As I stepped into the Balmoral Hall in Federal Palace Hotel to view the fourth edition of ART X Lagos, I was welcomed by the painting “Far from all odds” by the Cameroonian painter Anjel (Boris Anje). The vivid acrylic on canvas is arresting because it depicts the obsession with popular luxury fashion brand names—names like Fendi and Hermès—that is familiar to many in the crowd and particularly to Africans for whom it is more than just critique on consumerism but also critique on the notion that aligning oneself with Western luxury items and names equates to superiority. This feeling of seeing shared experiences, particularly shared African experiences, duplicated in art is one that I experience over and over as I immersed myself in the works of some of Africa’s most talented artists.
The fourth edition of Art X Lagos doesn’t just live up to the standard that Tokoni Peterside has created over the past four years since founding Art X Lagos, it exceeds them. The relocation from The Civic Centre—where the event has been held for the past three years—allowed for a more immersive experience and for the fair to house more artists without compromising on space for attendees.
Photo courtesy of ArtXLAgos
On one side of the hall, was the This Is Lagos exhibition, sponsored by The SAGE Innovation Centre, a collection of photographs from emerging photographers—Amanda Iheme, Nyancho Nwanri and Ifebusola Shotunde—a response to This Is Nigeria by Falz The Bahd Guy and by extension This Is America by Childish Gambino. By the right of the This Is Lagos exhibition was Ala, a two-sided video presentation by Emeka Ogboh and the Art X shop—a lounge where attendees were served champagne. On the other end of the hall was the VIP room designed by art trailblazer Alara whose distinct aesthetics created an undeniably African room fusing the past and the present.
Photo Courtesy of ART X Lagos
The fair kicked off with a crowd of Lagos’ elite collectors and art enthusiasts as well as the attendance of the Vice President of Nigeria,Professor Yemi Osibanjo. Day One started with the VIP Opening Ceremony and ended with the VIP After Party. Day two featured the younger members of Lagos’ art crowd walking into the event particularly for ART X Live!. The live performance segment managed to find a middle ground between the new and old African sound fusing Afrobeats with the more experimental youthful sound that comes from the alte scene.
The night kicked off with superstar Mr Eazigiving a surprise performance. He was followed by the singer BUJU who gave a particularly strong vocal performance and succeeded in bringing the house down followed by Lady Donli who sang a number of songs from her debut album Enjoy Your Life. Lady Donli showed a great amount of stamina dancing and singing, while getting everyone on the dancefloor screaming “my president!.” WurlD took the stage next amidst screams from many and performed a rather eclectic and genre-defying set. The Art X Live! arena also featured the eye catching work of visual artists Joy Matashi and Dafe Oboro who went to great extent to capture intricate details.
The final day of Art X Lagos featured a larger crowd than the two previous days and the last of three Art X Talks. They ended on a solemn, nostalgic note as the last talk was dedicated to Bisi Silva, founder and curator of the Centre of Contemporary Art, Lagos who died earlier this year after a four year battle with breast cancer and had been a source of inspiration to ART X Lagos founder Tokoni Peterside and many others in attendance.
A striking thing about Art X Lagos 2019 was the variety of mediums employed by the individual artists. From Emeka Ogboh‘s sonic presentation “Lagos: 20Hz – 20kHz”—a personal favorite as the experience was a first for me—and Ngozi Omeje‘s terracotta wonder Not In Sight and Chike Obeagu‘s Facebook which featured colourful cutouts of lights and lips which had an electrifying effect on the viewer.
There is also the work of Peju Alaitse‘s conceptual sculpture The Other Side of The Coin, Born Not To Suffer—a highlight of the fair—which will stop you dead in your tracks no matter how many times you see it. Kavita Chellaram, founder of Arthouse Contemporary, spoke on Alatise’s work and says it challenged the ”one percent who live in a bubble and don’t realize how difficult life is.”
Photo Courtesy of ART X Lagos
Another highlight of this year’s Art X Lagos was the Interactive Projects curated by A Whitespace Creative which explored the theme of Play. Play as Collective—a wish installation—is the result of a collaboration between Nifemi Marcus-Bello, Desiree Craig and Deborah Segun. As part of it, guests are invited to choose an emotion and make a wish in order to participate in a sense of idealized hope and Play as Creation—a collaboration between artist Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu and fashion designer Bubu Ogis. In this one, the attendees were invited to interact with the textiles through an immersive installation that allows them to participate in a production process by designing wearable items of their own.
It is important to note that this edition of Art X Lagos occurred alongside a global rise in interest around African art: representatives from the Tate Modern, Smithsonian and Centre Pompidou were all present. Tokoni Peterside, the founder of Art X Lagos, addresses this and noted that while international press and attention is welcome, it is far from the purpose of Art X Lagos.
”We have a laser focus in pursuing our own mandate, which we have designed with our communities in mind,” she says. “When I launched this, I didn’t do it because I wanted thousands of international collectors to fly in and buy African art. No. My first area of focus was converting affluent Nigerians, and ensuring they become supporters and patrons of the city’s artists.”
Photo courtesy of ART X Lagos