Over the past 18 months of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the art world has engaged widely with digital platforms in ways that have created more visibility for artists, art professionals, institutions, and even a boom in innovative online exhibitions and viewing rooms. The art world evolved and was delivered to our screens in ways that were unpredictable, exciting, and at times overwhelming.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) emerged as a head-scratching (and some argue, less climate-conscious) new way of dealing and collecting art, with some emerging African artists benefiting from its early boom. Importantly, social and political causes shaping our present moment came to the forefront on these digital platforms. In the context of Nigeria and its celebrated art fair, ART X Lagos, a year has passed since the #EndSARS protests and the devastating loss of life that resulted as young protesters called for the abolition of the country’s notoriously brutal police unit, SARS, and for wider socioeconomic reform.
ART X responded by putting a pause on its hybrid online and in-person model, opening a month later in December 2020 with a scaled-back program of talks connecting Nigerian resistance to the global momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement alongside an impressive visual archive of the nationwide protests in Nigeria — spotlighting the work of 100 artists, filmmakers, protesters, and photographers at the forefront of documenting #EndSARS in a curated digital exhibition titled New Nigeria Studios.
The 2021 edition of ART X Lagos is no doubt as reflective as it is optimistic about the future, as is evidenced by the digital programming proposed alongside its physical edition. We Are Here, curated by A Whitespace Creative Agency and led by architect, innovator, and activist, Papa Omotayo, brings together two artist collectives — Kaduna-based film collective, The Critics, and Lagos-based sound artist, AYE! and The Village Sound System — while Future Africa presents two solo exhibitions by David Alabo and Adéọlá Ọlágúnjú and hypothesises on the future of the continent. Rooted in futurity and speculative fiction, Alabo and Ọlágúnjú respond to the conceptual framework of the 2021 theme for the fair: The restful ones are not yet born.
Utilising video mapping, the immersive installation, One Africa, Three Futures, presents three unique representations of a future Africa where Alabo addresses limiting ideas of growth by incorporating socio-cultural and environmental concerns, centred around themes of traditional knowledge, pan-Africanism, and isolation. Conversely, in ÌYÁBỌ̀, Ọlágúnjú explores the idea of re-birthing the self through the medium of allegory with a three-channel video that considers chaos, catastrophe, and destruction as tools of evolution and production. As Ọlágúnjú draws from African folklore and myth to create a lateral interpretation of life from pre-birth to old age, she implodes the idea of time as linear, choosing instead to explore the past, present, and future as intersecting planes.
Organised in partnership with leading NFT platform, SuperRare, ‘Reloading’ is co-curated by NFT superstar, Osinachi; creative director, filmmaker, and set designer, Ayo Lawson; and French cultural entrepreneur and curator, Maurice Chapot. Featured are artists based in Africa and beyond, including Moonsundiamond, Linda Dounia, PR$DNT HONEY, Abdulrahman Adesola Yusuf AKA Arclight, Youssef El Idrissi, Thapelo Keetile, Niyi Okeowo, Idris Veitch, and Nyahan Tachie-Menson, all of whom speak to the innovative and phenomenal breakthrough of NFTs over the past year.
With an emphasis on a robust digital platform for its 2021 edition, ART X Lagos gives vigour to an exciting and innovative African digital art scene with immense potential as we continue to come to terms with a blended future model for art, both on and offline. The future of African art may not be televised — but it will be digitised.
An essay by Jareh Das for the ART X Lagos 2021 artpaper