Spotlight on Art X, Lagos: An Interview with Tokini Peterside

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Tokini Peterside holds a Law degree from the London School of Economics, in addition to a Solicitors Legal Practice Course Certificate from the College of Law (UK) and a Fashion Marketing Certificate from Istituto Marangoni. In 2012, she founded Tokini Peterside (TP) Collective, a Lagos-based company that builds brands in the culture and luxury sectors in Africa. The company owns and organises ART X Lagos—the premier international contemporary art fair in West Africa.

In this interview, she talks about her reason for establishing a fair in Africa and what to expect from this year’s edition.

Please tell us who Tokini Peterside is and how her interest in art began.

Tokini Peterside is a cultural entrepreneur with a passion for building the creative economy in Africa. She began collecting art over ten years ago, and in that decade evolved her affinity for Nigeria’s established modern artists and emerging contemporary artists. In more recent times, her travels enabled her to grow her appreciation of artists around the African continent and the Diaspora. This led to the creation of ART X Lagos, a platform she developed to increase the visibility and patronage of artists across the African continent.

What have been the biggest challenges you had to overcome to get Art X off the ground?

The main challenge we have faced is peculiar with most start-up organisations, which is simply that our ambitions and goals significantly outweigh our resources. We are consistently having to come up with innovative ways to deliver a world class experience that will impact the arts and wider community, and live up to international expectations, on a moderate budget.

Most international art fairs do not survive beyond the 2-year mark. How do you plan on sustaining the fair?

We plan to sustain ART X Lagos by being more than an art fair. We see ART X as a platform through which the various demographics that exist in our society are able to experience contemporary art in ways that go beyond the norm.

ART X joins the list of global art fairs like 1:54, AKAA, the Cape Town Art Fair and the Johannesburg Art Fair, which all focus on the African continent. Why did you choose to establish an art fair in this direction and what is unique about yours?

We chose to focus on the African continent, because we are African and we are based in Africa – It’s really that simple. ART X Lagos is an African art fair, for African artists on the African continent, and we are proud to have joined the group of art fairs such as the Cape Town and Joburg art fairs, which have developed world class properties here on the African continent. We are even more proud to be the first international contemporary art fair outside South Africa in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria is an economic giant in Africa, and our base of collectors is growing annually, with increasingly dedicated collectors keen to make their mark. It is only fitting that the best contemporary art should be brought directly to our shores at least once a year. ART X Lagos stands out from the crowd of African art fairs in a number of ways – First the openness of our fair, which welcomes collectors and the curious youth alike. ART X Lagos enables thousands of people to visit either for free or after a negligible payment, and to encounter activities designed for them at the fair, despite their being non-collectors. ART X Lagos is also unique in that it reconnects contemporary art to popular culture through initiatives such as ART X Live, our music platform. We are contemporary and dynamic. We are for the millennial generation as well as for the affluent collector.

What do you think is responsible for the proliferation of art fairs focusing on art from Africa, as well as the growing global appreciation for art from the continent?

It is difficult to separate the growing global appreciation for African art from the more general ‘Africa Rising’ rhetoric. In all business sectors, art included, African players can no longer be ignored due to the phenomenal growth experienced in African economies over the past decade, and that has meant a lot for the proliferation of African culture across the world.

How would you react to criticisms that such fairs with an African focus would serve to pigeonhole artists and art from the continent?

I can understand the fears of those who think that ‘African art fairs’ serve to pigeonhole artists from the continent, however that should not take away from the huge impact that these art fairs are having on the careers of many African artists and gallerists. Until fairs such as 1:54 came along, the discovery of African artists in London, despite being the world’s art capital, was restricted. We must not forget that the budgets required to participate in mainstream international art fairs are prohibitive to many African galleries, therefore without the African art fairs, the visibility of African art stakeholders would be limited.

Do you agree with some critics that art fairs serve mostly commercial purposes and do little to develop the career of artists?

Art fairs are commercial vehicles, however they are phenomenal marketing opportunities for artists, which should not be overlooked. At the debut edition of ART X Lagos several Nigerian artists were discovered by international collectors, museums and galleries for the first time, which led to subsequent commercial relationships between these artists and the international entities. Many established Nigerian galleries were also surprised to discover that they met at ART X Lagos, new, interested Nigerian collectors who they had never encountered before, and who have ultimately gone on to support them and to patronise their artists. An artist in Africa cannot survive or thrive without commerce, and we are very proud to have been a springboard for several of our valued and even underrated artists.

What should we expect from ART X this edition and in the near future?

The 2017 edition of ART X Lagos will be a pleasant surprise to all who choose to join us. We will have more galleries with greater diversity, representing artists from over 15 countries across Africa and the Diaspora. We will have a series of enriching, exciting curated projects, including a special exhibition by the Access Bank collection of seven wooden sculptures created by Ben Enwonwu for the Daily Mirror in 1960, which have never before been seen by the Nigerian public. We will have insightful conversations featuring the likes of Peju Alatise, Lemi Ghariokwu and Njideka Akunyili Crosby, who will be visiting us from Los Angeles. In addition, we will bring broader diversity to the fair through our interactive projects and music show. We look forward to you joining us from the November 3 to 5 at The Civic Centre.

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Ladun Ogidan is the Deputy Editor of Omenka Africa’s first art, business and luxury- lifestyle magazine. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication from Covenant University, Nigeria. Ogidan is also Operations Manager at the Omenka Gallery, and Chief Operating Officer at Revilo Company Limited, a leading art publishing company in Lagos. She has co-ordinated several exhibitions at home and abroad.

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