“A project to make history”: An interview with HOA founder Igi Lola Ayedun


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“A project to make history”: An interview with HOA founder Igi Lola Ayedun

Igi Lola Ayedun is an artist and the founder of HOA, Brazil's first Black-owned gallery based in São Paulo

HOA (an acronym for House of Ayedun) is Brazil’s first ever Black-owned art gallery dedicated to showcasing a de-colonial perspective of Latinx contemporary art. Based in Sao Paulo and founded by Igi Lola Ayedun—an artist herself—HOA spotlights artists of color, Indigenous, and African/Asian diaspora narratives. In this interview, Brazilian art writer and curator Fernanda Brenner, who also directs her own art space in Sao Paulo, Pivô, speaks to Igi about HOA’s mission, and why it holds so much significance in the Brazilian art scene.

Fernanda Brenner: Let’s start from the beginning. Could you tell me about your own career path, as well as the development of HOA?

Igi Lola Ayedun: I began my career in publishing when I was only 14-years-old at a major Brazilian publishing house. This experience was formative and has opened many doors: it was how I first heard about indie music and contemporary art exhibitions! In 2009, I took a contemporary art course, which I really enjoyed. However, it seemed impossible to me to be able to make a living out of contemporary art. At the time I had to help my mother financially so I couldn’t be a full-time artist. Instead, I ended up working in design and architecture in Paris for seven years, where I worked with many luxury brands and also did some independent and collective projects with friends from all over the world.

When I moved back to Brazil in 2017, I was amazed by the change that had taken place in the country. In 2010, when I had left, the art and fashion scenes were completely white-dominated. But, when I returned seven years later, spaces seemed to be opening up for BIPOC artists to produce work. Things were much less segregated. I wanted to share the connections I’d made in Europe with this new, vibrant generation of creators in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

I also felt like the time was right for me to accept myself as an artist and start developing my own personal research. I stopped working in fashion and design, rented a studio, and started creating art in collaboration with some people who I still collaborate with. Many of the things we worked on together ended up feeding into what HOA is today.

FB: So from day one HOA has been an artist-led endeavor. How is it structured?

ILA: HOA aims to enable self-management and collective production. Our main goal is to help artists engaged in our initiative to take control of their own production and find the means to sustain and protect themselves. The bourgeois dream of being able to be a full-time artist with enough time and capacity to develop work is incompatible with many of our realities. To combat this situation, we knew we had to work together and think collectively. Then, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic made things even tougher. I realized it was the right moment to start a more ambitious project. Given my CV and network, I knew I had the right tools to set up a business, so I decided to open a gallery to help bring money to my creative community.

“The way we understand an artwork is inseparable from how we understand the structures behind it.”

FB: As you mentioned, HOA started when we were all in lockdown, hooked to our screens and bombarded with information. Despite this, your content, unique visual communication, and fresh approach to the art market immediately caught my attention.

ILA: I’m a digital strategist, so the launch of HOA was very carefully planned. My solid communications background is evident in the way we communicate. To me, HOA is not just an art space: it is an artwork itself. Its website is a dynamic and multilayered flow of information from various sources placed against a blue backdrop. Artists have asked me: why don’t you present our work on a white background so that people and curators can better understand it? I explained to them that HOA itself is already an artwork which their work feeds into. It is all intertwined. The way we understand an artwork is inseparable from how we understand the structures behind it. It is about breaking down bourgeois hierarchies that don’t suit us.

FB: Could you expand a little bit on the idea that HOA is an artwork in itself?

IGI: I previously created a modular architecture project in which a variety of design pieces were placed in communal spaces. Members of that specific context and passersby could move or modify them in any way they wanted. HOA is a bit like that. There is an established structure but it is flexible and adaptable. The artists can take whatever they need in order to establish and structure their careers, and to gain financial stability. We provide them with tools and help them to understand how their work can take part in the institutional circuit.

The gallery takes a smaller than usual percentage of the sales. We work with a 60/40 percent split, and sometimes even 70/30. It depends on the situation. One could say that HOA is a sort of non-profit gallery. I don’t intend to get rich with it. It is a project to create a support structure, to make history with. I want the gallery to grow and to get more and more people involved.

