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Olufemi Ibitayo’s Intimate Art Gallery Feels Like a Friend’s Living Room

Olufemi Ibitayo’s Intimate Art Gallery Feels Like a Friend’s Living Room


“I wanted to create a lived-in gallery space so people could experience art in the context of a living space.”

For many, art is a subjective experience. One can find art in the everyday, in nature, within the walls of a museum, at a concert, in a book. But regardless of the venue, we often have preconceived notions of what is considered art, how, where and when it should be experienced and, maybe subconsciously, who it is intended for.

The idea of an art gallery might paint a picture of a modern studio space in a metropolis, complete with abstract paintings and thought-provoking sculpture, with well dressed patrons milling about, sipping champagne and exchanging commentary with foreign accents. For others, an art gallery calls to mind oaken hallways with dark and massive oil paintings lining the walls, the cracked and rich canvases gathering dust and recalling masters of old. Unfortunately, for many, these common perceptions, while based in truth, often alienate large segments of an otherwise engaged audience -- not to mention artists themselves.


It's within this liminal space that Nigerian-American entrepreneur, Olufemi Ibitayo, based his recent project, Presentation 001, the inaugural show of the Afr-i-can Contemporary Art (ACA) gallery. Ibitayo partnered with furniture retailer Modloft to upend the traditional gallery models, foregoing the aesthetics of the flashy gallery and stuffy museum and, instead, recreating the vibe of a private home. Located within the famous, mid-century modern American Cement Building on Wilshire in Los Angeles, California, the project ran from May 16 to June 30, to much acclaim. Not only was the setting unique, but the gallery marked one of the first-ever African art galleries in the area.

"After first moving to Los Angeles," Ibitayo said in a press release, "I found myself in beautiful houses, perfectly decorated -- except for the lack of art. Art that reflected the owners' identities. It just wasn't there. I realized it was an issue both of lack of accessibility and lack of exposure."


Ibitayo curated contemporary works from nine Nigerian artists, ranging from newcomers to the well established, paintings to photography. Art was displayed within the gallery in the lived-in spaces of the studio loft: above a bed, in a kitchen, next to furniture. What prompted this unconventional approach? Context.

"I've always enjoyed viewing art in the context of a living space rather than in a gallery or museum," Ibitayo said. "There's so much more intimacy seeing art in a home, and it is where artwork really comes alive -- it is in those moments, for example, while having a cup of tea, that you have the chance to really live with a painting, to let it unfold over time and experience its facets. This is the kind of contact with art that I want to share with people, especially considering how rare it is to encounter, with the particular intention to help new and established collectors visualize how they might live with Contemporary African Art."


It was also important for Ibitayo to not only show art in context, but to show African art that featured a different narrative than what most patrons were used to, altering perceptions of the region and the country's artistic contributions. In an interview with CGTN Africa, Ibitayo explained, "It was really a result of my travels throughout the world, and just seeing the representation of the continent. And the narrative was about poverty or war or disease or corruption. I felt that it wasn't telling the complete story. I felt like, 'Who could tell our stories?' And I looked to the artists to do that."

The featured artists of Presentation 001 included:
Sam Ebohon, painter
Obinna Makata, sculptor, fabrics, inks and acrylics
Joshua Nmesirionye, painter
David Dosunmi, photographer
Diseye Tantua, Afro-Pop Art
Kehinde Sanwo, oil, watercolor, charcoal, pastel, and abstract photography
Emeka Nwagbara, oil painter
Olufemi Oyewole, watercolorist
Olusegun Adejumo, painter

While Presentation 001 may have closed this summer, Ibitayo is far from done bringing African art to American audiences. His future plans involve branching out from Nigeria to include other contemporary artists from across the continent. "There is a universal quality to contemporary African art. It really is for everyone. There's nothing here that could not be on anyone's wall, regardless of what it is."


All the pieces featured in Presentation 001 were for sale, bringing economic opportunities (in addition to notoriety) to the artists involved. "It's an opportunity to reach new customers, new clients," said featured artist Joshua Nmesirionye. "I want to reach out to the international audience so they can hear my voice."


Gallery-goers and art patrons alike eagerly await Ibitayo's next project, an endeavor sure to continue Presentation 001's goal of shedding light on the rich and diverse stories of the contemporary African art scene.

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