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Adenrele Sonariwo; The Art Lover and Brain Behind The Rele Gallery

In 2015, a sight that we’d constantly see was people posed in front of a tall black building with “rele” artistically placed above. We’d drool over the aesthetics and the perfect background for pictures but Rele came with more than just the perfect picture spot. It came with an unprecedented, unconventional, contemporary art space.

This space has over the years offered first-rate art for public consumption and nurtured the creators of the art, bringing the world to their work, exposing a larger, global audience to African contemporary art.Adenrele Sonariwo
And the brain behind the blessing that is Rele? Adenrele Sonariwo

Art Lover. These two words are words that should always remind you of who Adenrele is because, in all meanings and senses of the word, she is a true art lover.

Her love and passion for art is at the foundation of the decisions she has made and when you go through her journey, you will see this love reflect.

Adenrele didn’t start off in the arts despite her love for it. Her first degree is an accounting degree from the Howard University after which she spent 4 years working in PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the largest audit firms in the U.S.

She knew she always wanted to work in the creative industry but with African parents and the desire for their children to have professional jobs with financial security and stability, Adenrele ended up in accounting.

While in accounting, she would get involved in recruitment activities, newsletters or anything that was a bit more creative than accounting and numbers. Adenrele decided to make her passion her career, quitting her job and going back to school to study Arts and Multimedia communication to learn how to communicate people’s stories.

Now she holds a Masters of Fine Art – Academy of Art University San Francisco, CA and a Curating Contemporary Art Certificate – University of the Arts, London.
Adenrele Sonariwo
She moved back to Nigeria to continue in her passion for arts and make her ideas a reality. In 2011, She started off in media founded Modern Day School of Art, which was sort of a pop up art school for art lovers who may be stuck in a different career and although the school didn’t really work out, Adenrele says the concept is still on the table and she plans to relaunch sometime in the future.

Adenrele has learnt to embrace failure and keep pushing through it. The setbacks of the school didn’t stop her but fueled her drive to be impactful.

Over the years, she kept having small exhibitions in living rooms and even when things weren’t working out, she didn’t give up. A moment for her was about 4 to 5 years ago when she had an art salon with good artists in her living room as an exhibition space. She sold her car for the project because she needed some more money and despite the uncertainty of how she would cope

She sold her car for the project because she needed some more money and despite the uncertainty of how she would cope afterward. Adenrele just knew she had to do her best with the exhibition. Her dedication and hard work would pay off as the exhibition left such a great impression that it led to the conversation that brought forth the Rele gallery.

Adenrele SonariwoAdenrele’s journey reflects that you can never go wrong with investing in your passion. With hard work and dedication, things will fall into place. She reminds us the do the work that we love and trust in the process.

Now Adenrele is Adenrele Sonariwo is an accomplished art entrepreneur with over 10 years of experience working in the Art & Creative Industry.  She is an art curator and the director of Rele Art Gallery, Onikan Lagos.

Rele has come to be one of the best contemporary art spaces in Nigeria, with exhibiting artists such as Logor Oluwamuyiwa, Dipo Doherty, Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu, Eloghosa Osunde, Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, Haneefah Adam, Ayoola Gbolahan and many others.

The space has also attracted minds such as Victor Ehikamenor, Kelechi Amadi-Obi, Ozoz Sokoh, amongst others. Through Rele, she has provided us with a contemporary art space that has been and is on a mission in various capacities to trigger a newfound appreciation, engagement, and following with the arts.

One of the commendable things Adenrele has done is her Young Contemporary project which provides young artists with the opportunity to grow and get their work out there. This project identifies 5 artistes yearly that work in various mediums, doing interesting things and we profile them showing their arts and get corporate brands to sponsor.

One person will get a grant that allows him/her to take short courses abroad, visit art fairs, buy art supplies and materials for them all financed by the gallery. Adenrele wants these young artists to see that there are opportunities to develop and people who will make their visions realities.

She has gone on to curate and oversees several commercially and critically successful high profile art exhibitions within Lagos and in New York, that challenge the boundaries of art, engaging in provocative subjects and techniques.

She has also led the movement to break art out of the ivory tower, with Rele gallery exploring and partnering with fields of technology, community social causes & health and has worked with reputable companies such as Samsung Mobile, Laurent Perrier, The Sterling Bank, Diamond Bank, and Hugo Boss.

In 2016, Adenrele won The Future Awards Africa Prize For Arts & Culture and has continued to make a name for herself in the art scene.

Adenrele Sonariwo
Adenrele recently made history with Nigeria’s debut appearance in the Venice Biennale’s 57th edition, themed Viva Arte Viva (Long Live Art) with her as the lead curator. How About Now? was the tag for Nigeria’s Pavilion. It represented the multidisciplinary practices of three contemporary Nigerian artists, Victor Ehikamenor, Peju Alatise and Qudus Onikeku.

If there’s one thing we take away from Adenrele Sonariwo’s journey, it is that we must never give up on what our hearts are set on, we should take the love that we have for the things we want to do and let it fuel us to make it a reality.


Ona Akinde
Ona Akinde
Ona Akinde is a literature and arts enthusiast with a great love for words and the powers they possess. She is a freelance writer, editor and content developer. She runs a personal blog, and is based in Lagos, Nigeria.

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