Vanessa Power, the editor of Avenir and Avenir Africa talks exclusively to Essential Traveller about her latest exhibition in Nigeria: Yellow Sun: The New Contemporaries.
Tell us a bit about how Yellow Sun came about.
To launch Avenir Africa in Nigeria, I felt I needed to do something more than just your usual celebrity champagne party. It needed to be arty, and meaningful. I wanted to launch in a way that without opening a copy of Avenir you can visualize and experience the art we publish in the magazine. This was the birth of Yellow Sun; The New Contemporaries.
Avenir focuses solely on emerging new contemporary artists so it is important for us to reflect this in the exhibition. Yellow Sun is a dynamic group show featuring some of the best new contemporary artists from the UK, US, France, South Korea and Nigeria, all under 30.
You’re based in the UK, why did you choose to have the exhibition in Nigeria?
Most Nigerians born and bred abroad tend to have a disconnect with their roots – my mother made it a priority that this will never be the case for my siblings and I so we spent long summers in Port Harcourt. I am extremely passionate about Nigerian arts and culture especially in my hometown Port- Harcourt.
Lagos is an emerging and very vibrant city so it made perfect sense to exhibit all these International artists in Lagos rather than having established Nigerian artists exhibit abroad. I thought lets bring the art world here, as there is such a big spotlight on African, in particular Nigerian art. I hosted a panel discussion during START art fair at The Saatchi Gallery – and the topic was all about emerging cities such as Lagos, Istanbul and Singapore.
It’s lovely to be supported by global brands such as Guaranty Trust Bank and Daniel Ford International, like Avenir they believe in emerging artists and engage in ways to globalize the Lagos art scene.
How did you choose what artists to feature?
In Avenir magazine my editors and I work closely with art institutions such as Jerwood, Art Caitlin, Degree Art and the iconic Central Saint Martins – here we have direct access to the best new artists.
Many of the artists in Yellow Sun are artists we have featured in the magazine such as Sang Woo Kim, Tristan Pigott and Ewa Wilczynski who was on the cover of our very first print issue. Kachi Irondi was recommended to me by Central Saint Martins and Lina Viktor took part in the recent Avenir Art Auction, auctioned by Sotheby’s in aid of Jerwood Charitable Foundation.
Why did you name the exhibition ‘Yellow Sun’?
This is probably the first question people ask when they hear of the show, I guess they immediately think of the legendary author Chimamanda Adichie – she is such an inspiration and as a young black girl I have so much respect for her, for being a powerful voice and role model.
Yellow Sun – is referencing the African sun, and dances around various themes such as, heritage, unity, bold, powerful – all of which reflects the work produced by the artists for this exhibition and the artists themselves.
What can we expect to see?
Having spent several months in the studio – each artist tells a different story using Africa as the binding theme. Lina Viktor will exhibit stunning self-portraits using 24 karat gold, rich royal blue and black. In her work you will find various narratives – identity, the strength and confidence of an African woman, opulence and many more. Ewa Wilczynski is the youngest artist to have a solo show at The Royal Academy of Arts, she is has created ‘ African selfies’ selfies of traditional Nigerian women in their native attire – to add a new dimension she pours layers of wax over the paintings, the end product is raw and beautiful. At Yellow Sun; you can also expect to see sculptures, – Kachi Irondi plays around with clay into these stunning wall pieces. These artists are young and extremely talented – their works have been exhibited globally, with work in museums and private collections. They are excited to be exhibiting in Nigeria for the first time.
Contemporary African art is selling at record prices right now, what do you think has contributed to this shift?
I believe a number of factors have contributed to this success, the collectors, the press and the artists themselves. Collectors such as Robert Devereux, Prince Yemisi Shyllon and Sammy Olagbaji are truly remarkable – they have been collecting African art before it became so mainstream and trendy, now several seasoned art collectors are spotted at auction houses and fairs investing in African art.
The niche art press tend to follow the collectors so if a wave of new African art collectors are showing up – major art publications/newspapers, such as Apollo, Art Review, FT and Art Newspaper will take note of this. They begin to ask ‘Who are the artists’ suddenly the artists are in all the major press, then the curators, gallerists and the rest of the art world take an interest. African art becomes popular and in demand so the prices go up.
What Nigerian contemporary artists would you say are ‘ones to watch?’
I adore the work of Babajide Olatunji, Emeka Ogboh thinks outside the box and is incredibly innovative – I love his spirit, Ndidi Emefiele is also a personal favourite, she is doing so well internationally.
What do you think the future holds for Contemporary African Art?
So much, this is just the beginning. Africans are quite dedicated individuals so this will not be a short-lived trend – African art will continue to be recognized and appreciated globally.
What can we expect from Avenir Africa?
Avenir Africa Magazine, just like the UK edition will feature the works of emerging new contemporary artists in Africa, with an overall emphasis on Nigeria and South Africa. It will focus on the untapped niche such as poetry, literature, architecture and design, food. Musically South Africa and Nigeria are on fire right now, and the fashion and film industry in Nigeria is definitely worth talking about. This seems like the best time to publish a magazine on Nigerian arts, everything happening now is worth documenting.