Apollo, an international art magazine, has released its annual 40 Under 40 Africa list of “the most inspiring artists, collectors, and thinkers.” The list—divided into sub-categories titled The Artists, The Thinkers, The Business, and The Patrons & Advocates—includes five Nigerians.
Also included are the Angolan Nastio Mosquito, the Ugandan Sungi Mlengeya, the Kenyan Jim Chuchu, and the Congolese Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga in The Artists category; Tate Modern curator Osei Bonsu, the South African critic Athi Mongezeleli Joja, Ifa Gallery director Alya Sebti, and the Moroccan curator Meriem Berrada in The Thinkers category; Addis Ababa Fine Art founder Rakeb Sile in The Business category; and Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art founder Ibrahim Mahama in The Patrons & Advocates category.
Here are the Nigerians on the list.
Toyin Ojih Odutola is an artist who thinks deeply about both mark-making and myth-making. With pastel, charcoal and pencil, the Nigerian-born artist often works in series to create mythic narratives that explore Black identity both in Africa and the United States, where she moved at the age of five.
Ojih Odutola has had solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco. A site-specific commission currently at the Barbican in London includes 40 drawings narrating the history of a fictional ancient civilisation in the Plateau State of Nigeria, ruled over by women warriors known as the Eshu. Presented as ‘scans’ of ancient markings that have been discovered by an archaeologist, the drawings demonstrate Ojih Odutola’s long-standing interest in the meeting of fiction and graphic art. In 2019, Ojih Odutola was commissioned to create a portrait of Zadie Smith (who has written about her art) for the National Portrait Gallery in London. In the United States, her work can be found in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Whitney, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
It was while studying law at university in Nigeria that Emmanuel Iduma and two of his fellow students launched a literary magazine named Saraba. Iduma continued to edit the online publication until last year. He has also edited two volumes of contemporary African writing and his own books include a novel, a collection of travel stories, and a memoir tracing the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war (to be published in 2021). Between 2011 and 2016 he worked with the Invisible Borders Trans-African Photographers’ Organization, writing short texts on the project and editing The Trans-African journal. His writing has appeared in publications including ARTNews, Art in America, the New York Review of Books Daily and the British Journal of Photography. In 2017 he was a co-curator of the first Nigerian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. He has an MFA in Art Criticism and Writing from the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he now teaches. He is the recipient of a Creative Capital/Andy Warhol grant for arts writing (awarded for his essays about Nigerian artists) and this year won the inaugural Irving Sandler Award for New Voices in Art Criticism from the US chapter of the International Association of Art Critics.
Having studied English language and literature at Lagos State University, Bukola Oyebode worked for a spell at a commercial art gallery in the Nigerian capital before setting up The Sole Adventurer in 2015. Initially a blog about contemporary Nigerian art, the publication became a fully fledged magazine in 2018. Published online and in special print editions, it now covers art from across Africa and the diaspora.
Oyebode’s other projects include the Art Forum Africa, held in 2015 and 2016, and the TSA Art Writing Masterclass. In 2017, she guest-edited a special issue of Intense Art Magazine about women artists from Nigeria. She regularly speaks about digital publishing and the position of women in the arts, most recently on a panel at the first Radical Solidarity Summit organised online by Zeitz MOCAA in September 2020.
Tokini Peterside launched ART X Lagos in 2016. It’s the first international art fair in West Africa, committed to growing the collector base in Nigeria and the wider region and broadening public awareness of the visual arts. Since its inaugural edition, the fair has doubled in size, and now counts among its visitors curators from a number of international museums – among them Tate Modern, which brought 30 of its patrons to the 2019 edition – drawn by an exhibitor list that includes most of the leading galleries dedicated to art from Africa and its diaspora. There are other draws, too. More than a marketplace, the fair has something of a festival vibe, with a music programme, Art X Live, that features both celebrated and emerging performing artists from Nigeria. Peterside and her company, Art X Collective, are clearly held in high esteem: in 2018, it mounted an exhibition of Nigerian art at the New Afrika Shrine in Ikeja, to honour the first official visit of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to Lagos.
Peterside started out in luxury brand management, before launching her own consultancy in 2012. Less than a decade on, she has become one of the leading cultural entrepreneurs in West Africa, named one of 30 Quartz Africa Innovators in 2018. She sits on the board of Yinka Shonibare’s Guest Artists Space (G.A.S.) Foundation, which is preparing to launch an artist residency programme in Nigeria.
Adenrele Sonariwo is the founding director of the Rele Art Gallery and Rele Arts Foundation, which seek to promote contemporary art, and harness it to facilitate social change, in Nigeria. The word ‘rele’ is Yoruba for ‘coming home’: Sonariwo set up the gallery, which exhibits established and emerging Nigerian artists, upon returning to her hometown of Lagos in 2010 following stints in the US and the UK.
Among the projects of the Rele Arts Foundation, the gallery’s non-profit initiative, is the annual Young Contemporaries programme, which offers grants, mentorship, residencies and training to a small cohort of emerging artists, and culminates in an exhibition hosted at the Rele Art Gallery. This January, to celebrate the programme’s fifth anniversary, the National Museum in Lagos held an exhibition of work by its alumni; artists included the photographer Logor Oluwamuyiwa, whose depictions of life in Lagos have been shown in London, Brussels and Cape Town since his participation in Young Contemporaries.
Sonariwo was also the lead curator for the first Nigerian pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017, and a member of the jury for the 13th edition of the Dak’Art Biennale in 2018. In 2016 she was a winner at the Future Awards for Arts and Culture; since 2019, she has been a consultant on culture and tourism to the governor of Ogun State.
See the list HERE.
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.