Ayodeji Rotinwa

  • Joy Labinjo, Terra Firma VII, 2022, oil on canvas, 70 3⁄4 × 98 1⁄4".

    Joy Labinjo

    The ten self-portraits comprising “Full Ground,” Joy Labinjo’s debut exhibition in Nigeria, captured the British-Nigerian artist in moments of stillness and repose. In Terra Firma V (all works 2022), she stands firmly, her back turned to the viewer, her braids reaching her waist. In Terra Firma VII, she props herself up on a blue cloth, her braids nearly touching the ground. The poses in some of Labinjo’s works call to mind the women in Rembrandt’s Danaë, 1636–47, or Titian’s Venus of Urbino, 1538. Terra Firma shows Labinjo on a bench, her head wrapped in a black-and-gray-patterned scarf. Other

  • Beninese president Patrice Talon (right) attends the opening of “Benin Art from Yesterday to Today, from Restitution to Revelation” at the Palais de la Marin last month.
    diary March 24, 2022

    Kingdom Comeback

    LAST MONTH, when Benin’s Palais de la Marina in Cotonou opened its doors, a belated history class swung into session. Organized by the president’s office and titled “Benin Art from Yesterday to Today, from Restitution to Revelation,” the exhibition paired work by thirty-four contemporary Beninese artists with a trove of twenty-six royal objects pillaged by the French military from the Dahomey Kingdom’s capital of Abomey in 1892. Beninese people remain closely linked to their ancestral culture, they had just been prevented from seeing and interacting with (some of) it for over a century. Not

  • Olu Amoda, Ruga I, 2021, welded mild steel rods, mesh, stainless steel, dry leaves, dimensions variable.

    Olu Amoda

    In Olu Amoda’s presumably calloused hands, aluminum spoons, steel belts and rods, nails, bronze, and wood take on a new purpose. Patiently and painstakingly, the artist bends, carves, and cuts masses of metal in repeated motions, steadily spooling them out into monumental sculptures like a spider crafting a web. The work is an epitome of endurance: a dense spread of intricate patterns, lines, shapes, forms.

    The materials are often familiar. Similar steel rods, painted white, were typically used to make balcony railings in middle-class Lagos households in the 1990s. In Amoda’s work, they are bent

  • Exterior view of 1-54 Art Fair at Somerset House, London, with Lakwena Maciver’s installation  I'll Bring You Flowers, 2021. All photos: Ayodeji Rotinwa.
    diary October 28, 2021

    Out of Africa

    “THE COLLECTORS aren’t coming to Abuja—I have to go to them,” Dolly Kola-Balogun, founder of Retro Africa, told me at the opening of the ninth edition of 1-54 Contemporary Art Fair in London at her booth, where she was showing Tyna Adebowale. Her prices, she explained as we discussed the shrinking collector base in Nigeria, are pegged to the dollar, which the Nigerian naira is increasingly weak against. “If I want my artists to be well-known and reckoned with, I have to travel.” 

    This itinerant spirit is reflective of a burgeoning moment in London and other Western art capitals, where African

  • Latifah Iddriss, The greener grass on the other side of the fence [seems rather red], 2020, grass, paint, mirrors, wooden bases weighted with sand. Installation view. From “Stations of Protest.” Photo: M+.

    “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

  • Otis Quaicoe, Kwesi Botchway, and Amoako Boafo. All photos unless noted: Nii Odzenma.
    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, Far from Here, 2020, oil on canvas, 34 × 24".

    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,

  • Collins Obijiaku, Ajire, 2020, acrylic, oil, and charcoal on paper, 40 x 31 1/2".
    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

  • Fair founder Tokini Peterside with Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in front of paintings by Ablade Glover at the Gallery 1957 booth.
    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, St. Peter, 2019, oil, acrylic, and gold leaf on linen, 49 1⁄4 × 30 3⁄4".

    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

  • Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko, The Girl with the Blue Scarf, 2019, photographic print on canvas, 24 x 36".
    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

  • Victor Ehikhamentor, Priest of chaste reveries, 2019, oil on canvas, 60 x 70".
    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