Another important thing to mention is Artist’s Resale Rights: a law which entitles creators of artworks to royalties each time they are resold. All our sales are made under this law. This is a non-negotiable for us. It is not a given in our local market, but collectors are starting to get used to it.

Artwork by HOA artists: Marlon Amaro's 'Caronte', 2021 and Laís Amaral's 'Wet Head (Untitled)’, 2021

FB: It sounds like you prefer to work with emerging artists. 

IGI: Yes! I like to say we work with the artists not the artworks. We have an in-house curatorial department, as well as psychological support available for everyone who works with us. Every week the artists have meetings to discuss their research and share their work. I think the lifespan, or the career trajectory, of a dissident body—a body that opposes the status quo in society—is shorter. It’s not a question of life or death, we just have less time available to develop our skills. We have to struggle a lot to arrive at places some people are born into. 

Lais Amaral, for example, is one of the most well known artists we have at HOA. When she joined the gallery she had a very good body of work, but it needed room to develop. She didn’t just expect to sell her work straight away, she wanted to exchange ideas and grow as part of the living organism that HOA is. Now her rhythm of production has increased by 200 to 300 percent. She’s a hurricane! She can finally support herself through art and doesn’t have to sell handcrafted jewelry in Sahara—a popular street market in Rio—anymore.

Most of our artists are self-taught. We help them develop proposals and take the initiative to apply for things: to send their portfolio to you at Pivô, for example. Without HOA, they wouldn’t even know where to start.

FB: Currently you only work with Brazilian artists. Is this a requirement for you, or would you consider developing an international program?

IGI: At HOA we embrace dissidence. That is the requirement. We work with Asian artists, white artists, and Black artists. Obviously, Blackness stands out because I’m Black. If I were to open it up it would probably be to artists from the African continent or other Latin American countries. There’s a social class division and a disparity in structure that needs to be addressed in the art world. We reflect that on our program. HOA is committed to artists who come from unexpected artistic contexts.

Artwork by HOA artists: Kelton Campos Fausto's ‘Fun Fun’, 2021 and Igi Lola Ayedun's ‘Caminhos Para Cegueira II: Ultima Memória', 2021

FB: HOA’s online manifesto opens with a denial of Western stereotypes of Brazilian artists.  of how the world sees Brazilian artists. To conclude our conversation, could you share your perception of the Brazilian, or more broadly, the Latin American art scene?

ILA: I am thrilled with what Brazil is today. I can’t speak about Latin America at the moment because HOA doesn’t consistently work with the rest of the region yet. We are going to ZONA MACO—an art fair in Mexico City—for the first time in February though. Perhaps after that I will have a better picture of what is happening there. 

When I wrote HOA’s manifesto, I thought that the biggest problem with the Brazilian visual art movements that preceded us was that there was never a group of people who unabashedly confronted the country’s structural racial violence. We are working very honestly towards that today. We are taking matters into our own hands and not accepting exclusive structures anymore.

HOA has had great feedback from the established market, institutional curators, and above all, from the artists themselves. We owe this to our honesty and sense of purpose. I believe that in 20 years we will see an expanded understanding of Brazilian art and identity. It will be seen in all its complexity, on a worldwide level, beyond the clichés of tropicalia and bossa nova. We need to think about who owns the cultural inheritance and to whom it will be left.

Igi Lola Ayedun is a Brazilian artist and the founder of HOA, Brazil’s first ever Black-owned art gallery dedicated to showcasing a de-colonial perspective of Latinx contemporary art. To find out more about Igi’s work, check out HOA’s Instagram.

This interview was published as part of COLORS’ editorial coverage running alongside our 2021 production period in Brazil. Discover some of the Brazilian artists we’ve produced shows with here, or read more articles about female Baile funk MCs and DJs, the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, and Erika Hilton, the first trans woman in Brazil to be elected as a city councillor on our editorial platform.

Text: Fernanda Brenner
Photography: Wallace Domingues and Igi Lola Ayedun


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