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This Day | At the Frieze Art Fair, Two Nigerian Creative Amazons Hold Court

By Okechukwu Uwaezuoke

Among the international contemporary art market’s much sought-after key events, the Frieze Art Fair occupies a special place of honour. The art fair, which hosts 180 international galleries and hundreds of contemporary artists every year for five days, owes its beginnings to a magazine founded in 1991 by two childhood friends, Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, and was officially launched as an art fair in London, UK, in 2003.

Featured among its many participants this year are two leading Nigerian female artists, Peju Alatise and Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye, courtesy of kó Gallery. Already, Alatise’s “Sim & The Glass Birds”—or its recent unveiling as part of Frieze Sculpture 2022, a public art exhibition that features 19 works by a variety of artists, including the renowned Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone and the late American poet and performance artist John Giorno—should have caught the attention of art-biased netizens, thanks to that in-your-face social media buzz around it.

Talking about this sculpture exhibition, which has been on since Wednesday, September 14, it runs until Sunday, November 13 at London’s Regent’s Park. Alatise, already renowned as one of the leading Nigerian experimental multidisciplinary female artists, has remained in the industry’s limelight since her 3-D work, “Flying Girls,” was featured during the 2017 Venice Biennale, in which she participated as one of the artists at Nigeria’s debut pavilion. That was the same year that the 47-year-old fellow of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art also won the prestigious FNB Art Prize. This was before she was selected to feature at the 2020 Venice Architecture Biennale. Besides being celebrated for her landmark local and international exhibitions, the ANAI Foundation founder was recently known to have organised artist residencies in Morocco and Turkey.

Her four-panel public installation, which draws inspiration from the Yoruba tradition, is based on the fantasy flights of a 9-year-old domestic servant, Sim, to an imaginary world that is swarming with Yoruba mythological creatures. Traumatised by her dreadful condition as a child labourer in Lagos, Sim seeks solace in her dream world. 

The work, made of granite cast, stainless steel, mild steel, resin, and glass, depicts Sim with glass birds in flight, which will eventually break, that are stuck above the panels. This fragility serves as a metaphor for the futility of her escape and its terrible, unavoidable end.