African Art in London

London / Art / Africa


Interview: Winnie Awa, founder of Uli-Museum

Have you heard of Uli-Museum? If you’re even the slightest bit interested in Nigerian art, it is time you did. Uli-Museum is an online gallery focused on showcasing the talents of contemporary Nigerian artists, it displays work across a range of styles and disciplines and features in-depth profiles on emerging artists (see: this excellent interview with Karo Akpokiere).

KARO AKPOKIERE: Man, Woman and Scissors, 2010

KARO AKPOKIERE: Man, Woman and Scissors, 2010

Uli-Museum is interested in art for all, its manifesto champions enthusiasm over connoisseurship: ‘We want to make this whole art thing accessible, no ‘arty farty’ talk if we can help it…’ Going forward African Art in London will do its best to let you know every time Uli-Museum is shining its spotlight on a new artist but if you really want to be sure to stay in the loop follow the museum’s presence on Facebook.

African Art in London recently sat down with Uli-Museum’s lovely founder Winnie Awa and fired a few questions at her concerning the how’s and why’s and ultimate goals of the digital art space she has built.

What made you decide to build an online museum? 

About a year ago, I started discovering some really interesting artists from Nigeria and across Africa, who in my view were truly challenging the status quo and pushing the boundaries in terms of style and medium, beyond the archetypal view of art from Africa – Njideka Akunyili, Ruby Amanze, Karo Akpokiere and Modé to name a few. My appetite was growing and I would stumble across one or two more artists but I wanted to know more but there wasn’t one place I could go to learn, discover and share my emerging interest. Marrying the two, technology and art to achieve this aim seemed like a no brainer to me.

Why an online museum showcasing Nigerian art?

Accessibility was key, both for the artists being featured and the users consuming the artworks online. Last year, I attended a talk about Contemporary Nigerian Art at SOAS University and was surprised at the number of artists who stop working as a direct result of the lack of patronage. I think patronage goes hand in hand with exposure and an online platform bridges geographical gaps.

What are the aims of Uli-Museum?

The aim of Uli-Museum is to document the brilliant body of contemporary art and artists work in and around Nigeria, providing comprehensive online content for art lovers and budding collectors, as well as global exposure to talented artists. It is really about discovering, engaging and sharing art. Our manifesto summarises the Uli-Museum DNA pretty well.

How do you select artists?

We focus on emerging and established artists from Nigeria or diaspora, from painting to sculpture to installations to video art. It usually starts with first contact with the artist, either via email or a conversation, from which point it is mutually agreed as to the best method to use for profiling the artist.

MODÉ ADERINOKUN: The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born, 2012

MODÉ ADERINOKUN: The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born, 2012

What’s the best way for people interested in Nigerian art to get involved with Uli-Museum?

Collaboration is at the heart of what Uli-Museum does. If anyone’s interested in being a guest curator, or writing, or filming, please do get in touch with us. As a regular art lover who just wants to enjoy and engage with the artworks on display, you can get stuck right in. We recently teamed up with Wana Udobang of to release an exclusive feature with award winning Nigerian artist, Nnenna Okore. To get involved and engaged further, please LIKE the Uli-Museum Facebook page to share your views on Nnenna Okore’s work, become part of the debate and keep abreast of upcoming and exciting new features.

NNENNA OKORE: Agbogho, 2009

NNENNA OKORE: Agbogho, 2009

What’s the ultimate goal of Uli-Museum?

Ultimately, it is about contributing to the Nigerian art market. Whilst this is an exciting time for Nigerian art at the moment, there is still little documentation on the ground. In covering art from a wholly accessible way, we hope to revolutionise the way people consume and engage with art.

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Interview: Cameron Platter

Cameron Platter is a fine artist from South Africa. He makes painstakingly detailed pencil drawings, collages, stories and objects that document contemporary morality. Platter’s work is often a mash of violent colours and language is appropriated from advertising, struggle art aesthetics juxtaposed with consumerist irreverence. Platter has recently exhibited solo at Paris’ Galerie Hussenot and Cape Town’s WHATIFTHEWORD. His work has also been included in group exhibitions at The Centre Pompidou, Haus Der Kultur and MOMA. His first UK exhibition, Everyday Apocalypse, a selection of his bright and unwieldy documentary drawings is showing at the Jack Bell Gallery until Saturday (20th April).

Osei Bonsu talked to the artist once described as “the delinquent love child of Quentin Tarantino and Dr Seuss” about history, heritage and activism in his art.

