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The Founder Of West Africa’s Biggest Art Fair Discusses The Economic Powerhouse That Is Lagos

How Tokini Peterside is showcasing the magnificence of African culture on its own soil to the world

By Hannah Connolly

29 October 2021

Lagos’ energy is eclectic - It is an authentically African city, with unbeatable energy.” These are the words of Tokini Peterside, founder of ART X Lagos. A metropolis of over 21 million people, the Nigerian city of Lagos is an epicenter for Africa's artistic expression in all of its forms.

Attracting over 10,000 visitors on a yearly basis and held in The Federal Palace in Victoria Island, ART X Lagos is the accumulation of artists across Africa and the diaspora showcasing the enduring spirit of Nigeria's impact on the world of art both past and present.

Lagos is also home to one of the biggest film industries on the planet and is a hub of music, dance, nightlife and fashion with an energy so palpable that it has fixed the eye of the art world firmly on Nigeria.

"Our art fairs have shown how perceptions of Africa and Nigeria can be shifted by the presentation and discovery of exceptional creative artwork"

In her own words Tokini Peterside sat down with The Stack to discuss the theme of this year's showcase, how ART X Lagos began and the long term vision…

How did ART x Lagos begin?

ART X Lagos was born out of the urge to get the world to experience the magnificence of African culture - on our home soil.

By 2016 when I launched the fair, I had been collecting art for several years, after a career in luxury marketing and strategy. I had tremendous appreciation for artists who were choosing to live and work on the continent despite its apparent distance from the world’s art centres.

I sought to contribute to their visibility and patronage, on the global stage, but also at home. I wanted to get more Africans buying African art, and to see larger numbers within society expressing their appreciation for this work.

I was inspired, too, by my visit in 2015 to the Venice Biennale, curated in that year by Okwui Enwezor.

I witnessed the incredible enthusiasm of its audiences towards the work of the many African artists Okwui featured in the show. I knew what the experience was doing in terms of improving their understanding of African culture, and reckoned that if we could similarly bring larger numbers of people to Africa, to witness firsthand the continent’s creative brilliance, then it would go a long way towards re-defining the narrative about Africa on the global stage.

Can you tell us about the art scene in Nigeria and how this has allowed you to cultivate a global audience with ART X Lagos?

The city of Lagos is an economic powerhouse. It is the commercial and cultural capital of Nigeria - Africa's largest economy. If Lagos were a country it would have the 5th largest GDP in Africa.

Art is not new to Nigeria and is embedded in the country's DNA. Nigeria has an incredibly rich art history and vast arts heritage stretching back hundreds of years, with works from the pre-colonial Benin Empire dating back to the 12th century, the Ife Empire and more, now lining the museums of the world's capital cities (which is massively in contention at the moment). Into the modern era, Nigeria's artistic prowess was evident through the works of the Zaria Art Rebels, the Osogbo Movement, the Nsukka Movement and the emergence of prominent artists such as Ben Enwonwu.

Today, Lagos is home to thousands of emerging and established artists who are building globally relevant careers from here. Lagos is alive to its continental responsibility and plays a leadership position in Africa, championing artists from other regions of Africa. Its collectors and art patrons are therefore very open to supporting the best art from across the continent and diaspora through platforms such as ART X Lagos.

Lagos' energy is electric - It is an authentically African city, with unbeatable energy, its parties are legendary, and the art world continues to have a fantastic experience when they descend each year in November for ART X Lagos.


What is this year's ART x Lagos theme and how did you come to that decision?

Our curatorial theme this year is ‘the restful ones are not yet born’, a play on Ayi Kwei Armah’s novel, ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’. It speaks to the fact that Africa is still hard at work, striving to determine for itself the future the continent so ardently desires and deserves.

The theme, written by one of our guest curators, Aude Christel Mgba, has guided the fair’s curated section this year (our galleries’ section is not themed), and will include our special projects, talks program and much more. Our curators were unanimous in their decision to develop a program that speaks to the very real challenges being faced on the continent, but from the solution-oriented perspective of what needs to be done, thought, built and rebuilt in order for us to ignite our potential as Africans..

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), by Ghanaian author Ayi Kwei Armah, remains one of the most important and polarising works of African literature ever published. Denounced for the author’s projections of disenchantment and cynicism regarding the ways people experienced moments of independence in Ghana.

The book was a story of a country in decline, a failing society overburdened by the weight of a political elite illegally accumulating wealth, thus contributing to the rise of ongoing social inequalities inherited from colonial times. This decline plunges society into a downward spiral marked by existential dread, in which the possibility to imagine alternative ways of being without the risk of self-isolation was becoming a utopian fantasy.

What is the big goal - the change you want to see in the world through your work?

Our ambition for ART X Lagos is to build the No.1 destination globally for African art and ideas, drawing in audiences across the continent, and beyond. We continue to curate for these local and global audiences, the very best African art, with the strongest potential to drive narrative change.

Our art fairs have shown how perceptions of Africa and Nigeria can be shifted by the presentation and discovery of exceptional creative artwork, backed by powerful narratives. Visual art has the power to shape mindsets, and to uproot deep-seated biases or misconceptions. The array of artwork presented at our fairs is curated to accomplish this - a task for which our organisation is already recognised.

We wish to present a diversified, rebalanced image of Nigeria and Africa, to ourselves and to the world, through artworks that deepen the understanding of contemporary African identity and culture, demystifying our ways of living, thinking, and our aspirations, whilst presenting progressive messages about African identity that are energised, empowered and evolving.

You can check out the ART x Lagos showcase from the 3rd November, available to view through a digital showcase. Explore virtual gallery spaces and learn more about the artists showcasing for an extended opening all the way to the 21st of November.

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