The rule-breaking artist behind São Paulo’s first black-owned gallery

In 2017, Igi Lola Ayedun returned to São Paulo, Brazil after almost a decade of living and working as a fashion correspondent and stylist in Paris. She was surprised at how much her hometown had changed: “When I left, the fashion and art world was dominated by white people and white culture,” she says. “By the time I came back, the scenes had opened up and were becoming more diverse, with more Black and Indigenous representations in formal spaces.”

Inspired by the city’s creative renaissance, Ayedun – who had by then turned away from fashion to focus on her work as a multimedia artist – rented a large shared studio, which she lent to friends for exhibitions and artist residencies. Being there and collaborating with other Brazilian artists has been hugely inspirational for Ayedun, whose practice spans painting, video, 3D sculpture, photography and sound.

“It was pure expression,” she says.

Igi Lola Ayuedun. Photography by Wallace Domingues.

It wasn’t until COVID 2020 ravaged Brazil, bringing lockdowns and physical distancing with it, that she realized just how important the space had been to her community — and her own artistic identity.

“The pandemic was a huge crisis for all of us,” she says. “There were no jobs, no exposure opportunities, and a lot of my friends started working for delivery apps like Uber Eats.”

When her friend, fellow artist Laís Amaral, announced that she was giving up painting and pursuing a more stable and practical career, Ayedun jumped into action, telling Amaral, “You’re not going to stop painting – you’re the best painter I have know. Give me any artwork you have at home and I will sell it.”

Installation in the gallery
A recent solo exhibition of artist Bertô’s work at HOA in São Paulo. Photography by Wallace Domingues.

And so HOA, Brazil’s first black-owned art gallery, was born. With just $2,000 in her bank account, Ayedun created an online platform showcasing work by Amaral and 30 other friends, most of whom had worked in the studio together. Within three weeks all of Amaral’s works were sold and two months later HOA participated in the online version of SP-Arte, the city’s main art fair. Physical galleries followed: a location in São Paulo and another outpost in London. It was only a matter of time before more established galleries in Brazil and abroad began luring HOA represented artists onto their rosters.

But many of the originals chose to stay with Ayedun. While most galleries follow a traditional 50-50 sales split with artists, HOA has adopted a 60-40 split and sometimes even a 70-30 split. The gallery also introduced a resale license right for its artists, allowing them to track their work and share in the proceeds of subsequent sales. Beyond contractual support, Ayedun is a dedicated mentor, visiting her artists weekly and helping them provide the tools and resources they need to succeed. She has also established an HOA residency in São Paulo to give artists the space to explore in their practice. For Ayedun, these measures are about dismantling colonialist ideologies that benefit from cultural and historical theft. It is also part of a larger piece designed to bring the global art world to Brazil.

“At the beginning of my career I thought I had to be in Europe to make a difference,” she says. “When I returned to São Paulo, I realized how many years of creative energy I had given to European industry. Now I’m not only interested in Brazil being part of the center, but in Brazil being the center with people traveling here from abroad.”

To that end, HOA is holding its first festival this November, the NOVA HOA Contemporary Art Festival. More than 50 artists from around the world whose work explores decolonial theory will come to São Paulo to exhibit alongside HOA artists such as Gabriel Massan and Slim Soledad. The event takes place in the Centro Cultural, a former power plant that has been converted into an exhibition space.

That doesn’t mean that the international galleries and art fairs have stopped knocking on Ayedun’s door. Her first solo show, Woman of color y otros clichés, is currently on view at Berlin’s Weserhalle Galerie, and this September The Armory Show will host a solo show of Laís Amaral’s paintings in collaboration with Galerie M+B in Los Angeles.

“It’s always good to build bridges,” says Ayedun. “I wouldn’t be the gallerist I am without being an artist and vice versa.”

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