For anyone who frequents the local south-east London art scene, INxSANIxTY has become somewhat of a household name. From curating group exhibitions, to running community events – Sani is the Peckham-based contemporary artist building a legacy centred around art, heritage, culture and history.
I first met Sani back in 2018 when a group of young creatives and entrepreneurs were brought together through a discounted office-hire scheme at Peckham Levels. Sani and I were enigmatically introduced through Nicholas Okwulu, founder of PemPeople (who really deserves a whole documentary made about him, but we’ll get there). As soon as myself and Sani were introduced, it became clear that we’d be friends for life. Sani is one of those rare individuals who exude both excellence and humility, peace and wild passion, focus and freedom. In our first few months of meeting we featured in a group exhibition, curated a week-long easter holiday program and ran a pop-up shop/exhibition to celebrate OSHUN performing at Peckham’s Ghost Notes. With a strong sense of vision and the ability to masterfully command the world around him, Sani is able to turn dreams into a reality.
Still based in Peckham, Sani recently curated a month-long takeover at Copeland Gallery which featured a fashion show, group exhibition and solo show. It was here that I got the opportunity to speak to the legend himself and ask him some questions about his work and future plans.
Photo credit: Digital art by INxSANIxty
How do you feel having curated and run your own exhibition
This whole process has been quite cool, gathering together some of my favorite artists and designer who all showcase such different styles. I’m always finding ways to do more than just the regular pop-up or exhibition and am continuously looking at how we can push the boundaries.
For example, when I did the fashion show, I wanted to go beyond the clothes and talk about the importance of hair and how during the olden times it was used in some settings as undercover railroad maps. Or for example, scarification and how it initially was used as a method of beautification and identification but was then co-opted by slave masters who branded people with their names, etc. In some settings, scarification has also been used as a defense mechanism to de-beautify themselves and ward off any potential attackers… I find all these extra details and histories very cool.
Photo credit: Painting by Leeroy Zozo
I also loved being able to co-curate some of the exhibition with my friend Adaneche, who is also a visual artist and painter. Usually, I do these things by myself, but it was cool to be able to share that opportunity with her and empower her to also take ownership of the space. It was even better that she really stepped up to the plate and essentially made it her own.
In fact, with this whole exhibition, there were so many artists who were exhibiting for the first time and so it was great to be able to offer that opportunity.
Photo credit: Photo of Adaneche next to her painting
It’s so funny, because looking at her recent works, I can actually see that you guys have spent time together, which says a lot about how art reflects reality.
Yeah, that’s such a humbling thought for me to even consider. Like, the fact that you know my work and you know her work and are able to identify the two, but also see where they blend is so cool. I love the way that artists are able to ingest life, inspirations, and references – take it as part of their practice, yet still, make it their own.
What has been your journey as a curator?
It’s so funny, whenever I do my own exhibitions, people love what I do and I’ve received so much positive feedback. However, whenever I apply to galleries I’m never taken in as a curator, just as a curator’s assistant, despite the fact that I still end up curating. But yeah, whenever I apply for jobs I’m always told that I’m underqualified, so in that respect, it’s cool that I’m able to do this on my own.
I’ve always been the factor, I never needed to go elsewhere.
The title of your exhibition was Obsidian
I used the title Obsidian because it’s an element with such rare qualities. It’s a volcanic rock that is formed before it’s diluted. The surface is black and it almost looks like glass, when in fact it’s a stone. The edges are sharp and it’s very strong. In this, I use the term obsidian metaphorically, also in reference to The Black Experience. For example, not only does it come in black, but also in varying shades from honey to snowlike complexions. In a way, it’s interesting, because each variation of the stone is directly impacted by it’s structure and where it exists in the world. Similarly, with the black experience we all have very similar elements and components, but are slightly different depending on our experiences and where we are in the world.
I didn’t want the exhibition to be about ‘The Black Experience’ because as artists we all have different experiences, but rather I wanted to focus on ‘The Human Experience’, whilst centering black artists and our stories. Each of the artists poured out what that meant to them and it was my job to formulate that into an exhibition.
So yeah, Obsidian, for me, is a metaphor for the experience, the expression, our idenity, our differences and yet, our unity.
Photo credit: Mixed media art by Sado
When selecting artists to work with, what is that process like?
I think that was the easy part for me. The truth is I had a long list, and even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to get everyone, for the most part everyone I wanted to exhibit said yes. It’s weird because most artists wait to be approached by galleries, but I’m too restless for that. Once I have an idea for the exhibition or event I want to run, I immediately start thinking about everyone I want to get involved and all the extra things that I could do. More specifically, when I started thinking about this particular exhibition, when I started to break down what Obsidian really meant to me, it was a cool process to begin pairing artists to the different visions and ideas that I had. For example, Obsidian has both light and dark qualities – I know this artist who uses a lot of contrasting light and dark in their work, etc etc. This process has really challenged me, lowkey I want my own gallery now.
Like, every month I’d love to be able to pick a topic and explore it. Almost like going to a library but using art as a tool to explore and communicate various topics from sadness to vulnerability etc.
Frank the black Micheal Angelo
Ebuka p Agudigwe
The future with Sani
Last month Sani launched Art house, a three-part art project curated in Collaboration with Rare Groove art + Archive. Starting with a weekly series of talks, Sani seeks to explore the power of creativity by analysing what art means to us and how it has affected the world. Moving on from the more theoretical and analytical side of the program, the second part of the project will host a series of art competitions, workshops, and art activities where creatives are encouraged to engage in hyper-collaborative, experimental and explorative opportunities. To end the project, all works created over the course of the program will get the chance to be exhibited at both private and public viewings, hosted at the Goldsmith’s centre for contemporary art.
To get involved keep an eye on Sani’s socials and make sure to get involved in the whole creative process’ as early as you can