Tiwani Contemporary in the company she runs | The Guardian Nigeria News

Tucked away on serene Elsie Femi Pearse Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, Tiwani Contemporary are what journalist Yinka Olatunbosun has described as ‘uncovered’ statement pieces.

The residential building with which the gallery shares a significant complex stands out in its surroundings with its fresh white paint, elegant palm trees and sleek glass windows.

The gallery is a dream come true for Greek gallerist Maria Varnava, who lived in Nigeria as a child but now resides in England, where she founded the Tiwani Gallery in 2012.

Since Tiwani Contemporary arrived in Nigeria in February 2022, the purpose-built 2,000 square foot gallery has become a “diasporic consultation”. And as a home for diaspora arts, detective work has focused on the best of contemporary Africa.

Outside the gallery was featuring British-Nigerian painter Joy Labinjo, whose exhibition, Full Ground, which was curated by Nigerian-American artist and curator, Temitayo Ogunbiyi, who coincidentally is exhibiting in the second gallery exhibition, drew rave reviews. and critical interrogation for its content perceived as “nudist”

The title of the second show is taken from Mary McCarthy’s first novel, The Company She Keeps, a series of six cleverly interconnected New York short stories, which made almost as much noise when it was published in 1942.

Curated by Adelaide Bannerman, the exhibition, which runs from May 28 to August 13, 2022, arrives slung over her shoulder, a wonderfully concise confirmation of the intellectual woman.

The five exhibiting artists, Chioma Ebinama, Miranda Forrester, Ogunbiyi, Nengi Omuku and Charmaine Watkiss, all women, work internationally.

In the show, they detail the radical circles that woman inhabits and interrogate a semi-autobiographical and revealing insight into a shiny but fractured matriarchal order.

Materially and collectively, their works draw attention to intimacy, restorative approaches and the valorization of work.

Ebinama, who is based in Athens, Greece, is interested in animist mythologies and non-Western philosophies, and conceptualizes her interpretations as drawn compositions and watercolors on rag paper. His watercolor is lyrical and transformative.

The exhibition features her suspended circular painting, The Bride 2 (2022), inspired by a wedding rite scene, as featured in Chinua Achebe’s classic 1958 novel, Things Fall Apart. This is presented with the audio piece, Prayer for when fear strikes at dawn (2022).

The metaphorical fluidity of his work allows visitors to understand his natural environment in a new way and makes the painting a reflexive sequence of African cosmogony.


For Britain’s London-based Forrester, she has two large-scale works: the diptych, Give Me All of You (2021) and two selected works from Introspection I-IV (2022) an installation that incorporates hand-painted murals and paintings using oil, gloss and image transfer on transparent polycarbonate panels. The installation centers an abstract game of domesticity and interiority, structured by the gazes and intimacies shared between women.

Forrester’s work lives in worlds of emotion that equal the earnestness encountered by parents, lovers and friends.

Ogunbiyi comes with how commerce, architecture, history and botanical cultures inform the interactions and gestures that inscribe public and private space.

She continues her robust and thorny work of establishing the nerves and resistances of real-life experience. Avoiding the contiguous trappings of sweetness, the work transcends the context of social privilege to enter into the big issues of real life, in which every girl must learn.

Working across the disciplines of painting, drawing and sculpture, she presents You will labor to find value anew and Sweet Mother, Mama Ibadan (2022), which pays tribute to the dexterity and work of women.

Omuku presents Candyscape (2022), which adapts her interests in political-cultural representations of the figurative body to understand the psychotherapeutic impact of landscape on the psyche.

She plunders a range of lore to do it herself in a way that tells such a story. She gives life to a pantheon and counts the rhymes and rhythms of her objects.

Continuing its signature use of Sanyan silk fabric, Candyscape is a large-scale oil painting that momentarily suggests a retreat for the body, to harness the restorative power of real and ideal landscapes.

