Bisi Silva (left) and Alitash Kebede
I had barely landed in New York after a 24hour journey from Lagos, but somehow I managed to catch a bad bout of flu. However, this did not stop me fighting fatigue ( from my hectic lagos schedule) and jetlag so as to get up early enough the next morning for an impromptu meeting facilitated by Nigerian artist Bright Eke to meet with gallerist Alitash Kebede. Although I had been reading about her and her gallery in Los Angeles for over a decade I was only introduced to her - electronically - by Bright about 12-18months ago. Therefore, not minding the jetlag, I jumped at the opportunity to meet this intriguing woman . I wanted to hear, learn and take pointers from her story. Wasn't that the reason I was in America, to meet as many of the people I had read about and whose careers I had followed for many years, to meet new ones, to engage in interesting dialogues and in the process to learn as much as possible. As the saying goes, life is one continuous education.
With over 20years experience in the gallery business Alitash has so many stories to share and she darted from one incident to the other experience before I could digest the last one. I was trying to digest not only my sumptuous breakfast, but also the information about how she started the gallery , the invaluable mentorship of art historian Dr. Samella Lewis, her longterm professional and personal relationships with African American greats such as Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden as well as speaking about the pros and cons of how to tour exhibition, possible fundraising strategies for CCA,Lagos. We spoke about the necessity for long term support of artists' careers but also how not to burn out early. Alitash now devotes a lot of her time to programmes that take art to children as well as organising one off cultural events and projects. Our conversation moved back and forth on the lack of cultural infrastructure on the continent, the way we can continue to support the arts and especially nurture younger African artists as well as our irritation at the lack of interest from wealthy Africans to provide meaningful support to the visual arts or any arts for that matter. Wow what an inspiration!
Alitash said she had been following our work at CCA,Lagos and appreciated very much our efforts in a challenging environment. She could not hide her emotion at this fortuitous meeting, leaving me momentarily lost for words. (and thinking we are not on Oprah, are we?) Ah mean this is America! It was an incredible moment spent with such a generous, beautiful woman. As we parted, I felt sad but I know our paths will cross again soon. I couldn't have wished for a sweeter beginning to the journey ahead.