Hi, my name is Teniola Ayoola and I am a communications Intern at Rele Gallery for the summer 2016. My journey to Rele began at the doorsteps of Chimamanda Adichie’s TedTalk,“The Danger of a Single Story.” I watched it three years before Rele opened, but it is in this gallery that I would see the manifestations of Adichie’s words on a need to contribute positively to how the world sees Africa. For me, this meant impacting how the world sees the place that I call my second home, Nigeria.
I came home in the summer of 2015, and could only stay for three weeks because I was rushing back to complete an internship. Determined to make the most of my stay, I came prepared with a list of interests – Shakespeare, theatre, Nigerian art, food. The first Saturday I was home, I visited Rele Gallery. As if predetermined and undeniably meant-to-be, I would spend my first Saturday in Lagos this summer 2016 at Rele Gallery again, and this time interning.
My visit to Rele that summer shattered my expectations of what art was and exposed my mind to the vast pool of creativity and talent that can come from Nigeria, and at large, the continent. Despite the fact that I am Nigerian, I didn’t understand that I needed to be immersed in the country and culture to form my own experiences and recreate my narrative of Africa, Africans, and Nigerians.
After my visit home and especially seeing Rele that summer, I became more interested in creative work from my second home. I hoarded Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country, Adichie’s Americanah, other books on Biafra and biographies of African leaders such as Kofi Annan. In my post-soul literature and culture class fall semester, I emphasised how African-American history is tied to African history, bringing in Nigerian academics to our discussions, reading Wole Soyinka’s poems in our library. In my Honor’s Shakespeare class, I would select ThunderBolt by Tunde Kelani for my presentation, sharing with my classmates how it reflects Shakespeare’s Othello with an emphasis on tribalism, religion, herbalism; I would talk about Nigeria’s growing film industry- Nollywood. In my Islamic finance class, I would argue with my professor that Nigeria’s oil also plays a major role in the global economy along with that of the gulf/Arab nations. On Twitter, I followed the tweets of BBC Africa reporters in the Lagos Bureau, anxious for news about Boko Haram, but also amused by the light-hearted stories on if Captain America could survive in Nigeria. Even most importantly however, in my political communications class, I would analyze how Western press covered the Ebola Crisis in Africa, only to find repeated narratives of Africa as backward basket case, and often only reported about during periods of crises, political upheavals and epidemics.
Fueled with the drive of Adichie, and everything else I had learned on my own, I was determined the change this narrative as much as I could. So, I applied for an internship with the BBC Lagos bureau, and with the contemporary art gallery, Rele, for the summer of this year. Less than 24 hours after I arrived in Lagos, I was at Rele for the private opening of What’s Cooking? I immediately knew I had made the right decision, having the opportunity to interview Nigerian artists such as Banky W, food blogger, Dunni Obata aka Dooney’s Kitchen, talented photographers I had never heard of like Kelechi Amadi-Obi, and reporters, cooks, and chefs such as Tiyan Alile about our exhibition dedicated to redefining and showcasing sophistication in Nigerian culinary cuisine.
My experience at Rele so far and in Lagos continues to be mind-shattering, as I am coming to better understanding of the complexities that really guide the culture and politics of our nation. While I cannot wait to continue dismantling the single story of Africa/Nigeria through more interviews, videos, blog posts and articles on our exhibitions at Rele gallery, I look more importantly to getting rid of the ones I have constructed myself and unconsciously come to believe and accept.