In recognition of Women’s History Month, Amar Singh Gallery is currently presenting “Annan Affotey: Champions.” The Ghanaian artist’s solo exhibition honors the women of his life in arresting portraits, from his mother and sisters to a formal schoolmate, and is curated by Tina Tangalakis.
Alongside Affotey’s show is “I Am Not A Goddess…Unless I Say I Am,” featuring the work of 10 African women artists, including Yagazie Emezi, Anne Adams, Ekene Maduka, Fadekemi Ogunsanya, Layo Bright, Mercedes Maduka, Peju Alatise, Osaru Obaseki, Shannon Bono, and Tobi Alexandra Falade. Curated by Sabo Art Advisory, it coincides with a physical iteration in Lagos, Nigeria.
Amar Singh Gallery was founded with the mission of championing historically overlooked women artists. Behind that vision is the gallerist, collector, philanthropist, and activist Amar Singh. An outspoken ally of women’s and LGBTQ+ rights—in and outside the art world—he’s also recently pledged to donate $5 million worth of art by women, LGBTQ+, and minority artists to museums by 2025. Already he’s donated work by artists like Renee Cox, Isaac Julien, María Berrío, Howard Tangye, and Raphael Adjetey Adjei Mayne to LACMA, Harvard, London’s National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of South Africa, the Smithsonian, and the Crocker Museum of Fine Art.
Recently, Whitewall spoke with Singh about his commitment to allyship and representation in not just his own gallery, but the most established institutions and collections around the world.
WHITEWALL: Tell us about the exhibition of Annan Affotey, “Champions.”
AMAR SINGH: Annan Affotey, is a fast rising, incredible Ghanaian artist. Annan is painting six women, celebrating them for women’s month. Of the people he’s painting, one is his mother, two are his sisters, and there is a beautiful painting of the late Cicely Tyson that will be in the show. We’re also bringing in a female curator, a female voice, Tina Tangalakis, who framed it in a way of celebrating women close to him. Whilst he didn’t know Cicely Tyson—what she represents to the Black community, her recent passing, that celebration of her was really important.
WW: You’re also presenting “I Am Not A Goddess…Unless I Say I Am,” curated by Sabo Art Advisory, which will have an in-person component in Nigeria. Can you tell us about that?
AS: The exhibition in Lagos is in partnership with Sabo Art Advisory. Behind Sabo are two amazing female art advisors from Nigeria, Aziza Balogun and Sosa Omorogbe. We’ve never done anything in Nigeria, so I’m really thrilled. It’s 10 female artists, and we have some great names, like Tobi Alexandra Falade.
We predominantly champion historically overlooked and important female artists. A lot of the work I do is allyship—I’m not a woman, I’m not gay, so I think it’s so important to be an ally.
WW: At what point did you see art as a way to serve that allyship?
AS: I think art is incredibly important. I was raised with art all around me, going to museums all the time. The messaging of art is so powerful. A lot of conversations I have at the moment are extremely positive about the current state of the art market, but others are very skeptical.
There are people I speak to, collectors, patrons whomever, and they refer to the boom in African and African American art as a “phase.” I see consistently that they are not accepting of the growing equality of people of color and women. They don’t realize it’s not just a headline, it’s a fact that women are truly rising in terms of wealth, positions in the workplace, and in global positions of power. The same thing applies to people of color. And if you have people of color and women getting wealthier and wealthier, more so than ever before because restrictions and modes that existed to suppress these groups of individuals are being stripped back, they are beginning to support their own brothers and sisters. That is so important, and we are seeing that.
WW: It’s not just representation among artists, but in patronage.
AS: The couple I really like to draw upon is Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz. Fifty years ago, people would frown if those two people walked into a museum. So just their parents’ generation. And flash forward, to 2021, they are not only two of the biggest art collectors in the world but look at who they are championing—people of color, Black women, Black men, artists who have been overlooked. I think those two encapsulate everything I am referring to.
They own the largest collection of Gordon Parks in the world, and they did an exhibition with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who heads up the Hutchins Center at Harvard. They partnered and did a show with Harvard University, and that just wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago.
All these new booms are here to stay. It’s not a phase. I’m very passionate about that because it’s such ignorance that drives the idea that this is a phase.
WW: You’ve pledged to donate $5 million worth of art by 2025. Why did you want to make this commitment?
AS: This headline of $5 million worth of art, sure that’s great, but It’s a bit more than that. It’s not me rummaging around and finding a work on paper. No. These works are being shown in the museum; they stand for something. The structure of this donation is not to give away $5 million worth of art and have it locked away in a basement.
I do have a gallery, but it’s more of a mission than a gallery. It’s really a space which stands for something higher than me. It’s their artwork which is the everlasting—when I’m gone, when they are gone. I just want to show great art. Now, I have sold art, but I always try and do it in a way that uplifts the female narrative.
WW: With that in mind, has the pledge you’ve made impacted the way you’re looking at art and artists?
AS: It does change it in the sense that I want to make sure these institutions have important works that they’re going to show, and which will stand the test of time.
When a group of women in the 1950s create abstract works on canvas in response to the rise in modern art, that is groundbreaking. Especially when those women are prevented from being in museum collections. But it is not groundbreaking 60 years later.
When Jordan Casteel’s painting of Aurora James is on the cover of Vogue, which is not only a celebration of Black lives but is a moment where even Vogue magazine decided to sign onto the 15 percent pledge, that is important. That’s powerful.
In March, I’m donating to LACMA a monumental photograph by Renee Cox, The Signing. Renee Cox has reimagined the signing of the Declaration of Independence with Black figures. Its striking. It will be included in the companion show in November to “The Obama Portraits Tour” at LACMA. It shows you the importance of her work.
There are artists who I think are finally getting their day and it is a benefit to us.