If you are familiar with Afrobeats, the African music genre that has taken the world by storm, or Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry that is one of the three biggest in the world, along with Hollywood and Bollywood, then you might also be aware of the rapidly growing art scene in the country. There is one person that is largely responsible for this: Tokini Peterside, the founder and director of ART X Lagos, West Africa’s biggest art fair that connects Nigerian artists to galleries, buyers and collectors all over the world.
Born in the Nigerian city of Lagos, Tokini grew up in an art-loving household with parents who raised her to see herself as capable of anything. She has fond memories of being creative and artistic as a child, always painting and drawing. She lived in the United Kingdom as a teenager, where she attended an all-girls boarding school before studying at the London School of Economics and graduating with a degree in law. But Tokini was passionate about history and culture studies, and she always knew that she wanted to work in the creative field.
After returning to Lagos in 2008, Tokini started her career as communications manager in Nigeria for Moët Hennessy, part of the LVMH group, working in marketing and brand management across the culture and luxury sectors. Through her work, she was able to meet many musicians, fashion designers, filmmakers and tastemakers who were shaping the creative renaissance that was happening in the city. This reignited Tokini’s passion for the cultural arts, and in 2012, she decided to create her own strategy consultancy, TP-Collective. Her consultancy saw her work with Alára, the pioneering luxury concept store in Lagos, and award-winning fashion designer Maki Oh, whose designs have been seen on Michelle Obama and Lady Gaga.
Four years later, Tokini relaunched her company as ART X, an international art fair that aims to successfully position African art and its creators as power players on the global stage. The organization has since held five fairs, becoming a cornerstone of the cultural scene across Africa and the diaspora, and exposing some 40,000 visitors to artists and artwork they would not have known of otherwise. Last year’s exhibition, moved online due to the pandemic, showed artists such as Abe Odedina and Segun Phillips.
Herself an avid art collector and design enthusiast, Tokini has dedicated her work to evangelising the power of visual art, making sure that African art is appreciated not just around the world, but at home, too. She is passionate about representing artists authentically, creating a platform that significantly increases their visibility and provides as many opportunities as possible for artists to express their creativity.
In this episode of Our Folklore, Tokini Peterside joins us for a conversation on the power of visual art, being a part of Nigeria’s creative renaissance and using her platform to change the way African art is appreciated around the world. Listen to the podcast here, and on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and read excerpts from the interview below.
“I found that, me being the Nigerian girl, I was often having to explain my culture to the friends that I met, whether at school or university. And I found in those years one of the best ways to do so was through a lot of what was coming out of our culture scene, through our literature, through our music, through our film. And I was just such a lover of all these creative expressions by Nigerians and Africans.”
“I was that friend that the wannabe fashion designer came to, or the wannabe photographer… I was just that friend that they came to, to structure projects. We had so much fun, we had such a good time. We made a little bit of money along the way but that was never the objective. It was just about expressing ourselves and me supporting them to express who they were.”
“I really started to dream about a career in culture, I started to dream about a career doing this thing that I love for fun, which was really supporting talented people, talented creative people, by giving them the opportunity to shine and to thrive and to discover the most about themselves.”
“I wanted people from across the world to have a moment and opportunity to come to Nigeria and to Africa to see for themselves the phenomenal treasure trove that we had and these incredible artists and the work that they were producing. I also wanted to have a bridge between Nigeria and the rest of Africa, to help African countries work less in silos and be more collaborative with each other.”
“It’s so exciting for me to hear people across the world curious about Lagos, wanting to explore Lagos because we are the biggest ambassadors for Lagos. We’re always there telling people that the story you hear about Lagos, Nigeria, Africa, ‘come and see for yourselves and encounter that yes, these parts of the world, they have their troubles but there are very many gems here and phenomenal people to encounter.’”
“With visual arts, it’s really diverse and really broad and I think that’s something that’s so beautiful about what’s being created here. You have artists who, by and large, some of them speak to social justice and are very much thinking about issues that affect our society, and try to proffer themselves, solutions for how we can move forward.”
Photographs courtesy of CLAN, Tom Saater/NYT-Redux-Rea, R&B-PR/ Insigna Media, Zac Frackelton/The Times