In Conversation with Tayo Ogunbiyi

Change Knocks for ART X Lagos

Ahead of ART X Lagos, running from 1 to 3 November 2019, C&’s Obidike Okafor spoke to its new artistic director, Tayo Ogunbiyi, about the changes that have come for West Africa’s foremost art fair.

Tizta Berhanu, Life in Violet, 2018, Oil on canvas, 140 x 140 cm

Tizta Berhanu, Life in Violet, 2018, Oil on canvas, 140 x 140 cm

By Obidike Okafor

Contemporary And: How did you get the role of curating West Africa’s largest art fair?

Tayo Ogunbiyi: It happened really organically, actually. Tokini [Peterside, founder and CEO of ART X Lagos] and I had worked together at [Lagos concept store] Alára briefly, and we kept in touch.  Over the past four years, my involvement in the fair has grown into this position.

Abe Odedina, Love Play, 2018. Courtesy the artist.

C&:  What is the theme for this year, and why was it chosen?

TO: The theme is “Art in Life | Life through Art.” The year has been one of tremendous loss for the creative arts globally, but especially with respect to contemporary art in African contexts. And moments such as these are optimal for reflecting upon how we, who still have much work to do, choose to live our lives. Over the year there have been many efforts to memorialize, remember, and revisit the legacies of those whom we have lost. I felt a relevant theme would be one that really looked at the lives that pioneers in the visual art sector led, people whose passion enabled or enable them to lead lives full of risks, adventures, and seemingly glittering accomplishments.

The theme is centered around examining the realities of our foremost practitioners, in the hopes of unpacking how the demands of a life in the visual arts can shape one’s perceptions of home and feelings of displacement. How do we come to terms with those two aspects through the visual arts? And how can the visual arts shape and shift how we engage with the world around us? These questions are central to the theme.

C&: ART X Lagos is known for innovation, for coming up with new things every year. What new experiences, art, or talks should we be looking forward to this year?

TO: First and foremost the fair has a new address: the Federal Palace. We are completely transforming this popular venue, which many Lagosians and international visitors will have visited for one reason or another. This year, the fair will be bigger and more dynamic, with twenty-two exhibitors, far more than our last edition. We also have an exhibitors’ section dedicated to modern art.

Our keynote speaker is the incredibly accomplished and eloquent Wangechi Mutu. We have a completely new lineup of talks. We’ve changed the format of several of them in really exciting ways, which we hope will be engaging for our audience. We will be exhibiting our first major commission, a site-specific work by Emeka Ogboh, conceived specially for the fair. There are also more ambitious special projects, including a performance pavilion curated by Wura-Natasha Ogunji.

C&:  What were some of the exciting things about putting ART X Lagos 2019 together?

TO: For me, one part has been working closely with a range of artists, from those who are very established to those who are emerging. There are even artists recently out of school, several of whom applied for the Access Bank ART X Prize.

Lionel Smit, Aligned #2, 2019, Oil on Linen, 170x230cm

C&: What were some of the challenges?

TO: We are a small fair, but we have massive ambitions, and I think it’s always challenging to compromise for less than we dream, especially with the excitement of our new venue. All of the other challenges of planning and logistics are offset by the incredible team and support network that continues to grow with each edition.

C&: What plans are there to celebrate the life of Bisi Silva, the fair’s previous artistic director, during Art X?

TO: We have a very special talk planned in honor of Bisi. It is our closing talk, and it will survey her legacy and her impact from four intimate perspectives.

C&: Bisi Silva touched the lives of many artists in Nigeria, Africa, and across the globe. What was your relationship with her?

TO: I can’t remember exactly when I met Bisi, but I do know that it was before I moved to Lagos, which was nearly ten years ago. The first thing that comes to mind is her openness. Shortly after meeting her, I remember sending her an email about doing a fundraiser for CCA Lagos. And looking back I laugh, because it was such a dumb idea, considering what I knew about Lagos and what goes into such things in this context. But she was so gracious. First of all, she responded, and other people wouldn’t have.  Second, she was incredibly kind and thoughtful in her response. When I was introduced to her, I was a young artist who had undertaken a couple of curatorial experiments. I remember her taking the time to look at my work and her attending my second solo project in Lagos. Bisi was extremely honest, perhaps brutally so at times. But looking back, I know my practice as a visual artist who curates could not have been the same without her support and guidance.

C&: Describe the 2019 edition in one sentence?

TO: ART X Lagos 2019 is bold.



The fourth edition of ART X Lagos takes place from Friday 1 November to Sunday 3 November 2019.


Based in Lagos, Obidike Okafor is a content consultant, freelance art journalist, and documentary filmmaker.




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