While Watkiss, another British artist, (UK) is based in London. Her sequel to new designs, Àse (2022) brings the matrilineal deities of Watkiss to Nigeria. These “plant warriors” are the human and spiritual embodiment of the medicinal plants and seeds dispersed to the new worlds from West Africa via transatlantic trade between the 16th and 19th centuries. The journey of the deities is a rite of custody and reparation ceremonially remembering which flora has been taken.

Tiwani founder Varnava, a member of the team of art practitioners, curators, artists and gallery owners, who ushered in a new trend in Nigeria’s visual design, says the gallery is helping to revitalize the contemporary art scene in the world. most populous black nation.

She believes that the patronage of a pan-African collector base must be cultivated, including individuals and organisations.

“I really think we’re navigating through an interesting time back then,” Varnava says. “There is so much enthusiasm and support around art from Africa and the Diaspora. It is also a period of great speculation.

This caveat is understandable. Tiwani Gallery is a business enterprise with lofty goals of expansion far beyond its Nigerian business.

“We need more rigorous support, and that collectors support an older but also younger generation of artists,” she adds. “It is very necessary for the longevity of this moment.

The lady, who grew up in Lagos, says. “I moved to Lagos from Cyprus when I was 40 days old. I lived here until I was 11. I grew up around the works of Suzanne Wenger, Twin Seven Seven, Bruce Onabrakpeya, Ben Osagia, etc.”

Upon completing her MA in African Studies with a specialization in African Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, she established her gallery in Fitzrovia, central London. For her, the location of the gallery was important for the message she had to convey. Having previously worked with an international auction house, she discovered a weakness in the international visual arts scene.

“I thought there wasn’t enough engagement with contemporary material from Nigeria and Africa at the time. I started doing research and talking to people who were interested in publishing or exhibiting just to introduce some sort of extra ‘vibe’ to the art scene in London,” she says.

His meeting with the late Nigerian curator, founder and director of the Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA), Bisi Silva, in 2008 influenced the birth of Tiwani Contemporary.

“She was instrumental in the development of Tiwani as a whole. She was a great friend and mentor and helped me set up Tiwani in London. And throughout the process of the past 10 years, it was always an open conversation with Bisi when she was still with us and also with my colleagues,” she recalls.

“For me, I thought commercially it would have made sense to establish this in New York or Paris. But then I feel very close to my Nigerian upbringing. I feel very passionate about the artists I work with and themes I want to explore. I think if we want to be part of the Africa movement globally, we have to be here, talk to local artists and also engage with local patrons. Basically, I would like to see more works by Nigerian artists.”

Thus, Tiwani Contemporary has become an institution in Nigeria to help build relationships, convey messages and bridge the gap between local and international artists and collectors.

WHILE thinking back to her beginnings at the Tiwani Gallery in London, she remembers the obstacles overcome to position contemporary African art where it is.

“I was an outsider in every way. I was an outsider in the sense that my output was full of artists from Africa and the diaspora. Fantastic galleries were already working with some of them. October went to El Anatsui but I was not part of the gallery system. I was an outsider because of the geography I represented. The only way to overcome that was through the quality of the artists we choose to hire. We have to create the charts through the shows. We had to find the bias and it was a long journey, not easy. We also had shortcomings in the early days that we learned of.

“It was a constant learning process every day, but I think over the last four years or so things started to feel a lot, I don’t want to use the word easier but smoother. Suddenly, we’re looking for customers and now customers are chasing us – so there’s a change and we have a bigger type of movement right now.

“If you want to build a truly international collection, we have to include Africa in the conversation. Tiwani started shaping things and this led to the creation of an art fair specifically for African galleries. He corrected the way art from Africa should be valued.

“People had this idea that just because I was working with African artists, the price of art should be cheaper or cheaper. But we helped break down those barriers to trade. Galleries and auction houses are not best friends but suddenly, there is a shift in the market and we see a synergy between the two,” she reveals.

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