mEEt aINdReA EMeLIfE

THE ART HISTORIAN AND CURATOR SPEAKS TO US ABOUT HER CAREER, FRIEZE, AND THE ARTISTS WE SHOULD ALL BE FOLLOWING

Aindrea Emelife is a Nigerian-British curator, art historian and writer from London who has quickly become a groundbreaking voice in an art world steeped with tradition. We caught up with Emelife at this week's Frieze over a glass of champagne —here's what went down.

But what of his upcoming show? What plans does Rizza have in store? His Milan show, taking place later today, is his biggest yet. It’s a large space with a 360° video screen surrounding the viewers showcasing 30 models at actual size. “You won't know where it begins and where it all ends.”

“I call it the safari of life,” says Rizza. The video will showcase both men and women, a first for Rizza who previously focused on womenswear (although he states anyone can wear anything from his collection). Initially, “they will be doing daily life things” he explains, like “eating ice cream [and] talking.” But it’s of course not that simple (this is Rizza after all), as the models will also build their looks in front of viewers, with a woman taking the suit off a man and giving him her shirt, for example. It’s a cool concept.

How did you get into the art world?

I sort of tumbled into the art world. I was obsessed with art as a kid and then really wanted to study art history. At one moment in time, however, I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer. This led me to intern at publications such as Tank and start writing. I found that, although I love writing, I wanted to find a more visual outlet and to tell stories in a different way.

How did you get into the art world?

I sort of tumbled into the art world. I was obsessed with art as a kid and then really wanted to study art history. At one moment in time, however, I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer. This led me to intern at publications such as Tank and start writing. I found that, although I love writing, I wanted to find a more visual outlet and to tell stories in a different way.

But what of his upcoming show? What plans does Rizza have in store? His Milan show, taking place later today, is his biggest yet. It’s a large space with a 360° video screen surrounding the viewers showcasing 30 models at actual size. “You won't know where it begins and where it all ends.”

“I call it the safari of life,” says Rizza. The video will showcase both men and women, a first for Rizza who previously focused on womenswear (although he states anyone can wear anything from his collection). Initially, “they will be doing daily life things” he explains, like “eating ice cream [and] talking.” But it’s of course not that simple (this is Rizza after all), as the models will also build their looks in front of viewers, with a woman taking the suit off a man and giving him her shirt, for example. It’s a cool concept.

And this led you on to curating exhibitions?

Yes, telling stories and curating exhibitions became my new focus. But what I find interesting in my career now is that I can mix and match many facets – curating super academic exhibitions but also being able to tell stories to new people. So, what happens when I throw a fashion photographer into a show about photography? How do I challenge the standard way we display museum exhibitions and how do we intersect and discuss the topics at the centre? I’m trying to play around and break the mould, and luckily the art world is progressing enough that it's allowing me to do so – although I do like to ruffle feathers.

Aindrea with Flora (left) and KOIBIRD founder and creative director Belma (right).

As an art curator how do you choose artists and spot talent?

I’ve got quite an instinctive eye. I think that’s just been formed naturally as I move across curating and researching, which is why art history was so important in my studies. I feel it’s good to know what led up to the current moment. But I think what I like the most is when things reflect on history and create a new narrative.

I spot talent at places like Frieze. It's a great way to spot new artists from galleries around the world without having to travel to every country. I also read art magazines voraciously and am a total Instagram addict. But, in all honesty, I always ask other artists. They’re often looking at what other artists are doing, especially artists who are like them and in their realm. 

Which artists are exciting you at the moment?

Joy Labinjo – I’m really excited about her. I think partly because I resonate a lot with her experiences in the British-Nigerian diaspora, but she’s also a great storyteller, mixing politics, family and community with ease. She was also commissioned for Brixton Underground station – she traverses many different realms.

I also love an artist called Sahara Longe who is represented by Timothy Taylor. The party scenes she paints are often imbued with both humour and darkness.

And she often portrays great fashion too, doesn't she?

Exactly! I Love that throughout her work.

Who are you most excited to see at Frieze? Who should we look out for?

I was most excited to see Mama Nike – an older Nigerian artist – at Frieze Masters. The legacy of Nigerian women artists has been fraught, with Mama Nike having previously been arrested for her art practice. It’s just incredible to see her now recognised in the international space and being presented at Frieze Masters.

What are your tips for young artists breaking into the industry?

Look into art history. Some art degrees do offer art history courses, but being able to articulate and understand what’s happened in the past allows you to answer how you’ve got to this point and why. Some artists struggle sometimes with how to place themselves, but it’s so impressive when you know how to place yourself and work within art history. But study contemporary art as well.

But what of his upcoming show? What plans does Rizza have in store? His Milan show, taking place later today, is his biggest yet. It’s a large space with a 360° video screen surrounding the viewers showcasing 30 models at actual size. “You won't know where it begins and where it all ends.”

“I call it the safari of life,” says Rizza. The video will showcase both men and women, a first for Rizza who previously focused on womenswear (although he states anyone can wear anything from his collection). Initially, “they will be doing daily life things” he explains, like “eating ice cream [and] talking.” But it’s of course not that simple (this is Rizza after all), as the models will also build their looks in front of viewers, with a woman taking the suit off a man and giving him her shirt, for example. It’s a cool concept.

What is your advice for young art investors?

Buy what you like – that's it!

Nice, where should they look?

Go to graduate shows, go to Instagram and do a lot of studio visits. Artists love studio visits, especially at the beginning of their careers. It’s such a treat to be welcomed into that space and have someone really expand upon what they’re making. I loved starting my journey that way and it’s also how I met so many of my incredible friends.

What is your advice for young art investors?

Buy what you like – that's it!

Nice, where should they look?

Go to graduate shows, go to Instagram and do a lot of studio visits. Artists love studio visits, especially at the beginning of their careers. It’s such a treat to be welcomed into that space and have someone really expand upon what they’re making. I loved starting my journey that way and it’s also how I met so many of my incredible friends.

But what of his upcoming show? What plans does Rizza have in store? His Milan show, taking place later today, is his biggest yet. It’s a large space with a 360° video screen surrounding the viewers showcasing 30 models at actual size. “You won't know where it begins and where it all ends.”

“I call it the safari of life,” says Rizza. The video will showcase both men and women, a first for Rizza who previously focused on womenswear (although he states anyone can wear anything from his collection). Initially, “they will be doing daily life things” he explains, like “eating ice cream [and] talking.” But it’s of course not that simple (this is Rizza after all), as the models will also build their looks in front of viewers, with a woman taking the suit off a man and giving him her shirt, for example. It’s a cool concept.

What's your style uniform when going between galleries?

Because I am in London I do have a uniform: boots or trainers with little dresses. In winter this may become a little slip dress with sheer tights and a fun, wacky jumper. So, girly with a sporty edge. 

Finally, what have been your highlights of 2022?

Sonia Boyce and Simone Lee both won Golden Lions at the Venice Biennale. Also, the show that I curated – BLACK VENUS. It’s something that I’m incredibly proud of. It will hopefully come to London and I am going to make it into a book. Also just the general sense and moment, the art world is really embracing new ways of discussing art history and embracing new artists. There’s a sense of excitement and willingness to do things differently after lockdown and, for me, that is so great as I am always looking to do things differently – and people are listening.

ShOp THe FRiEZe LooK

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