WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Opening an art gallery during a pandemic might seem like a risky proposition, but for Nigerian gallery Director Adenrele Sonariwo, not opening was even riskier. Sonariwo first visited Los Angeles 15 years ago and fell in love with the art scene.
That positive experience led her to explore what it would be like to showcase African contemporary art in L.A.
“Los Angeles is already well known for its vibrant art community, multicultural as well,” Sonariwo said. “We just felt like it was a really nice fit for us to present something new, new perspectives, new artists living and creating in Africa at the moment.”
Already a successful gallery owner in Lagos, Nigeria, Sonariwo was surprised by the positive reception her curated artworks received at the 2020 L.A. Art Show, so she got to work looking for permanent gallery space in L.A. Despite the pandemic, she decided it was time to build a bridge between the two continents and create the first African gallery in Los Angeles. For her inaugural show, Sonariwo is presenting the works of three female artists that live and work in Nigeria.
“Their works touch on issues such as gender equality, female empowerment, as well as some of the pain and trauma that women have to go through,” Sonariwo said. “We find that the work resonates very well with the community here in Los Angeles.”
Rele Gallery is already attracting visitors. Janelle Zara is an art critic working in Los Angeles and was excited to visit the gallery’s opening week.
“I think it’s wonderful to, you know, enjoy art in person from people who have a different life experience or a different point of view and that have a different visual language that references cultures that are local to where they are,” Zara said.
Sonariwo said she feels the thrill of seeing artwork in-person has been missing and wanted to create a physical space to dispel any preconceptions of contemporary African art.
“Through the arts, we actually do find out there is more that connects us than sets us apart,” said Sonariwo. “What you see here with each artist is their individuality. They have newer ways at looking at things and we are hoping that their artwork can resonate and connect with the L.A. audience.”