In this month's spotlight we are speaking to Aindrea Emelife, the 27-year-old art critic, independent curator, and author from London who is making groundbreaking changes to a typically traditional art world.
Starting at The Courtauld Institute of Art, where she completed a BA in History of Art, she has quickly gone on to become an innovative new voice in an art world otherwise steeped in tradition. Aindrea wrote her first Financial Times column at 20. She has been published in outlets such as Vanity Fair, GQ and ArtNet and was appointed to the Mayor of London’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. Her speaking engagements aim to popularise art history and champion female and artists of colour. Aindrea is also currently writing two books: A Little History of Protest Art which will be released by Tate in 2022 and Art Can Change The World: A Manifesto, also released in 2022.
Her most recent project is the exhibition Citizens of Memory which she has curated and will open at The Perimeter in London on 18 May 2021.
interview with aindrea emelife
WE ARE VERY EXCITED TO SEE 'CITIZENS OF MEMORY' AT THE PERIMETER. TELL US ABOUT THIS SHOW AND HOW YOU CAME TO BE INVOLVED.
This show looks at how nostalgia and memory is slippery, why we are attracted to the idea of looking back and the complicated nature of nostalgia. History is subjective. We see in it what we want to see and leave things out. Now there are calls to tell a more complete story - and so I wish to investigate how we look back, and how our memories change as we do. Contemporary artists have always looked back; but as we look to a better future and interrogate our histories, how nostalgia manifests in the work of contemporary artists was deeply interesting to me.
WHAT IS THE MAIN MESSAGE YOU WANT TO CONVEY WITH THIS EXHIBITION?
I want to raise questions of our past memories, and encourage looking again. I want to also depart from the idea that there is one way that artists negotiate the past, and celebrate Black pleasure, and being, and living. I want to question why we hold things precious and consider how subjectivity comes into play.
HOW DOES YOUR CURATORIAL PROCESS WORK?
I'm a bit of a busy body. I'm constantly dreaming up ideas for exhibitions in my head. I'm the girl staring into space thinking up narratives, dream spaces and the perfect artist list. This idea had been bubbling away for a while. After a year of intense social discussion, as well as mining my own understanding of my history and cultural identity as a Nigerian-British diaspora, I had been wondering about how we look back in history, and how it differs. I spent - and continue to spend - most of my time looking back. Reading, excavating history books and ideas, investigating personal histories... and I then wondered, which narratives do I feel a sense of belonging to? Naturally, the artists who had been inspiring me at the time seemed to also be on a similar expedition. I guess, all artists look back - but it is the, how and why, its nuances to experiencing and understanding the past as a Black person, and the second layer of diasporic understanding that fascinated me. These artists question the past, but also re-establish and revel in a 'Golden age' of Black cultural memory that is so often put behind a general visage of oppression. Nostalgia, then, becomes something to critique, but also forge for ourselves.
TELL US ABOUT HOW AND WHY YOU SELECTED THESE ARTISTS FOR THE EXHIBITION.
The artists selected are quite the dream list. Rachel Jones was actually in one of my first ever shows a few years ago, and Tunji Adeniyi-Jones is an artist I've known and admired for some time. It's been brilliant working with them, and the newly created works for the show. Ndidi Emefiele I have been following for some years. I was initially struck by the similarities of our last name then was enamoured by her strong narrative qualities. I had seen Olivia Sterling's work before, and was reintroduced to the work by The Perimeter's founder, Alex Petalas. It was great that she created an series for the show. Walter Price is another artist I had admired, and whose work I've fallen in love with all over again in the process of researching and curating the show. I'm really looking forward to his show at the Camden Arts Centre. And Cassi Namoda, is one of those artists I'm dying to meet, and whose work seems to sing a new song every time I look at it. Honestly, I am truly flattered that these artists have trusted me with their work and believed in the concept. In working on the show, I've garnered an even deeper love for what they do (didn't know this was possible!).
OLIVIA STERLING IS AN ARTIST WE WORK WITH AND ADMIRE GREATLY. HOW DOES HER WORK FIT INTO THE NARRATIVE OF YOUR SHOW?
I love how Olivia looks nostalgia right in the face and questions the sugar coating of the past. Her work is nothing short of nostalgic - the imagery sends me straight to my youth but also makes me question the subjectivity of these memories. She looks at these ordinary scenes and reflects on how racialised discourse comes in the most unlikely places of everyday life. Jam, sugar, cakes, cooking, choc dips all take on a different tone after looking through Sterlings eyes.
YOU HAVE SAID BEFORE THAT YOU HAVE ONE FOOT IN THE PAST AND ONE IN THE PRESENT/ FUTURE; HOW IS THIS REFLECTED IN THE EXHIBITION?
As an art historian, and contemporary art curator, I love mixing my approaches to both. Looking back allows us to properly understand the future.
MASSIVE CONGRATULATIONS TO BEING AWARDED THE FORBES 30 UNDER 30 IN THIS YEAR'S EUROPE ART AND CULTURE CATEGORY. WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF WITH THIS ACHIEVEMENT AND HOW WILL IT AFFECT YOUR FUTURE PLANS?
It was such an honour to be included. It's a great confirmation as I am currently snowed under with the most amount of projects I've ever juggled... But equally, there's so much more I want to achieve. It's important also to know that recognition and success has nothing to do with age. Being recognised earlier on means now I must keep dreaming bigger.
YOU ARE WELL KNOWN FOR TAKING CONTROL OF DIGITAL MEDIA AND USING THIS TO SPREAD YOUR MESSAGE. WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THE INCREASE IN DIGITAL MEDIA IN REGARDS TO DEMOCRATISATION AND DIVERSITY IN THE ART WORLD?
The digital realm is almost like our public realm now. We are online so many hours of the day, more now since the introduction of Zoom. Digital media is a powerful way to get the message across, and reach a wide demographic.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW ROLE AT LONDON'S NEW DIVERSITY COMMISSION, AND ARE THERE ANY NEW EXCITING NEW PROJECTS YOU CAN REVEAL TO US?
I'm so excited to be part of the Mayor of London's Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. I truly believe in the power of public art and its role to catalyse debate, be a site of understanding, encourage hope and spark joy. Nothing to reveal yet - but with ever-frequent news of new commissions throughout London, there is clearly great energy and a love of making London's public realm engaging and exciting. The Commission will look at future commissions, not the current state of public sculpture.
FINALLY, NOW THAT THE MUSEUMS ARE OPENING UP, WHICH EXHIBITIONS ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO?
I can't wait to visit the Dubuffet at Barbican! And, even though I've already been, I'd love to revisit the Lynette Yiadom-Boakye exhibition at Tate Modern. Frank Bowling at Hauser & Wirth will be an utter dream I'm sure. And speaking of which, I'm really really looking forward to the 'Art From Britain and the Carribean' at Tate Britain. Have been excited since it was announced a year or so ago, and it finally opens this December!