The Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) Trust recently announced the appointment of Nigerian-British curator Aindrea Emelife as the new curator of modern and contemporary art at the much-anticipated museum, designed by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye and located in the heart of Nigeria’s millennial Benin City.
The appointment was made public in a Press Release on EMOWAA’s official website stating that the Trust “is delighted to announce the appointment of Modern and Contemporary Art and Nigerian-British curator Aindrea Emelife as the new Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.”
Welcoming her appointment, Aindrea Emelife posted on her social media channels; “I am thrilled and honored to join the emowaa team as the inaugural Curator (Modern and Contemporary) Edo Museum of West African Art, a new museum district designed by David Adjaye in Benin City, Nigeria, which will open in phases starting in 2024. As a London-born Nigerian, I am spiritually connected to this mission and honored to be part of this historic project. Having joined the team a few months ago, I have learned a lot from its members. I have broadened my view of archaeology to include important aspects of museum practice that one rarely has the opportunity to know from the start. It is an incredible opportunity to be involved in the development of the project for a museum of the future and a museum in Africa, as well as to work with scholars such as Chika Okeke Agulu whom I admire so much, while building and studying early research and exhibition projects, as well as collection strategies.”
The appointments of Emelife supports EMOWAA’s goal of creating a world-class museum, research, and education complex connecting West Africa’s ancient heritage to its thriving contemporary culture. The EMOWAA Executive Director Phillip Ihenacho said, “One of the key challenges for museums and heritage institutions in Africa is relevancy to contemporary African society. We need to build infrastructure and programming to celebrate the rich traditions of the past, but also connect to the present arts scene and invest in the skills and knowledge that enable opportunities for contemporary creatives and heritage professionals.”
The EMOWAA Trust is a not-for-profit foundation behind the EMOWAA Pavilion and Museum which was established in 2019 to support the preservation of West African arts, culture, and heritage. The Pavilion is its first building and will house a materials research lab, learning and exchange facilities, and archives. EMOWAA will also be a complex of multiple buildings and outdoor spaces inspired by historical typologies. The new museum will begin operations, in stages, beginning in 2024. The first building, currently under construction, will include modern research facilities for artists and scholars from across West Africa, as well as an archaeology and materials laboratory. The 4,000 square meter building will provide the digital equipment and facilities to store and study West Africa’s unique cultural knowledge base and bring imagined futures to life in a 2D/3D reality for global access and engagement. The pavilion will also house a visitor center to engage local stakeholders through ongoing initiatives and programs.
A World Class Museum
Aindrea Emelife’s responsibilities will include helping to create a world-class museum, research and education complex linking West Africa’s ancient heritage with its thriving contemporary culture; advancing academic research in the field of contemporary and modern West African art; developing EMOWAA’s collection strategy; build the curatorial framework of the creative district that EMOWAA is developing in the heart of Benin City; generate new multi-faceted narratives and interpretations of West African art and history; and build a collection reflecting the evolution of Nigerian modernism from the 20th century to the present.
Aindrea Emelife said, “One of my main goals as EMOWAA’s new Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art is to continue the effort to tell our stories and the complex connections that exist, starting with Nigerian modernism and boldly moving into the many corners of West African modern and contemporary art history that have yet to be developed and discovered. I am honored to be part of building the legacy of modern and contemporary African art.”
A specialist in modern and contemporary art
Born in London, UK, Aindrea Emelife is a British and Nigerian art historian, writer, curator, author and presenter specializing in modern and contemporary art, with a particular interest in issues related to colonial and decolonial histories in Africa, transnationalism and the politics of representation. She embarked on an artistic career at the age of 19 and organized her first exhibition at the age of 22. She quickly became an innovative voice in an art world steeped in tradition and established herself in the contemporary art field, presenting new perspectives and ideas to a wide audience and championing a new generation of emerging talent. “I kind of fell into the art world. As a child, I was obsessed with art and really wanted to study art history. However, at some point I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer. This led me to intern at publications such as Tank and to start writing. I discovered that, while I love writing, I wanted to find a more visual outlet and tell stories in a different way,” explained Aindrea Emelife in an interview.
Aindrea Emelife, prior to her appointment, studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art, before embarking on a versatile career as a curator and art historian, producing highly acclaimed exhibitions for museums, galleries and private collections internationally. These exhibitions have focused on modern and contemporary art, concentrating on issues of colonial and decolonial histories in Africa, transnationalism, and the politics of representation. Recent exhibitions include BLACK VENUS, an investigation of the legacy of black women in visual culture, which opened at Fotografiska NY and will be shown at MOAD (San Francisco, USA) and Somerset House (London, UK) in 2023. “Black Venus” explores the representation of black women through 40 primarily photographic works.
Aindrea Emelife’s is an author whose first book, “A Brief History of Protest Art”, was published by Tate in March 2022 and she is currently working on her second book with Thames & Hudson, to be published in 2024. Aindrea Emelife has contributed to exhibition catalogs and publications, most recently Revising Modern British Art (Lund Humphries, 2022). She has contributed to several publications, most recently Revisiting Modern British Art (Lund Humphries, 2022).
Aindrea Emelife, wrote her first column in the Financial Times at the age of 20 and has been published widely and internationally, including in The Guardian, Vanity Fair, The Telegraph, BBC, GQ, Frieze, The Independent, BBC and ArtNet. She is a regular contributor to podcasts, most recently Intelligence Squared, Talk Art, and The Art Newspaper Podcast, and is dedicated to public speaking, usually in discussions of contemporary art, popularizing art history, and advocating for women, black people, and artists of color.
In 2021, Aindrea Emelife was appointed to the Mayor of London’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. She was also selected for Forbes’ “30 under 30” list and is a board member of New Curators, a twelve-month paid training program based in London for curators from low socioeconomic backgrounds.