Tokini Peterside on the African Art Market During the Pandemic

Tokini Peterside: African Art Market During the Pandemic- Omenka Online

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), an MBA from INSEAD 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. In 2016, Peterside reconfigured the company and established ART X Lagos—West Africa’s first international art fair. The fair has since become a cornerstone of the African art sector and has contributed significantly to the positioning of Lagos globally as a fast-emerging and exciting cultural hub.

Roméo Mivekannin, La vénus hottentote, 2020, acrylic and elixir bath on canvas, 250 x 250 cm, © Roméo Mivekannin, Courtesy Galerie Cécile Fakhoury

Impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic, the last edition of your fair was staged online. Compared to the physical editions prior, how successful was it?

Our fifth edition of ART X Lagos, which ran from 2 to 9 December 2020, was probably our most innovative edition to date. We assessed the Coronavirus pandemic, as well as the aftermath of the End SARS protests in Nigeria and concluded that our fair had to move online in its entirety to guarantee the health and safety of all our participants and guests.

We built two websites for the fair – one, open at ARTXLAGOS.COM and another that was password-protected for collectors at ARTXCOLLECTOR.COM, offering enhanced features including a concierge-like service and much more. We also partnered with Artsy to feature our galleries, their artists and artworks on their platform.

Tokini Peterside: African Art Market During the Pandemic- Omenka Online

Angele Estoundi Essamba, Mouvement 1, 1995, Photography, 150 x 100cm

In addition, we organised 13 virtual events presenting talks and panel discussions with leading figures such as Njideka Akunyili-Crosby, Hank Willis Thomas, Opal Tometi of Black Lives Matter, Lemi Ghariokwu and Kelechi Amadi-Obi. We also organised a specially curated project, ‘New Nigeria Studios’, featuring the work of over 60 photographers and filmmakers who captured the End SARS protests across the country and presented a short performance film titled ‘Like Someone’s Watching’ under our ART X Live! platform.

Over the 8-day fair, we recorded visitors to both sites from 101 countries worldwide, reaching a more diverse audience than our physical fairs had previously. A number of our galleries also achieved record sales when compared to other previously participated online fairs. Also, our virtual events were attended by a captive audience of several thousand.

Tokini Peterside: African Art Market During the Pandemic- Omenka Online

Femi Akinsanya and Director of Out of Africa Gallery at OOA Gallery Booth, ART X Lagos 2019

How would you respond to criticism that the proliferation of online art fairs is characterised by a lack of innovation?

Online fairs have always been an innovative way to reach diverse audiences and experiment with new media and programme formats. As leaders in the industry, we continue to iterate our digital offerings and incorporate the learnings we make at every stage into subsequent versions, to create virtual experiences that excite our new and existing audiences.

How has the market for African art performed during the Coronavirus pandemic?

We have stayed in constant contact with our galleries since the outbreak of the pandemic, and whilst the various lockdowns, cancellation of exhibitions, fairs and other events, presented huge challenges to galleries, the majority of them reported that 2020 was not as devastating as we initially feared it would be. Many of these galleries embraced digital technology proactively: building online viewing rooms, working with platforms like ours and Artsy, beefing up their social media presence and emailing lists, and finding new innovative ways to connect with collectors. We also saw an expansion of the collector base for African art during the pandemic with new and young collectors responding positively to dealers’ improved online presence, connecting with them, their artists, and acquiring works.

Special exhibition of works and videos by Keynote Speaker, Yinka Shonibare CBE with ‘Trumpet Boy’ in view, ART X Lagos 2018

Guest at the Everard Read Gallery booth with work by Nelson Makamo, ART X Lagos 2019

What trends are emerging amongst new millennial collectors and why?

A dynamic group of African millennial collectors is rising, bolstered by the democratisation of art through social media, innovative gallery formats, and fusion art fairs like ART X Lagos that broaden the scope of a collector and an art enthusiast. Both on the continent and globally, they provide a new form of energy with their interest in living contemporary artists, which bolsters the industry overall. The global reckoning with centuries of inequality and violence against Black bodies has also thrown a spotlight on Black artists around the world, with this same group of millennial collectors leading the charge in activist collecting.

A special exhibition of works and videos by Keynote Speaker, Yinka Shonibare CBE with ‘Trumpet Boy’ in view, ART X Lagos 2018

Following the outbreak of the pandemic, corporate support has dwindled for the visual arts. In what ways have you overcome funding challenges and what advice do you have for cultural organisations seeking corporate support?

Our experience in 2020 was that our partners were keen to support us, albeit with some reductions. And as pretty much all of our programming was delivered virtually, our costs to execute last year were also reduced, leading to a balancing out on both sides.

Tokini Peterside: African Art Market During the Pandemic- Omenka Online

Wole Lagunju, Contemplating Ori, 2020, oil on canvas, 157.5 x 112.5cm

With physical fairs returning regularly, what is the fate of the online editions, and in future would you consider an online option to run alongside your physical edition?

Analysts have predicted that it will take a few more years beyond 2021 for international travel to return to its previous 2019 heights. In that time, we expect that fairs will continue to lean on online editions, even after their physical editions return, as an art fair organiser always aims to attract the largest audience possible. In addition, we all recognise that digital technology is a powerful medium to connect with global audiences.

For ART X Lagos, our intention with our November 2021 edition is to host a hybrid fair with both a physical and online display, contributing to a dynamic experience for our galleries, collectors and diverse audiences. Our physical fair holds from 4 to 7 November 2021, with an online extension running until 21 November.

Read In Conversation with Touria El Glaoui


Oliver Enwonwu is founder and Editor-in-Chief of Omenka magazine, Director, Omenka Gallery and Chief Executive, Revilo. He holds a first degree in Biochemistry, advanced diploma in Exploration Geophysics (distinction), Post Graduate Diplomas in Applied Geophysics and Visual Art (distinction) and a Masters in Art History, all from the University of Lagos. He is the founder, Executive Director, and trustee of The Ben Enwonwu Foundation. He also sits on the board of several organizations including the National Gallery of Art, Nigeria and the Reproduction Rights Society of Nigeria. Enwonwu is also president of both the Society of Nigerian Artists and the Alliance of Nigerian Art Galleries.

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