Adenrele Sonariwo is an award-winning curator, art entrepreneur, founder of the Rele Art Gallery and Rele Art Foundation.
She was the first person to curate an art exhibition at Nigeria’s seat of power, The Presidency (Abuja) and has been featured in global publications such as the Financial Times, The Art Review, Forbes Africa, and Vogue.
Adenrele shares four photo books that inspire her work and insights on the rule of a curator.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere: Photographs
edited by Bisi Silva
“First, the historical nature of the book is great for research and reference. As a young woman who has a complex relationship with my hair, I find the hairstyle images in the book fascinating and reminiscent of my childhood. It’s magical, it’s familiar, and unfamiliar at the same time. Great use of colors.”
Fragile Legacies: The Photographs of Solomon Osagie Alonge
by Amy Staples
“The work I do every day involves introducing newer audiences to appreciate art from Nigeria. One cannot speak about the Nigerian artistic landscape without speaking about the historic Benin Kingdom. The book is a great compendium for reference which I often recommend to younger photographers I work with.”
David LaChapelle: Good News
by David LaChapelle
“The images are a work of art. Magical, at once familiar yet unfamiliar. Great use of colours as well.”
Recent Histories: Contemporary African Photography and Video Art from the Walther Collection
by Daniela Baumann
“I love the contemporary nature of the book and that these are African Photographers in such a reputable collection. The perspectives are great and act as inspiration and an amazing resource for other African photographers especially in a climate where the medium is often unappreciated within the continent. Some of the writers and photographers featured in the book I know personally/have worked with in the past.”
Adenrele, on a basic level, what is a curator?
In its very basic form, I believe the role of a curator is to help shape the artistic output which the public gets to appreciate and consume. Once I decide on an exhibition with a visual artist, I'm there every step of the way, to help guide decisions and executions as the artist desire, as is relevant to the society and such that the audience can navigate easily.
As a curator and founder of the Rele Art Gallery in Lagos, Nigeria, what do you look for in a visual artist's work?
At Rele, our mission is to continue to trigger newer audiences (local and global) to appreciate, follow and collect art from Nigeria. In furtherance of the mission, we look for artists that are creating cutting edge work, as well as works that are addressing a topical issue.
In founding an art gallery and curating exhibitions—what constraints have you faced? What are some ways that you've flipped them to your advantage?
Funding and budget constraints. We've learnt to work with what we have and realized that in the process, creativity is at its peak when working with constraints. We might come up with something amazing because of it.
You constantly have a timeline and a plan without losing the mission or the vision. There seems to be a bit more flexibility nowadays, as long as you have permission at the back of your mind. There will be other options to support us—it’s important to remember that so you don’t feel defeated.
It seems the creative community in Lagos is collaborating more and embracing their heritage and creativity.
They're beginning to do that. Everybody's usually relying on everybody. There's a lot of different collaboration that is going on within art spaces. A lot of young people now in this sort of generation have more exposure. Especially in Lagos, Nigeria, where many young people never leave, they can connect with the outside world just through their smartphone.
Photography is a paramount tool for social change. What advice would you give to young photographers on wielding this craft in a meaningful and forward-thinking way?
Find a unique point of view and go with it. Research, research, research. Be authentic and consistent at the same time. The world is so diverse, so complex and photography is a great bridge if used right.