Yinka Shonibare Just Opened an Ambitious, Years-in-the-Making Artist Residency Program in Nigeria

The non-profit cultural center will provide public programs, exhibition opportunities, and workspace for artists. 

Yinka Shonibare with his installation "The British Library." Photo by Tabatha Fireman/Getty Images.

The British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare CBE has opened a years-in-the-making residency program and art space in Nigeria that aims to foster exchange between artists of different cultures and career paths.

Located across two sites, one in Lagos and the other on a rural working farm in Ijebu, Guest Artists Space (G.A.S.) Foundation will provide public programs, exhibition opportunities, and workspace for creatives from Africa, the diaspora, and around the world. 

Ghanaian-British architect Elsie Owusu and Lagos-based architect Nihinlola Shonibare designed the location in Lagos, a barrier-free venue that boasts studio, gallery, and performance space on the ground floor and shared living quarters upstairs—enough to accommodate three resident artists at a time. (London-based Owusu also designed Shonibare’s house in Lagos.)

The 54-acre farm, meanwhile, is staffed by local villagers and features hundreds of cashew-nut trees and other crops. The farm’s new building, designed by Papa Omotayo of MOE+, will offer residency space for artists, scientists, and agriculturalists. Construction on workshop spaces dedicated to weaving, ceramics, and other crafts will begin in the spring.

Both sites were funded by Shonibare himself; the residencies and programs will be funded by his foundation and through partnerships. 

“The art world needs to evolve,” Shonibare said at the center’s opening, as reported in the Nigerian newspaper The Nation. “There is a rich vein of talent out there, but we might lose them if the status quo of the last 30 years remains. We are working with the local community, whilst opening doors for the next generation, equipping them to thrive not just survive.”

Shonibare is one of a number of African and African diasporic artists who are capitalizing on their own success to cultivate the next generation of artistic talent in their countries of origin. Painter Amoako Boafo, installation artist Ibrahim Mahama, and performance artist Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi have each set up spaces in Ghana to support young artists. Meanwhile, Kehinde Wiley’s Black Rock residency in Senegal has become a closely watched incubator for emerging figures. In the absence of robust government funding for the arts, these initiatives have quickly become a core part of their countries’ cultural infrastructure.

Shonibare first announced the launch of his non-profit in 2019. It was inspired by his long-running “Guest Projects” initiative, for which he invited up-and-coming artists to work in a London studio, located on the ground floor of a former carpet factory.

The Nigerian residency spaces were originally slated to open last November, timed in conjunction with the Art x Lagos art fair, but the logistics around the pandemic resulted in delays. It officially opened its doors last week. 

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