• Wednesday, December 06, 2023
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The rise of Amazons – Leading female gallerists in Africa

The rise of Amazons – Leading female gallerists in Africa

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First things first, what is a gallery and who is a gallerist?

Simply put, a gallery is a permanent physical space where artworks are exhibited.
A gallerist is a person who owns an art gallery. A gallerist could also be used to refer to a person who exhibits and promotes an artist’s work in other venues with the clear intention to attract potential buyers for the exhibited works.

Gallerists play an important role in the art world. Throughout history, gallerists have always changed the trajectory of the art world by the choice of works they choose to represent. A good gallerist must have a high level of professionalism, strong artistic expertise, and excellent managerial skills.

Still in the celebration of women breaking the bias in art all month long, this digest shines a spotlight on five (5) women redefining the game of gallery management in the African art industry. What in particular is worthy and why do these power women need this special spotlight? Dive in with me.


Mama Nike, as she is fondly called, needs no introduction. She is often referred to as the woman who has no formal education yet, enters great stages to speak about African Art including Ivy league schools. Nike Davies-Okundaye is the Founder of the Nike Art Gallery, arguably the largest privately-owned art gallery in Africa, housing over 25,000 artworks ranging from paintings, wood carvings, sculptures, jewelry, amongst others. Her gallery focuses solely on artworks done by African artists. This way, she unapologetically encourages creativity and the way of life of the African people. She endured a tough childhood. Her mother passed at a tender age and thereafter her father, a basket weaver and a traditional drummer sent her to live with her great grandmother who was a master of Adire and other traditional arts and crafts to learn Adire, weaving, and embroidery. Hard times forced her to drop out of school in form 6. She grew up at a time when women were expected to stay silent and abide by societal mantras. At the age of 14, she was betrothed to a man by her father. She struggled to see how she could stay married to a 60 years old man who already had 5 wives. She planned and successfully escaped that situation.

Read also: Rewa Udoji – A fusion of visual art and high finance

Leaning into her early struggles as a young uneducated girl, Nike Davies-Okundaye has vested interests in empowering women and girls and this passion led her to establish four (4) schools across Nigeria for widows, young mothers, and the unemployed where Adire, weaving, painting and other cultural arts are taught for free.
Mama Nike has proven herself to be a beacon of hope to women in the arts. She has gracefully carved her name in the sands of time as a woman who thrived despite life’s odds and the hurdles and sometimes backlash experienced in a male dominated industry.


Fondly called SMO, her first foray into the arts was in her desire to become a successful actress. She followed through on that dream by attending a drama school. Thereafter she went on to study Education, and spent some time volunteering at The Winnipeg art gallery in Canada and that was where the seed was sown.
Her professional career highlights her role as a documentary filmmaker and communications specialist. In 1998, she co-founded a non-profit media organization – Communicating for Change – with her husband where they raised awareness on social issues prominent with Africans.

After spending 14 years in media, SMO started curating exhibitions professionally. Her first foray was a contract by a friend who tasked her to curate Art for a boutique hotel. She strongly believes that Art can change lives by causing a paradigm shift in the core of our souls, whether in the form of a powerful painting, a song, a drama, or film. As a storyteller, she often says Art moved her from vision to reality the moment she tapped into its power.


An entrepreneur, a curator, a gallerist. Adenrele Sonariwo wears it all. She is the founder of Rele Art Gallery, Lagos, Nigeria and Rele Art Gallery, Los Angeles, California. She is also the founding director of the Rele Arts Foundation which was founded with the aim of creating opportunities for emerging artists, by awarding them grants, training, and mentorship.
During Adenrele’s time as an auditor at Pricewaterhousecoopers, she discovered an innate love for art. This led her to quit her job to found Rele Gallery; a cultural and contemporary art center that presents art for public consumption and nurtures the artists’ work – bringing their work to the attention of a broader, global audience. Over the years, the gallery has hosted a wide range of events, from book readings to exhibitions attracting talented artists like Victor Ehikhamenor and Kelechi Amadi-Obi.


Nana Sonoiki is the founder of The Art Pantheon, an art gallery situated in Oniru Victoria Island Lagos. Art Pantheon brings together artists for aesthetic and critical engagement among art lovers. In her career, Nana has worn many hats; art manager, an entrepreneur, and an art curator. The industry reveres Nana as one of the women shaping visual arts in Nigeria.

Her foray into the arts all began in the year 2002. She met Prince Olasehinde Odimayo – founder and director of Treasure House Fine Arts, Lagos – by chance. Sniffing out her talents, Mr Odimayo offered her an opportunity to work with him. This opportunity was pivotal in influencing and broadening her ideology of African art. She was introduced to a world of influential artists that played key roles in the development of contemporary art in Nigeria.


Art is expressed through a variety of media and Ighiwiyisi is not one to box her creativity. She freely expresses her innate abilities as a lyricist, a writer, an articulate speaker, a visual and spatial artist, and in her creative direction of a custom production design and visual merchandising service; Hermosa Boda.

Ighiwiyisi is the director and co-founder of the Gallery at The Landmark and Convener of On Display Africa; an annual exposition of the arts.

“GATLDMK (Gallery at The Landmark) is uniquely positioned to become a platform for artists in Nigeria and Africa who are novel but struggle to fit into regular spaces to escape herein,” says Ighiwiyisi Jacobs. GATLDMK is creating a welcome stage for arts with newer interpretations; a place where new age and nonconformists can find and build their tribe. will ultimately lead to a break out of more artists who haven’t been able to because certain people are yet to understand what they do,”says Ighiwiyisi. This is achieved through the art exhibitions and programs the Gallery hosts at different times of the year.

Happy International Women’s Month!

Until next digest,
Keep breaking the bias. 🙅🏽‍♀️