Lola Ogunnaike is a Nigerian American features and entertainment journalist. As a reporter for The New York Times, she lead its entertainment coverage and wrote for the paper’s Arts and Leisure section. Lola and her husband, Deen Solebo, are art collectors, interested primarily in the work of artists from Africa and its diasporas. Their collection ranges in scope, from wax work to abstracts, collage, portraiture, sculpture, and more recently to photography. A few days before the opening of the 5th edition of ART X Lagos, the couple shared openly their perspective on contemporary art and on the meaning of building an art collection.
Your life and professional journey inspired this conversation, especially your love for culture and the arts. Would you share when you were first drawn to the arts, particularly visual art?
The seeds for my love of art were planted early by my family. My late uncle was an abstract artist who dabbled in a range of mediums and his work was a fixture in our home. My deep appreciation for art blossomed during my sophomore year at the University of Virginia. Senora Gazman taught an art history course that quickly became my favourite. She was wildly expressive, loved high heels, and often sat cross-legged atop her desk as she lectured about Dali and Dadaism, Monet and Manet, the cubist movement and pointillism in the works of Seurat and Lichetenstein. I lapped it up. When she wasn’t waxing about art, she regaled us with very colorful tales about her friend, Marie Therese Walter, one of Picasso’s most famous lovers and muses.
My passion for art has only grown throughout the years and, thankfully, Deen now loves it as well. When we first began dating, his idea of fine art was vintage Tintin posters. Let’s just say that his tastes have evolved considerably since then and now he’s obsessed with art, primarily the works of African artists.
Of all the people one meets in the art world, the artist and the collector are key. Their connection is unique. As a collector yourself, can you tell us more about how and why you started collecting art and how you perceive your role in the art world?
Collecting has become a mutual passion and we love spending weekends gallery hopping. We collect because it makes us happy. The works bring unparalleled beauty into our homes in Lagos and New York and, through collecting, we’ve developed deep friendships with artists that we’ve come to adore.
One of the most exquisite gifts Deen has ever given me is an Alimi oil painting of a young woman with perfectly manicured cornrows, wide almond-shaped eyes, and bright red lipstick. Years later, we met Alimi at ART X 2018 and I gushed about how much I loved this piece. We now own several of Alimi’s works and treasure our friendship with him. We also met Modupeola Fadugba and Cyrus Kabiru at ART X 2018 and we’ve remained friends with them both. Since my days as a New York Times Arts & Leisure reporter, I spent many nights running around Manhattan in search of conversations with a young group of artists. Watching their ascent on the global stage has been absolutely remarkable. One of those artists recently gifted us a breathtaking portrait of our son. Words can’t describe its beauty or significance to us.
Are you partial to a particular artist or medium?
Our collection ranges in scope, from photography and wax work to abstracts, collage, portraiture, and sculpture. We seek out works from emerging artists and masters alike. Ben Osawe, Modupeola Fadugba, Aboudia, Ben Osaghae, Cristina De Middel, Abe Odedina, Rom Isichei, Marcellina Akpojotor, Cyrus Kabiru, Lakin Ogunbanwo, Kenny Adewuyi, Soji Adesina, Gerald Chukwuma, Emeka Udemba, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Edozie Anedu, Ayoola, Bob Nosa, Uche Uzorka, Duke Asidere, Deborah Segun, and Uthman Wahab are a few of the artists that have brought us immense joy.
Do you two agree on every purchase?
Deen Solebo: Once in a while, either one of us will sneak in an acquisition without consulting the other. So far so fine, as we have come to trust each other’s taste. But generally we try and reach a consensus before committing to a purchase, meaning we’ve had some passionate debates about acquisitions over the years. Some regrets for sure, but mostly around that piece we didn’t buy.. My tastes are more avant garde and I’m drawn to abstract work. Lola is seemingly obsessed with figurative works these days, but I’m ready for her to move on. To what exactly? That’s the current question in our home.
We have our eyes peeled for photography and we are eager to see what this ART X season and 2021 in general has to offer. Art is a truly common pursuit we genuinely value more than most material things.
In the course of the past five years, ART X Lagos has disrupted the way that art from Africa has been presented in Nigeria and beyond. How would you qualify this disruption?
ART X has been instrumental in establishing Lagos as one of the leading art capitals of the world and, in less than six years, it has quickly become a must-attend event on the international art calendar. Representatives from the Tate Modern, Smithsonian, and Centre Pompidou were on hand at last year’s ART X and, once the world opens up again, we fully expect even more luminaries to flock to Lagos for this event.
ART X attendees not only experience the wonders of the fair, but they’re exposed to some of the best of Lagos’ unique culture. Great meals, killer fashion, late-night concerts with cutting-edge artists, chic, champagne-fueled soirees at local hotspots like Miliki or Nok lounge. What’s not to love?
We’re also thrilled that ART X has made art accessible to the Nigerian masses, which is a true gift to our country and culture. Art has always been one of Nigeria’s leading exports, but it is of the utmost importance that our artists are supported and celebrated at home.
Nigerian youth has recently dared to create change for the present and the future of their country. A notable lesson in bravery. Do you think that artists and collectors can also play a role in facilitating this change?
Artists were at the forefront of the #EndSARS movement and played a pivotal role in exposing rampant police brutality and extortion in the country. Historically, African artists have used their work to speak out against injustice, gender-based violence, war, corruption, colonialism, and other maladies that have plagued the continent.
At ART X 2019, we were introduced to the powerful works of Aboudia, who is known for his graffiti-style paintings that are often compared to Basquiat. He lived through the civil war in the Ivory Coast and has used his work to help him digest the atrocities he witnessed. In a recent interview, Aboudia declared, “My weapon has been the painting brush and the battlefield, my canvas.” We love that quote because it perfectly and succinctly encapsulates the role of the artist in society.
Artists help us make sense of the world, bring focus to chaos, and render the unimaginable digestible. An artist’s job is to provoke, to question the status quo and, as the old adage goes, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
ART X LAGOS – 2-9 December, 2020.
Articles are published in their original language.
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