first international art fair, which holds yearly, and to-date, has welcomed 31,000 visitors and over 300 of Africa’s leading artists. The company (now rebranded ART X Collective Limited) also owns and organises other platforms such as the ART X Prize – the leading arts prize in Nigeria for emerging artists; and ART X Live! – a dynamic show that merges visual art and live music; amongst other projects.

The fair has been described as “West Africa’s calling card for contemporary African art fairs” and has featured exhibiting artists and speakers such as, El Anatsui, Yinka Shonibare, Njideka Akunyili-Crosby, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Barthelemy Togou, Nastio Mosquito, Godfried Donkor, Zanele Muholi, Nandipha Mntambo, Victor Ehikhamenor, Olu Amoda, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Modupeola Fadugba and Girma Berta.

Ugoma Adegoke
Adegoke brings a tireless and energetic presence in her work as a creative entrepreneur. A cultural curator, she trained as an economist and corporate finance professional. Now, she directs the workings of the award-winning design brand, Zebra Living, producing experiential events and programmes inspired by Nigeria’s rich cultural and multi-arts heritage, previously under the auspices of The Life House, which she co-founded. She is also the founding director and chief curator of BLOOM Art and the festival director of Lights Camera Africa Film Festival.

She has curated and produced art exhibitions with exciting and accomplished visual artists. She has successfully closed several private secondary market transactions, placing invaluable modern and contemporary artworks in the collections of some of the continent’s greatest collectors – works by Ben Enwonwu, Ben Osawe, Obiora Udechukwu, Yusuf Grillo, Gani Odutokun, El Anatsui, Uzo Egonu, and more. She was invited to participate as an ambassador in The African Art in Venice Forum, during the opening of the 57th Venice Biennale. In the same month, she was selected by the German Consulate General and Goethe Institut as Nigeria’s representative to attend a special segment and one -week curated immersion of documenta no. 14 in Kassel, Germany, one of the world’s most important modern and contemporary art festivals since 1955.

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Sandra Mbanefo Obiago
Obiago has spent most of her career in the creative industry as a filmmaker, social activist, media for development specialist, and recently as an art curator. Before going into arts consultancy, she had travelled around the African continent, photographing the Sub-Saharan region and dealt with different situations that marked her life.

For the lady, who, art is something that brings light and joy to the lives of people, since 2016 when she founded the SMO Contemporary Art, an art consulting company, she has dedicated herself to innovate ideas in the visual narrative, curating artistic exhibitions in unconventional places. An example is the Wheatbaker Lakes, a boutique hotel that now has a space of curators of art.

Kehinde ‘Kenni’ Ekundayo
Ekundayo is an independent art curator based in Lagos. Specific about modern and contemporary African art, she has curated exhibitions around the country. Her professional practice began in March 2017 with a group exhibition of amateur photographers and has grown to curate key projects involving the revered legendary artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya and Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, in various media ranging from drawings and paintings to film and photographs, texts and installations, amongst other art forms. She is the head curator at Galeri Odumije, an outfit she recently established and which operates out of Lagos, Nigeria.

Adenrele Sonariwo
Sonariwo, an entrepreneur and art curator, is the founder of Rele Art Gallery on Military Street, Onikan, Lagos, as well as the Rele Art Gallery on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, California. Rele Gallery is the first African contemporary art gallery to establish an outpost in Los Angeles. Sonariwo was the lead curator of the first Nigerian pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017.
She founded the gallery in 2010, though it didn’t kick off as a physical space until February, 2015. In 2011, while the idea of the gallery had started taking root, she attempted to start an arts university in Nigeria which she called The Modern Day School of the Arts.It was “a pop up art school for art lovers who may be stuck in a different career.”
In 2017, Sonariwo became the lead curator of the first Nigerian pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale. She was joined by writer and art critic Emmanuel Iduma as associate curator. The edition was themed Viva Arte Viva and the Nigerian pavilion featured the work of Victor Ehikhamenor, Peju Alatise, and Qudus Onikeku.

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Nana Sonoiki
Sonoiki’s widely known in the Nigerian visual art ecosystem as the back end organiser of the several products that Arthouse has delivered, in its 13 years. Her last big project with Arthouse was The Zaria Art Society Exhibition in November 2019, in which she coordinated with artists on collection of works, documenting them, set up, catalogue production.

Sonoiki left the Chellarams’ owned Arthouse Group last February, after 13 years as manager/specialist. She has been busy from day one: Her new gig, Art Pantheon Limited, is handling the logistics; packing, crating and shipping of Peju Alatise’s show How we live together at the Venice Biennale, which has now been postponed till 2021.

Art Pantheon’s first public outing was Dotun Popoola’s Metala at the Metropolitan Club on Victoria Island, in November.
The company is also set for a group show featuring Peju Alatise, Ndidi Emefiele, Gerald Chukwuma and most likely, Osahenye Kainebi , scheduled for March 2021.

Jumoke Sanwo
Jumoke Is a storyteller, cultural interlocutor and the creative director of Revolving Art Incubator. The facility is an alternative art space established in 2016 as a platform for multi-creative engagement and contemporary art discourse with a focus on emerging and mid-career artists through collaborative projects, presentations, and exhibitions.

The English Studies graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, works primarily in photography, video art and virtual reality, reflecting on self-perception and separation, experienced through time and space, while engaging the realities and complexities of spatiality in postcolonial societies. She began exploring extended reality (XR) in 2017 as a possible tool for storytelling and digital conservation.

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