Pearls of Wisdom: Gallerist Pearl Lam Ventures to Lagos For the First Time and Meets a Smorgasbord of Cultural Activity

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Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to visit Lagos for the first time ever. My journey of discovery and inspiration will forever hold a special place in my heart, as the city’s cultural heritage, traditions, and artistic expressions were truly magnetic.

The influence of African art, particularly from Nigeria, has left an indelible mark on the global art scene. The achievements of artists like Ben Enwonwu, a Nigerian pioneer who gained early international visibility and recognition, paved the way for subsequent generations of African artists to showcase their talents on the global stage. Within the realm of African art, masks and sculptures are iconic and powerful forms of expression. These art forms, deeply rooted in tradition and cultural symbolism, have captivated the imaginations of artists worldwide. Twentieth century masters like Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brâncuși, Henri Matisse, and Amedeo Modigliani were fascinated by the forms of African art. The influence of African art on their works is evident, as they incorporated its aesthetics into their own artistic expressions.

Unlike Renaissance Europe or the pre-Dark Ages era in the West, where painting for the purpose of worshipping Christianity marked the beginning of art, African art has a different starting point. African art finds its origins in handicrafts, emphasizing the importance of arts and crafts in the region. Many African artists excel in these areas. Nigeria, with its abundant natural resources, large population and entrepreneurial spirit, stands as a country of immense potential. Its oil reserves and diverse population contribute to its economic prosperity, positioning it as the largest economy in Africa and 31st globally in terms of nominal GDP.

Lagos, specifically, has become a vibrant center for artistic expression. The city’s art scene has flourished, attracting artists, collectors, and enthusiasts from all corners of the globe. Its renowned art fair, ART X Lagos, has gained international recognition, further solidifying the city’s position as a thriving creative hub.

Pearl’s World

Nike Art Gallery. Photo by Pearl Lam.

Nike Art Gallery. Photo by Pearl Lam.

  • Nike Davies-Okundaye – I had the privilege of meeting Nike Davies-Okundaye, also known as Mama Nike, one of the children of the late Suzanne Wenger, who carries on her mother’s remarkable legacy in African arts and crafts culture. Suzanne Wenger was a prominent figure who dedicated her life to reviving Yoruba culture, protecting the sacred grove of Osun, and nurturing artists in the New Sacred Art movement. Her influential work and commitment to preserving traditions continue to inspire artists and shape the Nigerian art landscape.Through Nike’s artistic endeavors and her ownership of the Nike Art Gallery, she upholds her mother’s legacy and contributes to the revitalization of traditional art practices. The gallery showcases contemporary Nigerian art, and Nike’s passion for promoting inclusivity and empowering women in the craft industry has garnered international recognition throughout her illustrious decades-long career. Visiting the gallery is an immersive experience, offering a diverse collection of traditional Nigerian art forms, including textiles, paintings, sculptures, and beadwork. During my interactions with Nike, her reminiscences about Suzanne Wenger and her ex-husband, Prince Twins Seven-Seven (born Taiwo Olaniyi Oyewale-Toyeje Oyelale Osuntoki) further emphasized their significance in African arts and crafts culture. Prince Twins Seven-Seven was a highly influential artist associated with the renowned Oshogbo School. His modernist style and depiction of Yoruba religious and historical traditions earned him international acclaim. Both Suzanne Wenger and Prince Twins Seven-Seven left a lasting impact on African arts and crafts, and their legacies continue to be celebrated and remembered today.

 

  • Samson Akinnire – The Nigerian art scene is teeming with emerging talent, and I had the pleasure of encountering an exceptional collective of artists, amongst them was Samson Akinnire, known for his stunning artworks created from recycled materials. He uses his creativity to address environmental issues while producing unique and visually captivating pieces. By repurposing aluminum beverage cans, Akinnire promotes sustainability and highlights the transformative power of recycling. His artworks showcase intricate designs and patterns, demonstrating his technical skill and attention to detail. Through his art, Akinnire inspires others to embrace sustainability and contribute to a more environmentally conscious society.
Alimi Adewale, Ethereal Gaze II, 2023. Photo by Pearl Lam.

Alimi Adewale, Ethereal Gaze II, 2023. Photo by Pearl Lam.

