Art X Lagos, the Nigerian art fair that opens on Thursday, has changed its format due to the Nigerian economic situation, says founder Tokini Peterside-Schwebig. This year’s fair comprises only 10 carefully selected galleries, which is a third of last year's list.
“It’s not business as usual in Nigeria and we want to be part of a solution-orientated society,” says Peterside-Schwebig, who was born in Lagos and educated in the UK. “There are a lot of challenges for those living in Nigeria right now. We wanted to produce something that would start conversation, debate and dialogue among different tiers of society.”
The 10 galleries, which are all African, comprise some of the best programmes on the continent. They include Afriart from Uganda; Gallery 1957 from Ghana; MAM from Cameroon; and ko art space, Tiwani Contemporary and SMO Contemporary Art from Nigeria.
“These galleries are each central to their art scenes, while also demonstrating different approaches to showing and supporting art,” Peterside-Schwebig tells The National.
This year’s fair has also ramped up its non-commercial programming, with two group exhibitions curated by the Ethiopian writer Missla Libsekal, a talks programme and a major cinema programme, with works from artists and filmmakers including Ibrahim Mahama, Betelhem Makonnen and Meriem Bennani.
It’s a bold move for a fair that is growing in its international reputation: While the galleries might be African, an increasing number of international collectors, curators and other art enthusiasts are travelling to Lagos for the event.
Since its inception in 2016, the fair has become a major portal through which to discover artists and cultural producers from West Africa. It is credited with helping to provide a pan-African market on the continent, as opposed to the largely national art scenes that previously existed, and for helping to solidify the art scene in Lagos itself. New institutions such as Gas, which was set up by Yinka Shonibare, the British-Nigerian artist who was the keynote artist at the 2019 Art X Lagos, are now providing permanent gallery and residency spaces for the fast-moving art scene.
“From Day One we never intended to be a fair like the others,” says Peterside-Schwebig. “We have hundreds of collectors, patrons flying in. Even if you are remotely curious Art X Lagos is an important encounter where you can learn about art on the continent. It’s sparked Lagos Art Week, with events organised alongside the fair. We in Nigeria are privileged to play the role of a portal to the African continent.”
The fair’s temporary revamped structure, with its redirection of focus from commercial galleries to ancillary programming, has also been helped by its financial model. Rather than relying on income generated by the galleries’ fees for their stalls, Art X Lagos leans on corporate sponsorship, with major Nigerian banks such as Access Corporation and Areximbank largely underwriting the event.
The fair is also leaning on the immense popularity of its side programming. It has managed to tap into the large youth market in Nigeria with its music programmes and presentations of artworks, and will aim to continue targeting this demographic in 2023.
“We want to touch, feel, interact with the art, and from Day One we’ve taken art off the walls so that people can be involved with it. We set up photo studios and places for the audience to make collages,” says Peterside-Schwebig. “We in Lagos are not passive people.”
Art X Lagos runs until Sunday. More information is available at artxlagos.com