Ayodeji Rotinwa

  • “Stations of Protest”

    In Lagos last October, the Nigerian Army murdered protesters denouncing police brutality and the killing of young men and women accused of criminal activity or just suspected of elitism: Did we talk too slick, think or carry ourselves better than the poorly paid policemen, who were equally oppressed but saddled with guns and eager to unload their discontent? Were we carrying fancy gadgets; did we have foreign numbers in our contacts? Then we must be internet fraudsters. Or sometimes the reason was simpler: the refusal to pay a bribe.

    And so, in response, we peacefully protested for the right to

  • diary April 14, 2021

    Cool Intentions

    LAST SEPTEMBER, when Artnet published a sweeping account of the dramatic ascent of Amoako Boafo, whose fingerpainted portraits of Black people had apparently cast a spell over the market, it read like the script of a Hollywood blockbuster. Replete with eye-popping prices, secret deals, greedy collectors and curators, and a ballsy move by Boafo himself to seize control of his own work, the profile laid bare the inner workings of a rapacious art market. It also sharply framed the increasing international hunger for contemporary African portraiture and the surge of pressure it creates for the

  • Tonia Nneji

    Tonia Nneji’s canvases bear heavy burdens. Those in her autobiographical exhibition “You May Enter” centered on the artist’s ongoing battle with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal condition that can cause complications ranging from infertility to depression. In the sixteen paintings on view, Nneji’s melancholy was palpable. Women were depicted sometimes solo, as in Seeing Green (all works 2020), where the figure rests her head on her hands. They were also shown sitting back-to-back, as in Prayers in Orange, and elsewhere they held each other, held on, heads slightly bowed, unsmiling,

  • picks November 09, 2020

    Collins Obijiaku

    That the twenty-five-year-old portraitist Collins Obijiaku did not attend art school, learn art history, or grow up going to exhibitions—his earliest memory of fine art comes from the internet—is belied by his self-taught and phenomenally self-assured style, seemingly traditional but inflected with a subversive approach to color and line. Whereas many of today’s younger Nigerian artists gravitate toward an alluringly fetterless conceptualism, Obijiaku’s art belongs to a resurgence of Black figurative painters whose work hearkens back to bygone Nigerian (and Western) conventions; in the early

  • diary November 11, 2019

    Love, Lagos

    LAST WEEKEND, Ahmadu Bello Way was without chaos, which was surprising for a road routinely choked with bumper-to-bumper congestion. The facilitators of this calm were none other than the Nigerian army and the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, deployed to ensure that everything remained smooth on the thoroughfare for the Fourth Art X Lagos, West Africa’s preeminent art fair, which has now doubled in size from previous editions. For a private art event, the muscle was surprising. Or maybe not. Past iterations of the event have aspired to and often achieved organizational excellence—in

  • Godfried Donkor

    In the first show of a two-part exhibition, “Battle Royale: Last Man Standing,” British-Ghanaian artist Godfried Donkor exhumed the ties that bind the dark history of boxing across three continents. The title refers to a tradition in Jim Crow America, in which black men—often blindfolded—were encouraged to engage in battles royal, bludgeoning one another senseless for onlookers’ entertainment, with a prize purse going to the last man standing. While legend has it that boxing came to Ghana via its bloodthirsty colonizers (whose aristocrats used to dabble in sparring with those deemed inferior to

  • picks July 01, 2019

    Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko

    Inspired by Renaissance and Baroque painting, photographer Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko places her portraits—each one featuring an albino Nigerian—firmly with the history of art in this exhibition, titled “White Ebony.” The works, which are printed on canvas, appear fleshy. From a distance, they could be mistaken for paintings; the sitters are dressed in tulle, fur, or feathers, their skin luminous in chiaroscuro. Drawing from her training in fashion and advertising photography, Ayeni-Babaeko reimagines the work of European masters, including Vermeer and Degas, to create pictures of contemporary Nigeria

  • picks June 13, 2019

    Victor Ehikhamenor

    In Nigeria’s twenty-one-million-person capital of commerce and chaos, certainty is in short supply. Residents desire clairvoyance for long-running concerns: Will it rain today? Will there be flash floods? Will traffic leave commuters stuck for six hours? And will the city let my dreams come true? In the twenty canvases in “Daydream Esoterica,” his first solo exhibition here in eight years, Victor Ehikhamenor tries to pin down the beauty and foreboding of Lagosian life.

    In the show’s centerpiece, We the people and other dreamers, all works 2019, five boldly outlined female silhouettes hem in


    ONE EVENING THIS PAST FEBRUARY, within the walls of DaDa, an exhibition space on the edge of Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech’s historic market square, I heard a nostalgic cacophony.

    Nostalgic to me, at least.

    The noise instantly returned me to Lagos, home to twenty-one million people (myself included) who are always on the move, negotiating, thriving, and suffering in a city the size of which seems insufficient to contain all the life there. I could hear the familiar sounds of chart-topping music blasting from mobile speakers; the radio jingles for wonder drugs that cure cancer and aids; the voice of a

  • diary November 24, 2018

    Rush Hour

    FOR THE NINTH EDITION of the annual LagosPhoto Festival, “Time Has Gone,” twenty-three artists hailing from Myanmar to Madagascar displayed their works across ten venues in Nigeria’s commercial capital. The four curators—Eva Barois De Caevel, Charlotte Langhorst, Wunika Mukan, and Valentine Umansky—invited participants to take up the idea of nostalgia, reinterpret the past, investigate archival practices, and, essentially, try to slow down time: an impossible twist on the festival’s themes. To my mind, the show primarily offered one thing: uncertainty.

    It all started out promisingly

  • Modupeola Fadugba

    Had Modupeola Fadugba’s latest exhibition, “Dreams from the Deep End,” opened in New York (where it drew its inspiration and subject matter), it would have been hard to see it as about anything but the racial politics of water and swimming in America. With a series of gold-leaf-on-burnt-paper paintings hung on ocean-blue gallery walls (all accompanied by a documentary short), Fadugba told the story of the Harlem Honeys and Bears, an age-fifty-and-older synchronized swim team. Many of the team’s members are in their seventies and eighties, and most began to swim for the first time only in their

  • diary September 19, 2018

    Fair and Folly

    “I HOPE IT ISN’T TOO DISTURBING,” a well-dressed white woman said to her friend as they considered whether to enter a sound installation about police violence at the Eleventh Joburg Art Fair earlier this month. The installation, placed right by the entrance to the fair, was the work of Haroon Gunn-Salie, the 2018 winner of the fair’s annual FNB Art Prize. It featured a black box in which an immersive soundscape was suspended from the ceiling, making listeners feel as if they were underground. We sat on the floor, and soon the voices of mine workers washed over us, in an anti-apartheid protest