Musicians, artists and filmmakers lead the way in Nigeria

Nigeria has been the cultural powerhouse of West Africa for decades, but now its creators have started to gain attention on the world stage. Each fall, artists across the country reach a new audience with the five-year-old Art X Lagos Fair and exhibitions abroad, while artists such as Wizkid and Burna Boy pack the Grammys in the United States. United with their contagious afrobeats. Nigeria’s huge film industry, aka Nollywood, is also internationally acclaimed. Here’s a snapshot of the scene right now.

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Indigenous / retro Africa

Black Excellence, by Williams Chechet

Williams Chechet / Retro Africa


“Now is a great time to be part of the contemporary art community here,” says Dolly Kola-Balogun, the 27-year-old founder of the Retro Africa gallery in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. “There is such a spotlight on works produced across the continent and on black art in general. The scene includes names as diverse as pop artist Williams Chechet, whom some call Nigerian Warhol, and the well-established Victor Ehikhamenor. Kola-Balogun is particularly enthusiastic about emerging actors such as Tyna Adebowale, whose works focus on gender issues and queer identity, and self-taught Ken Nwadiogbu, best known for his hyperrealistic paintings. The Art X Lagos fair has played a major role in empowering artists and small galleries in the country. “The only thing that slowed down our ambitions was the lack of creative spaces, but that is changing,” says Kola-Balogun. She hosted her first group show in New York City earlier this year, featuring works by Ehikhamenor, and plans to open a gallery in Miami next year. For those looking to experience the Lagos scene, 23-year-old multidisciplinary artist Chigozie Obi recommends Art Twenty One and A Whitespace. “The first one is massive, which is unusual in Lagos,” she says. “And the latter plays with his conceptual space, repainting and reconstructing it for various projects. I think it helps people to experience more.

Actor-producer-director Kunle Afolayan

Kunle Afolayan / Retro Africa


Nigerians love to joke around the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge, a landmark in Lagos that makes a mandatory appearance in just about every Nollywood movie set in the city. And there have been many – from Kunle Afolayan’s supernatural thriller The figurine (2009) to the political drama of Kemi Adetiba King of boys (2018). “The energy here makes it a unique place,” says Afolayan. “It’s the kind you find in New York and London. Whenever I shoot a film in Lagos, I tend to look for the tourism potential of this region; when I tour in other African countries, I always look for ways to bridge the cultural divide. Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world in terms of production, after Indian Bollywood, but it is developing differently. Local studios such as EbonyLife and FilmOne wield greater influence, as Netflix expands its presence, ordering three new Nigerian films in Afolayan and an original series sequel to King of boys from Adetiba. The past year also saw the release of a new generation of young filmmakers determined to expand the Nollywood narrative, including Damilola Orimogunje, who tackled postpartum depression by For Maria Ebun Pataki, and Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim, whose short Ifé depicts the challenges of a lesbian love affair in the context of today’s Nigeria.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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