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Adora Mba has spent her career discovering and cultivating the talents of African artists. After years of working in media, journalism, arts consultancy, and advising, Mba has finally opened the doors to her very own gallery. Located in Accra, Ghana, ADA\Contemporary is devoted to showcasing the work of African artists, both on the continent and its diaspora. With the opening of the new space bringing Ghana’s art scene into the global spotlight, Mba discusses with us the power of ADA\’s new exhibition and her plans for future expansion.
I understand you used to work as a journalist, and had a more media-focused career. What made you move away from that line of work and towards art advising?
It was a natural and organic progression. While I worked in media, I was interviewing, filming and covering African artists. I used the videos and content that were ultimately not used for the media house for a blog that I had launched, The Afropolitan Collector. The blog grew increasingly popular and I found that people kept asking me about the art industry: where to go, which works or artists to buy or support, in which artists to invest, which works or artists to sell and under which conditions, etc., so I eventually turned The Afropolitan Collector into an art advisory/consultancy.
I read that you’re part Ghanaian but have lived in the UK for most of your life. Have you always known you wanted to return to Ghana at some point?
I have a strong connection to home as even though I was schooled in the UK, I always came back for the holidays and spent a lot of time with my family and friends. I honestly didn’t know that I was going to live in Ghana, but I always knew that I would return to Africa. I perhaps thought of Nigeria in my earlier days (as my other part is Nigerian), but ultimately Ghana just made more sense. The country was developing so quickly; it is gorgeous, safe, by the sea, and I felt that I would be of more use there than anywhere else – both personally and professionally.
You’ve worked in the art industry for some time now in cities around the world. What made you decide that now was the right time to open your gallery?
I didn’t decide, it just happened! Chance, luck, opportunity, the right place, the right people, the right time – all of these factors contributed to it. I honestly feel that a higher power did this. I was just doing what I loved every day and then, boom, it all fell into place.

Africa has recently developed a booming art scene. However, most of the attention is still centred around Nigeria, and Lagos in particular. In addition to your personal roots, why did you decide to open your gallery in Ghana?
Lagos has a thriving art industry. There are galleries, museums, art foundations, auction houses, art funds and a major art fair. Lagos understands art. Ghana as a country doesn’t – not yet anyway. I wanted to be in Ghana to help grow and evolve the art industry there: there are a lot of incredibly talented artists, but not enough infrastructures to support them. Additionally, from a business perspective, there is less competition when it comes to opening a commercial art space.
I imagine opening an art gallery was a very daunting feat for you, and a lot of thought must have gone into your first exhibition. Why did you decide Collins Obijiaku’s work was the exhibition you wanted to launch your gallery with?
It was symbolic because he was the first artist to whom I spoke and who I signed up for ADA, and it was his first solo exhibition. It felt right for us to debut together.
Obijiaku’s exhibition features a quote from the legendary James Baldwin, and explores themes of Blackness, lived experience, and identity. What do you hope this exhibition communicates to visitors of ADA?
The exhibition seeks to communicate the very essence of the quote from James Baldwin: “We can survive, whatever we must survive.” I think that, considering the situation around the world right now, it conveys the strength of the Black voice. I hope that our visitors not only feel empowered but also feel very proud and inspired.

How do you know that you’ve found an artist you want to work with? What separates them from others?
It honestly comes from a gut feeling that is hard to describe. The artists just have it. It goes beyond technique or composition, it is about their point of view and their story – their artistic voice perhaps. I look for depth. I couldn’t work with an artist whose depth or story I cannot perceive.
How closely do you work with the artists exhibiting their work in ADA? Do you work with them collaboratively to decide which pieces should be displayed in the gallery?
It depends on the artist. Some want me to be involved and to collaborate at all stages, others need to work alone, and then we work together at the later stages. When it comes to showing in ADA, I do have more of a say, but I deeply believe in collaborating and trusting each other to show and represent the very best as a team.
You worked as an art consultant for both private and corporate clients. How have their attitudes changed towards African art in recent years?
Everyone is gagging for us now! It is quite funny as I feel like I have been saying the same thing for years, yet no one listened – and now everyone finally understands! Nevertheless, I am a little suspicious and cautious, too. I am quietly watching, although thrilled of the spotlight that this has put on us. It has brought out more room for growth and shown that we are also contenders in the international art market.

You’ve now moved away from working with corporate clients and towards working more intimately with artists and art lovers who come to your gallery. Has this changed your relationship with art?
I have always worked closely with artists. That was my thing: I travelled to all sorts of places for a studio visit and foster deep relationships and friendships with many artists – both emerging and established. To be honest, I worked more with private clients, curators and galleries than with corporate clients. So ultimately, the only change for me is now having a space to show the work. Everything else is as it has always been.
Perhaps accelerated by the pandemic, there has been an increasing move towards virtual galleries. Is this a platform you’re interested in embracing, or are you more interested in retaining the importance of a physical gallery?
Nothing beats the physical space because, to me, art is more than what hangs on the wall – it is an experience. However, I do think that one can achieve both the digital and physical, and complement the physical experience by bringing it online. That is what we plan to do. Not just have a simple virtual exhibition but to have a digital sketchbook filled with videos, photos, reference images, poetry, songs, music – anything that the artist wishes to share in conjunction with the show, on our website, so that no matter where one is, they can feel and experience the show too.
I read that next year, you will start a residency program at the gallery that will bring together a Ghanaian artist and an international artist whose work is rooted in African culture. What do you hope this project achieves, not only for artists but for the art industry on an international scale?
For one month, the residents are invited to invest the gallery’s studio space in Accra while experiencing the rich local cultural scene, both traditional and contemporary. Cultivating a two-sided dialogue between the local and the international, whereby both artists and communities learn and grow from one another, I see the residency as a manifest to my – and ADA’s – engagement in strengthening these ties and to ultimately establishing Ghana’s striving, yet to be discovered, artistic scene and market internationally.

Graham Peacock
Daniel Cole Ofoe Amegavie
Installation photos
Nii Odzenma

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