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I Am Creative With Adenrele Sonariwo

I remember the first time I met Adenrele, I think one of the first things that we ever talked about was her attempt to set up an art school and what caught me on was the passion to which she spoke about it.

So it’s rational to drag her into my corner and talk about how she has transformed the art exhibition and selling platform in Nigeria

As a beautiful and humble princess I had to be very formal with her *wink* yes she is heavily packed. So she walks in and I start out with my traditional manner of questioning.

My name is Aderele and I am an art lover. Over the years, everything I have done has been in the art related field, developing and growing the industry, appreciating and collection of art. I lean towards visual arts as opposed to any other art and I have been doing this for about 6 years now.

 I started from trying to start a school as mentioned earlier to exhibiting artistes she says.  Even though the art school did not work at that point, it is still something I intend on doing. Thinking of other areas I could keep in line with the aim of getting people to appreciate art more made me focus on training and exhibitions, so I will set-up classes where we have short courses in editing and writing. I had some guests lecturers help out and I am grateful to them, I mean I had to create a relationship with the people in my industry (she laughs).You never know who is watching so if you are doing something, do it with everything you’ve got.

The very first exhibition I did in 2010 didn’t turn out the way we anticipated. So one of the first major lesson I learnt as a creative was appreciating failure as an opportunity to do more. For every creative person that has a goal there are going to be tough moments, there are going to be moments when you lose a lot of money and fail.

I had a drive to do something impactful and over the years I kept doing small exhibitions in living rooms and even then things were not working but I was motivated to continue. A moment for me was about 4 to 5 years ago when I did an art salon with good artists in my living room as an exhibition space. Truth is you need to do your best, so I did my best with that project and I even sold my car because I needed some more money, I did not know how I was going to cope after the exhibition but I just knew I needed to do the exhibition so after that someone came up to me and was impressed with my attention to details. This conversation gave birth to Re.Le Gallery as we know it, things started picking up from there.”

With my mouth ajar after few minutes all I could ask was “what did you study?” (I mean I had to say something to hide how shocked I was by her story)


I did my first degree in accounting at Howard University in the US. And I spent 4 years working in an one of the largest Audit firm back in the US as well, I have always wanted to work in the creative industry but you can’t get everything at once, as an average African parent would rather have their child study a course like accounting or engineering because it brings financial and job security. So I would get involved in recruitment activities, newsletters or anything that was a bit more creative than accounting and numbers. I knew I wanted to be a creative so if I wasn’t doing this, I probably would be doing film or documentaries because I like hearing peoples stories. So I went back to school to study Arts and Multimedia communication to learn how to communicate people’s stories.

My first challenge when I moved back was getting creative good Graphic designers and developers to work with and I know a lot of talent abounds here in Nigeria, so I thought if we had a formal art and creative school, we would be able to create a knowledge exchange atmosphere where people can learn and feed on each other’s knowledge. So with the school’s momentary setback I kept looking at the vacuums to be filled and I identified the challenges faced by the younger generation of creative visual artist who I don’t want to call the underdogs, but who do not have the opportunity to showcase their works in the big galleries and they are really creative and passionate. So I started with this group of people in living rooms and small spaces, but realized how expensive it was to rent a small space for the long or short period for which an exhibition has to go on for art lovers to see, appreciate and buy.

With the investments that created the Re.Le Gallery we were able to setup a place in a prominent location where art lovers can come to appreciate and buy art. Discovering a good young artist and watching them grow brings joy but realizing how the young mind is willing to freely create is the most exciting thing for me I am thrilled by art that both excites and provokes.

Our passion for young artistes has led us into creating a project for young artists called YOUNG CONTEMPORARY, this project identifies 5 artistes yearly that work in various mediums, doing interesting things and we profile them showing their arts and get corporate brands to sponsor. One person will get a grant that allows him/her to take short courses abroad, visit art fairs, buy art supplies and materials for them all financed by the gallery. Currently we have some artistes donate their art-work with proceeds that will go into the grant.  It’s our own way of showing we believe in them and we want them to go and develop.”

To my question of what and how she sees the industry she says; “All I see daily are gaps that need to be filled. The visual art space is a challenging space to be in and it will continue to grow and there are a lot of creative people doing exciting things. People want to raise the bar and so when people are doing crazy things, you tend to up your crazy as well. So that is what is happening in the space today, people are doing crazy things and other people want to better their game so I think it’s going to keep going that way.

 For people trying to be creative, I’d say you have only one life and if you are not sure about what you are currently doing and you don’t have that luxury to quit your job and walk, how about you try it on the side. If you are in the creative field and you are having challenges, there are challenges everywhere in life, “what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger” so you just have to hang in there. For investors, I see the creative as the next financial boom, but I’d say be careful of the kind of person who you choose to invest in and make sure that you have a relationship with the person and the person understands your vision so you don’t make a costly mistake and also beyond the creative, believe in the person and see their passion, innovation and hard work.

I am a classical example and I’m grateful to have people around me who can see my talent and see what I can do. So I’d advice to invest in their talent, passion and drive.

In this article:
Adenrele Sonariwo
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