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Aida Oluwagbemiga is a Nigerian curator with a background in History and Diplomacy from the University of Abuja, Nigeria. She describes herself as a "Trans-disciplinary, Eclectic Curator. Sub-Saharan History & Tea Aficionado".
Aida is deeply entrenched in the cultural community, hosting art shows, fashion shows and poetic readings.
Aida curated Mathea Boogert's solo show exploring her Wabi Sabi's art work for the July 2022 show at Gallery Sorelle Sciarone. We hope you enjoy getting to know Aida as well as we did.
Interview: Aida Oluwagbemiga
Curator Aida Oluwagbemiga. Interview with Aida Oluwagbemiga for Gallery Sorelle Sciarone. Picture from her LinkedIn and "I met an Edic Once" show in Nigeria.
Historian and stories
Please tell us something about yourself.
I love history in all its diverse forms and cuts across literature, folklore, music and art. I think about this a lot and how this got into my subconscious from my mother, Maria Musa. She would tell me stories at the same time she could tell you the history of everything in our house and how even her philosophy was inspired by the stories her own father had told her as a child. They were like folklore, and I have watched my mother engage people so captivatingly like the keeper of stories, which shaped me and made me love history more. History, I always say, is the art we make now, the life we live now, and it becomes timeless by tomorrow. I find myself drawn to that, in the same way I think it has become me, so I am so interested in authentic history, in words and what words can be, in the now and what it becomes. Thus fundamentally, that is who I am, the girl who loves the simplicity in voices, old or new and being able to help others find those voices, which often is through art as people don’t really talk anymore, a piece of art can narrate a thousand words without ever using words.
Mathea Boogert's Wabi Sabi's are abstract pieces based on a Japanese Philosophy. When the West looks to the East. I think it is important that the South looks to the West and not the West being left to interpret culture solely through themselves. This is cultural appropriation. In this dynamic it becomes a cultural exchange.
How did you get into what you do right now? Please tell us more about your journey.
For me curating is like storytelling; it’s an art of preservation by getting the audience to fall in love with something you love and finding ways to engage them enough to notice. My love for narration began with history and literature, and curating was my way of connecting them. In sub-Saharan Africa today, I want to inspire more people to love and commit to art as much as I have.
After completing my studies at the University of Abuja in History and Diplomacy, I shadowed a Nigerian-based artist Grim Hunny while also working with the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, and this helped me understand Curating in its contemporaneity as well as its history. Curators were caretakers of Museums, just like the Librarian with books, but right now, we are re-defining this ushering in the wake of trans-disciplinary curators.
Grim Hunny helped shape my interest in contemporary art in Nigeria in 2019, and the more I fell in love with her art, the easier it became to communicate at exhibitions.
Grim Hunny was the first Nigerian artist I loved. However, she was not the first artist whose work I fell in love with. As a teenager, I had fallen in love with artists like Edvard Munch, Rembrandt, and Rene Magritte, but I hadn’t found a favourite in Abuja until I met her. Meeting her was also synonymous with being a part of the art community. Hence, I began to curate the following year, having cultivated the art of describing and analysing art locally.
Who are your role models?
I have a long list, but I’d choose one of each field: Art Curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Poetry Curator, Podraig Otuama, and Alexa Chung, who I would describe as a curator of Fashion or style.
What inspires you?
Beauty, History, Parisian culture, love but most importantly, my friends and currently the French Institute in Abujar.
Aida takes an Interdisciplinary approach to art
Please tell us about your work.
My work is very eclectic, with a little bit of history and literature. Often when I curate, it's a miss-mash of art, fashion, music, poetry, conversations and photography. This way, people can come for music or fashion and be re-introduced to photography or poetry. I like to have the audience converse or even talk to them and hear their interpretations of everything or just a piece of one thing. I wanted to find a way to be more socially engaging as a curator, which has been important for me when planning a show or exhibition.
Curator Aida Oluwagbemiga.
"I met and Eddic Once"
What's your most memorable experience in your field?
I met an Eddic Once; I got inspired for this exhibition after meeting an Eddic on a rainy night in Abuja, he was so charming and filled my ears with tales of this dying culture. I loved being able to curate an exhibition which connected to the extinction of languages and species and help draw a light on how art can preserve or in some sense sustain, because they have the tenacity to outlive and outshine us.
Ed: Read Aida's piece on this exhibition: here. It is a paper on Eddics by Aida Oluwagbemiga for the ‘ I met an Eddic once Exhibition at Fure by Furayya Gallery, presented on 1st August 2021, Abuja. Nigeria.
What keeps you going when things get tough?
There’s a bunch of activities I do to get through, so much of it involves Going out, which could be exhibitions or simply flaneuring with my friends. There’s usually a friend with whom I can hop around the city and stay late into the night talking about our creative dreams and ideas. Reading really helps as well, watching Netflix documentaries or Youtube videos about creatives and artists and occasionally I go to this Mango store or eat this Vietnamese noodle chicken soup.
Then I write a lot about how I am feeling in my journal and paint a little, and then I am refreshed and feel as though I can push through anything.
What is the one thing you wish people knew more about in the arts?
I can’t pick one; it’s a solid tie between Wabi Sabi, expressionism or just that African artists or art can be enjoyed for simply being beautiful without necessarily being of sculpted kings of the old Benin Empire. I wish that the way of viewing or even the African art market can move from that to expressionism or Wabi-Sabi.
Dear Aida, thank you so much for sharing all this with us. I especially understand your sentiment that we can appreciate art in all its small forms and stories. That art should not just be a monolith of one thing. The people who make art tell stories, and those who enjoy them find them in art in diverse spaces. But the art world is always overshadowed by the creation of monoliths within the art. Monoliths and putting objects (or people) on pedestals create a caricature of those objects (or people). They become holy, inaccessible and overshadow all that comes before and after—chocking growth, exploration and diversity. When you curate, Aida, you often mix music, fashion, poetry, paintings and the telling of stories. Holding space for the myriad ways, we can enjoy life and beauty and welcoming space for culture and art constantly in flux. You do this in such a seamless and engaging way.
We are thrilled that we could work with you on this project. We have one more project together this year.
I am looking forward to that as well.
Lots of Love,
Art Historian and Gallery Manager at Gallery Sorelle Sciarone.
postscript: Dutch translation will be updated shortly.