  • Other talents that have caught my eye: Alimi Adewale‘s captivating works explore urban issues and encompass various genres; Dennis Osadebe‘s vibrant post-pop style investigates the relationship between tradition and contemporary African culture; Deborah Segun‘s deconstructed paintings reflect personal experiences and transitions as well as Nengi Omuku grapples with identity, using mixed materials to symbolize cultural interplay. Each artist contributes their unique perspective and creative expression, making a significant impact on the Nigerian art scene. Witnessing their diverse talents and voices was truly enriching, offering a glimpse into the dynamic contemporary art landscape in Nigeria.

On the Lam

Spiced goat head at Yellow Chilli. Photo by Pearl Lam.

Spiced goat head at Yellow Chilli. Photo by Pearl Lam.

  • Yellow Chilli – I indulged in authentic and locally-inspired African dishes. Jollof rice, reminiscent of my university days when my dorm mates prepared it, is a beloved staple blending rice, tomatoes, onions, and spices to create a savory and aromatic delight; mouthwatering Yam, is a West African favorite made with pounded yam and flavorful soups; and for those who crave a unique delicacy, is a traditional Igbo dish made with spiced goat head, while the spicy snails, served as a side dish, offer a tantalizing and adventurous treat. African traditional food is a celebration of diverse ingredients and cooking techniques, reflecting the rich tapestry of the continent’s culinary heritage.

 

  • Alara Concept Store – If you’re looking for a place to fully immerse yourself in the exciting fusion of design, fashion, art, food, and culture, this is a visionary establishment in Lagos. It is West Africa’s first signature and lifestyle store. The architectural design celebrates creativity and offers a unique spatial experience, with suspended platforms and staircases displaying a variety of objects. The interior features black concrete, while the exterior is red pigmented concrete, creating a striking contrast. The establishment also houses NOK, a restaurant surrounded by a serene bamboo-framed garden, offering an intimate dining experience accompanied by contemporary African art and design pieces.
Outside at Alara Concept Store. Photo by Pearl Lam.

Outside at Alara Concept Store. Photo by Pearl Lam.

  • R.S.V.P. – For those seeking a luxurious dining experience, R.S.V.P. is a remarkable New American restaurant and bar located in Victoria Island, Lagos. They capture the essence of industrial luxury with its inspired design reminiscent of the prohibition era establishments in Manhattan, NYC.

What I’m Buying

Bead necklace at Lekki Arts and Crafts Market

Bead necklace at Lekki Arts and Crafts Market

  • Lekki Arts and Crafts Market – This place truly cast a spell that drew me in for three consecutive days. Exploring the electrifying stalls filled with exquisite crafts and artworks became an enchanting ritual, immersing me deeper into the captivating atmosphere of the market. I couldn’t resist buying multiple 60th-century bead necklaces. African beads have a rich history dating back thousands of years. They were crafted from various materials and held cultural and symbolic significance. Beads served as adornments, representing social status and cultural identity. They played a role in rituals and trade networks introduced new bead styles. African beadwork continues to be valued for its beauty and heritage, connecting people to their culture and traditions.

 

  • QAMIN Nigeria – I was so impressed by their offerings that I have already preordered several items to be shipped back to my home. Their products are all handcrafted with utmost care and attention to detail, showcasing the finest workmanship in Nigeria. The brand specializes in premium fashion accessories, incorporating a significant number of hand-woven fabrics into their designs with a focus is on creating chic and timeless pieces that exude elegance.

    Book shopping at Hourglass Gallery. Photo by Pearl Lam.

    Book shopping at Hourglass Gallery. Photo by Pearl Lam.

  • In my quest to expand my knowledge of African art, I decided to purchase three books from Hourglass Gallery. The titles of the books are by Sklvester Okunodu Ogbechie, by Kofo Adeleke, and  by Pat Oyelola. These books will undoubtedly serve as valuable resources to deepen my understanding and appreciation of African artistic traditions. I am eagerly looking forward to immersing myself in the rich content and insights they offer.All too soon my trip to Lagos came to an end, but on my next visit, I would love to explore The Jazz Hole—I passed by but didn’t get a chance to stop in, it looks like a fascinating book and record shop dedicated to international music in Lagos while preserving and archiving African music and literature.

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