An interview with Igi Ayedun, director of HOA gallery, on the importance of a gallery that represents exclusively POC, asian, indigenous and queer artists.
- Aug 20 2021
- Arantxa Ciafrinois a museologist and art historian, currently based in Berlin.
In 2020 the galerist/artist Igi Ayedun opened HOA Gallery in São Paulo. The name was given by people from the city’s BallRoom community, who started using Igi Ayedun’s atelier for rehearsals when she was out of town. A phenomenon from New York, but spread worldwide, BallRooms have always been a space for black, latin and queer communities to meet, dance, limp-sing and perform acts of defiance in themselves. For them, these spaces provide a home, a sense of family and protection from a racist and homophobic society. With similarities to the BallRoom Houses, the House of Ayedun is the first gallery directed and owned by a black person in the history of Brazil. It represents 14 artists, all of them racialized or queer people whose work focuses on decolonial and diasporic narratives.
During the interview, Igi commented that the political character of HOA Gallery isn't found in the simple act of having a website with works by black artists, but in a series of actions and legal structures that guarantee a reversal of common power relations in the art market, allowing emerging artists to make a living from their art. The contracts give 60% of the sales to the artists, and guarantee that in the case of resale, a percentage of the next sale value is given to the artist. This percentage is higher in the case of gringo collectors. In Brazil, social class and race are intrinsically linked. It was after talking to a friend and artist Lais Amaral, who confessed her fears at the beginning of the pandemic about making a living out of her art, that Igi opened the HOA gallery project.
Indeed, she saw the great potential of Amaral’s work, and could not accept that she wouldn’t be able to continue painting because her paintings weren’t selling - especially given that the COVID pandemic wasn't affecting the art market.
Igi shared the challenges of reconciling her work as an artist and as a gallery owner, and the great satisfaction she finds in witnessing how much the gallery has grown in just one year since its opening. In the coming weeks, HOA will inaugurate an international programme offering residencies to artists, and in October will participate in the 1 -54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London. Hoa is currently working on an extensive list of projects, some of which will take place in Los Angeles and Berlin. We talked about the importance of HOA Gallery in establishing relations with international spaces and buyers in a country that has a history of the brutal exportation of black bodies. With their belongings, values and morals removed and themselves subsequently enslaved, traded always by the hands and intermeddling of whites, it is remarkable that it was only first in 2021 that a work of art was sold to a collector abroad with the full legal documentation managed by a black collective. These papers include endorsements, approvals and legal recognitions from both of the states involved in the purchase, certificates of authenticity and an endless series of bureaucratic elements, completed and sent without any mediation or participation of a white (coloniser) agent. Igi tells us about the importance of this "export" in the political value of the act itself.
HOA Gallery represents an example of how it is possible to bring political discourse into the art market while being in direct contact with the most important art institutions and museums in São Paulo. The gallery insists on the importance of being aware of the colonial heritage in the museological collections of Brazilian art institutions, in which few black artists are included, if any. When they were featured, it was under etiquettes like Art Naïve, and without the works being managed by the artists themselves. The self-management by POC of the institutionalization of black art is the statement of dissidence and novelty. While Igi acknowledges that there has been growing awareness of the management of these spaces in recent years, there are emergent movements calling for black artists to stop labeling their work as black art.
A significant part of the intellectual left claim that those in identity politics or the people creating the discourses are incapable of thinking in an inclusive, collective way. In her book Lugar de Fala, Djamila Ribeiro speaks through this argument, stating that those who advocate for all and insist on speaking for others, are in fact speaking only of themselves and calling on themselves to be universal. This kind of mindset removes attention from the necessary understanding of the relationship of power between different social groups and between different identities, and the fact of an existing structure of oppression that privileges certain groups to the detriment of others.
[...] It is a space where we have been voiceless and where white scholars have developed theoretical discourses that formally constructed us as the inferior “Other”, placing Africans in absolute subordination to the white subject. Here we have been described, classified, dehumanized, primitivized, brutalized, killed. This is not a neutral space. Within these rooms we were made objects “of predominantly white aesthetic and cultural discourses'' (S.Hall, 1992:252).
While this extract, taken from the book Plantation Memories by Grada Kilomba, refers specifically to Stuart Hall’s description of the academic space, this description also connects to museological and exhibition spaces. The museum, the ultimate institution of knowledge and the legitimation and delivery of the “truth” and “history”, has proven to be extremely racist, colonial and heteropatriarchal through history - a situation that persists to the present day. Although this is widespread knowledge, we perhaps yet lack some proper acknowledgement. Inside the dynamics of an anti-racist practice, we should not only be conscious of the systemic racism of our western society, but also see the urgent need for concrete gestures and actions that create change.
There is no neutral space, there is no neutral action.
Grada Kilomba defines what racism is and the symptomatic effects of colonial trauma on black subjectivity, sharing her daily experiences as a Phd student at the Freie Universistät in Berlin, and explains the position in which black people have been placed historically in a space of “Otherness”. Wrongly seen as lacking resistance or interest in speaking out for themselves, it is instead that they face a racist system in which they are stuck, which disqualifies their own voices and narratives. In Plantation Memories, Kilomba analyses institutionalised racism through her everyday experiences of racism rather than through a macro perspective. This condition, as that of the Other, is one of the aspects that lead to the creation of afrofuturism as an artistic and social movement.
Afrofuturist authors such as Okarafor have explained the lack of relatable possibilities given by traditional Science-Fiction books, where the stories are told through the common white coloniser perspective, seeing aliens as others ; as an enemy that must be colonised, killed, destroyed. A human minority who have been historically oppressed would then indeed be more likely to identify themselves along with these “others”. This otherness in which aliens and black people were placed has shaped the Afrofuturism movement, expressed through music, arts, literature, video, performances, ideas, ideals etc., since the ‘90s...
Just like afrofuturist artists and their work, the artists represented by HOA Gallery play a vital role in creating narratives that represent black people as speaking subjects and narrators, through their work, in a central and active position.. The artists are already bringing these narratives while Hoa represents the subsidies, the financial, legal and bureaucratic structure to allow these artists to raise their voices and make their work visible. Hoa is changing the Brazilian art scene. They dare all/us.
“Decolonization never takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally. It transforms spectators crushed with their inessentiality into privileged actors, with the grandiose glare of history’s floodlights upon them." F.FANON
Hoa gallery represents the work of the following artists: Bertô, Caroline Ricca Lee, Clebson Francisco, Eduardo Araújo Silva, Estileras, Gabriel Massan, Iagor Peres, Igi Lola Ayedun, Ikaro Cavalcante Occulted, Kelton Campos Fausto, Laís Amaral, Marlon Amaro, M0XC4 and Pegge.
Igi Lola Ayedun, Founder/CEO - Sales Director
Lucas Fernandes - Executive Director
Lucas Andrade - Artistic Director
Asole Adelakin - Sales Manager
Tarcísio Almeida - Artistic Development Curator
Julio Cesar - Executive Producer
Felipa Damasco - Contributing Curator