Early this year, “Collective Reflections: Contemporary African and Diasporic Expressions of a New Vanguard” was on view at Gallery 1957 in Accra, Ghana. The group show featured the work of 10 international artists and was curated by Danny Dunson, founder of Legacy Brothers Lab. Several of the artists in the show—including Luke Agada, Patrick Eugene, and Gustavo Nazareno—are part of Dunson’s artist development incubator, which offers grants for studio and living expenses, as well as providing books to emerging artists.
Dunson is a curator, writer, and advisor who launched Legacy Brothers in 2020, growing his cohort to include artists from Nigeria, Haiti, Senegal, Brazil, and the U.S. thus far. Through an ongoing mentorship, he sees the program as a steppingstone to the contemporary art market. He spoke with Whitewall last fall from Accra, where he was meeting several artists for the first time in person, as well as at the start of the new year from back home in Chicago.
WHITEWALL: How would you describe Legacy Brothers? What was your idea for this new model of supporting emerging talents?
DANNY DUNSON: On Instagram, I get DMs from artists around the world wanting me to place their work on my page. When COVID-19 hit, the world was still, my writing and speaking engagements and working as an art advisor slowed down for a bit, and I started looking through some messages. One was from the artist Luke Agada. He’s a Nigerian artist who is intuitive and organically trained. He asked for me to critique his work. I got back to him, asked for his portfolio, and one work just hit me. I thought, “This guy has got it, he just needs some direction.” I had a studio visit with him via WhatsApp video and we talked for two hours.
I knew he was applying for an artist grant in Nigeria. I asked him what that amount was, and I sent him the amount for the full grant. When he showed me new work, I posted it—within 20 minutes he was contacted because somebody wanted to buy the painting. We sold three paintings that week. And part of my percentage I gave back to him, to get a studio and living space. That’s how we started.
Long story short, nine other artists have come on to Legacy Brothers, and before I knew it we had a virtual residency where we start off with some kind of grant. It’s an incubation. I’m not a gallery, I’m not a studio manager—I’m transparent and honest. When it comes time for them to go to a gallery, there is already interest, and that’s my goal, to get them to that place.
WW: How do you see your role, and why aren’t you interested in being a gallerist?
DD: I never wanted it. I honestly do not want to sell art. Not having an overhead and being virtual keeps you honest.
Legacy Brothers Lab is an ongoing residency. You incubate as long as you want to incubate, even as new artists come in. It’s not in and out; it’s ongoing at the level you are at. It’s unique and it’s changing things. It’s a different paradigm. It’s allowing them to create their own opportunity—fortifying the power they have and recognizing their own greatness. They get to come knowing all their worth, value, and skill, and they put all of that into their art and visual language.
My vision for all the artists is to get to a reputable gallery that is aligned with their vision they have for themselves within as much safety and protection, someone who will help develop their career.
WW: How did the group show, featuring many of the artists involved in Legacy Brothers Lab, at Gallery 1957 this winter come about?
DD: Initially, when I came to Ghana, I was coming to do a getaway and to connect with the Nigerian artists who I have been mentoring. That was our first time meeting in person. I met the owner, Marwan Zakhem, who has been interested in some of the artists he had seen on Instagram. He saw the portfolio and said, “Let’s do an end-of-the-year show.”
We wanted to celebrate how all of these artists had introspection on the mind and also a collective identity regarding all of the things happening all over the world. These are all artists of African descent. They are all from the continent or diaspora, they are all connecting to BLM, and then a kind of reiteration of our attention went toward the End SARS movement.
Some of the artists were in Ghana already, some Nigeria, one in the U.S., the other in Brazil. Even though their work practices are different, they all had similar themes, showing humanity in many different ways and voices but also coming together in this collective identity and individual identities.