The Art World at Home: Art Dealer Khalil Akar Is Collaborating With Ava DuVernay and Making Nigerian Cuisine

We caught up with the director of the Signature African Art gallery in London.

Khalil Akar, director of the Signature African Art gallery in London.
Khalil Akar, director of the Signature African Art gallery in London.

Last year, Ava DuVernay, the acclaimed film director who came to widespread public attention through 13th, a film about race and mass incarceration, organized an art exhibition at the Signature African Art gallery in London that included works by Giggs Kgole, Oluwole Omofemi, and 11 other artists.

Now, Khalil Akar, the gallery director who planned the exhibition with DuVernay, is working with her on another iteration of the show, scheduled to open in Los Angeles later this year.

We caught up with Akar about the project, its ties to DuVernay’s Leap Foundation, and the role the art world can place in social justice movements.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently working on a couple of shows in Los Angeles and in London. The first show will be a continuation of the “Say My Name” exhibition, ​which we first presented in London in fall 2020. This second iteration will take place in early 2021. The second show ​I am working on is pencilled in for April in London and aims to highlight the need to have Black history in the UK curriculum.

Walk us through the when, where, and how of your approach to this project on a regular day.

A normal day working on “Say My Name” would involve liaising with a couple of artists and getting updates on their works. ​There will be a lot of new works for the LA show, so I am providing them with any support they may need. I also try to organize regular meetings with Ava DuVernay’s wonderful team in Los Angeles to keep ahead of things. ​They were wonderful partners for the show in London and we are delighted to work together again. There is also quite a lot of press focus on the gallery that I deal with on a daily basis.

What was the last thing that made you laugh out loud?

Ghana’s dancing pallbearers with Astronomia music gets me everytime! The way that meme is used on social media is hilarious.

<i>If i could</i> (2019).

Giggs Kgole, If i could (2019).

What’s your favorite work of art in the house and why?

I have an old work by Clary Nelson Cole in Nigeria that I absolutely love. It’s the first work I bought when I started collecting. I’ve recently acquired a large piece by Giggs Kgole, which is stunning as well.

Are there any movies, music, podcasts, publications, or works of art that have made a big impact on you recently? If so, why?

I’ve recently started watching How To Get Away With Murder and Viola Davis’s acting is a joy to behold. The Masaka Kids Africana account on Instagram always warms my heart. In regards to publications, the recent Artnet article about the rise of Amoako Boafo was a superb read, which I recommend to everyone within the art world.

What is your favorite part of your house and why?

That has to be the kitchen! I enjoy cooking, especially baking, and it’s always a nice social environment with the family.

Puff puff cooked by Khalil Akar.

Puff puff cooked by Khalil Akar.

What’s going on in the kitchen these days? Any projects? And triumphs or tragedies?

I love baking and I made some puff puff (Nigerian cuisine) during the first lockdown, which were amazing. My presentation definitely needs refining though!

Are there any causes you support that you would like to share?

We are supporting the Leap Foundation, which was founded by Ava DuVernay and aims to combat police brutality in America. It’s a really important cause and it’s vital we continue trying to make a difference until we get proper change.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Has to be Love Island! I’ll just leave it at that.

Which two fellow art-world people, living or dead, would you like to convene for dinner, and why?

Leonardo da Vinci and Edvard Munch. Leonardo moreso to learn about his life, as he provided so much more to society than his art. And I would love a full day with Munch just so can he explain The Scream in detail.

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