You have described your pencil-on-paper works as “Nomadic Murals”. What do you mean by this and what significance do murals have for you personally?

I think the works are drawn from the immediate – like signs or advertisements. Something you can read, rather than engage with in other ways. In that way they take things from outdoors, which are a part of everyday life. Oddly enough, I hadn’t done any mural painting before and this series of works led me to become involved in that. The murals I make are not completely different from other works, but they blend into their environments a lot more.

Are the experiences of showing on walls in streets and inside in galleries related?

Obviously, it’s completely different. I see drawings as performance works, since I am performing in the studio as I making these. The murals bring the work to a far larger audience, so I was instantly attracted to that dimension of it. I recently did something in downtown Johannesburg, which involved taking three classified ads from a newspaper and blowing them up, you literally missed them as artwork

How do you begin creating?

There is no formula for making the work. It might be a shape or design that leads the process. With collage, I am scavenging as I go along, so there are no hard and fast sources that I draw from. I wish I was an abstract painter, but I can’t bring myself to do that – inside these things are naïve appreciations on some shapes and how things related to each other.

I would describe anything I make as collage. I am trying to chase that high of a young kid an art class, engaged in something for a couple of hours. I’m searching for that kind of engagement. But things get in the way, society gets in the way, it’s really important for me to try and document what I do – like a diary.

Unity in Diversity, 2013

Unity in Diversity, 2013

In your works words are used often, they are symbols, and have a number of definitions…

In Unity in Diversity, 2013 the message reads “NEED MONEY MONEY”. It was lifted from a loan shark ad, the repetition of the word MONEY provides a cadence and it becomes poetic, which sounds pathetic, but its true.

There is poetry in everyday language that we are often desensitized from. Which words carry most meaning for you?

A lot of the words I’m using in these works are, in the first instance, very personal. Works are often designed digitally; I might see an advertisement on a rubbish bin and it relates to another thing I’ve been looking at. For example, here we have “ADD HOPE”, which is the strapline of KFC’s charity. They encourage the consumer to add two round to their meal deal, money that goes to their charity. This is corrupt on so many levels, but having said that I am in awe of that – as a radical statement. Messages in Add Hope II, 2013 also include “OUR LIFE IS OUR WORK”, a slogan for a pharmaceutical company, and “DUAL MAGIC PROBE”, which is an anal probe from the California exotics sex company.

Add Hope, 2013

Add Hope, 2013

As an artist with messages in your art do you find yourself implicated as an activist?

I feel I have both no responsibility and at the same time all responsibility. I think these works immediately reference printmaking, which is a political medium and always has been. I have strangely become an activist artist without even knowing it – but it’s about having things to react to. I’m not trying to establish a moral stance in my work, I just want to take it in and put it back out again.

I want people to be able to digest things instantly, but they should also be able to access them on different levels…

To what extent is the what you create related to your South African heritage?

I am of the opinion that work should reflect a time and a place and a situation. Through circumstance I am South African. That is the lens through which I view the work. Although these works are shown around the world, I would like them to be rooted in a South African context.

So ultimately, the work is about ideas that transcend South Africa… 

But conversely, if I was to work somewhere else in the world I would want to be part of a broader conversation about the themes I am looking at in South Africa, in that way it would always be rooted. I haven’t actually worked anywhere else. I’d say I would probably be engaged with the same issues but on a broader more global scale.

B.U.T.W.A II, 2012

B.U.T.W.A II, 2012

You are exhibiting at the 55th Venice Biennale – Imaginary Fact: South African Art and the Archive. How do you feel about its focus on South Africa’s history and the impact that history has had on the world?

I can understand the issue of the archive, but I am not really thinking of that consciously. What I want to do with this larger scale series of a hundred is make documentary pictures that hopefully will be finished in about ten years or so – each being some sort of chronicle of the times. The work shown in Venice will particularly be referencing Namibian Linocut printmaking, by artists like John Muafangejo. He is a big presence in what I’ve done. His works were documentary narratives in their nature; you can get a sense of his time through his work. In that way, by appropriating his works, I want to create some sort of picture of what I’m living through or the times.

If you are an activist, perhaps your protest is one against forgetting…

Perhaps. I am not very eloquent in tapping into what it is I’m doing. I struggle to see what I am actually working with. I like that distance; I wish I had the luxury and the time to analyze it more.

Osei Bonsu is a writer and curator living in London and Accra, Ghana. He blogs at A Field of Islands