Art

Adenrele Sonariwo’s Rele Gallery Arrives In Los Angeles From Lagos

The Nigerian gallery turns its attention stateside with its first international expansion in Los Angeles, which opened February 1 with "Orita Meta - Crossroads," a group show by Nigerian female painters Marcellina Akpojotor, Tonia Nneji and Chidinma Nnoli. Gallerist and curator Adenrele Sonariwo tells Cultured why she's long been dedicated to sharing work by African artists with the world.

Elizabeth Fazzare

Marcellina Akpojotor, Rhythm of Evolving Story (Conversation series), Mixed Media (fabrics, paper, charcoal and acrylic on canvas), 96 x 156 inches diptych (96 x 60 inches and 96 x 96 inches), 202
Marcellina Akpojotor's "Rhythm of Evolving Story (Conversation Series)," 2020. All photography courtesy the respective artist and Rele Gallery.

Elizabeth Fazzare: You’ve long championed young art talents from Nigeria on both a domestic and international scale. Why is this important to the curatorial work that you do?

Adenrele Sonariwo: I’m passionate about amplifying the voices of talented young artists emerging across Africa. Their perspectives, stories and creativity are truly like a breath of fresh air. They challenge us to think about things differently and to shape the future in a better direction. At Rele Gallery, we have been very privileged to be at the forefront of supporting and promoting this kind of work, which we think is helping to create a renaissance of some sorts in the Nigerian creative arts. 

EF: How have you seen Lagos’s art scene change since you began the gallery there in 2015?

AS: Absolutely, the art scene has changed dramatically. Partly thanks to our work, the creative arts sector is becoming more culturally relevant, more professionally managed, more internationally linked and more commercially successful all at once. Most importantly, we are seeing greater influence by contemporary art on the national social and political narrative. 

Rele gallery

Chidinma Nnoli, “A Poetry of Discarded Feelings / Things (II),” 2020.

EF: Why was this the right time and why is Los Angeles the right place for Rele Gallery’s first international expansion?

AS: Los Angeles is an amazing, multicultural city with a long history of appreciating and valuing artistic talent from all over the world. We wanted Rele Gallery to be a part of that history, to bring a diverse set of new voices from Africa to the United States and LA just seemed to us like the most appropriate starting point for that conversation. 

EF: What crossroads might viewers discover in the LA gallery’s inaugural group show?

AS: Our audience might observe the intersections between femininity, power, beauty, family and solidarity, but through the unique lens of three incredible women artists who are influenced as much by their past personal life experiences as by the current global moment that we are all living through. 

rele gallery tonia nneji

Tonia Nneji’s “Sit and listen (II),” 2020.

EF: What draws you to the work Marcellina Akpojotor, Tonia Nneji and Chidinma Nnoli?

AS: They are three of the most talented artists currently creating work in Africa. There is a uniqueness to their socio-cultural perspectives as much as their signature artistic styles that has caught the imagination of an increasingly global audience in a way that speaks to the universality of our humanity in an interconnected world. It’s a remarkable testament to their creative abilities and I think that their work will resonate well with the LA audience, as well.