In Conversation - Blair LeBlanc interviews Anna Akpele

Published November 3rd 2023
Intro and interview by Blair LeBlanc

Aineki Traverso, Castita at elsewhere. Installation view, 2023. Photograph courtesy of Anna Akpele

For me, elsewhere is a space with endless possibilities. A space for exploration. For childlike-wonder. A place to make mistakes and try again. But most importantly, it’s a space to be free in.
-- Anna Akpele

Teeth, plants, pyrrole silk, family photographs, and a silver comb: elsewhere is a treehouse for artists. The idea of curator and arts administrator Anna Akpele, the new experimental space in Atlanta is not a gallery. It’s a playground for exploration.

From Atlanta, Akpele is a 90’s kid who got into art as a student in a jewelry design class in high school. Later, she transferred that energy on to undergraduate studies at SCAD, where she earned their BFA in graphic design in 2014. Following graduation, Anna accepted a role with Arnika Dawkins gallery.

Akpele describes Dawkins as an underrated pillar of the Atlanta arts community. Citing her personal collection which includes many pieces from both the Muhammad Ali and Segregation Story series by Gordon Parks.

After sharpening their eye, speaking on a panel at Atlanta Contemporary, and finding their voice as the Gallery Manager for The Gallery by WISH, elsewhere was born.

Scrapbook at elsewhere. Installation view, 2023. Photograph courtesy of Anna Akpele

Narrative Interview

Blair LeBlanc: How did you move into curation?

Anna Akpele: It was kind of at Arnika Dawkins gallery. I was maintaining storage, doing artwork shipments, email communications. I was only in Administration at the time, but she helped further my knowledge of what was out there and things I could do.

She would ask me about my opinion on stuff like, why should we place things here? Should we place things here? What do you think about these artists? I didn't really realize it at the time, but definitely in hindsight, she was planting that seed. Getting me into thinking about art.
Not just: “this is an artist and this is going up on a wall.” But really thinking about all of the intricacies that go into curating.

From there, I transitioned to working at the Gallery by WISH. There, I became the Gallery Manager and that’s when I really started to see, okay: “I actually have an opinion about this.” And like: “I actually can put my ideas into a space,” you know?

It was through that experience when I realized that I wasn't seeing what I wanted to see as far as art shows and exhibitions. I felt like it was time for me to insert my own opinion into the mix. That's where elsewhere came about.

For me, elsewhere could be anywhere.

BL: It’s thrilling to think of showing work in that way.

AK: Right, just really trying to think outside of the box in that way.
So then in February of this year, I had taken on a residency where I was granted a living space. So, I was just like, fuck it, I'm going to open a gallery in my apartment.

Aineki Traverso and I had already been in conversation about working together and doing a show, so it just made sense.
I was really happy to be presenting “Casita” in an apartment space.
It also made complete sense just based around what the show was and Aineki’s background. It made it intimate. It was really allowing people into a time in her life.

That to me is the thing. Sometimes exhibitions I see don’t feel genuine.

So, I want to make sure whatever I do is true to the full story of the artist. Whatever they're creating, you know. I don't want to take away from it at all. I want to find ways to enhance it.

BL: Right, and the current show “SCRAPBOOK” feels like a thesis in a lot of ways for the space. How did you approach curating it?

AK: Wow. Okay, so that's a good question. I would say I had an idea of artists that I knew I wanted to work with.

Then, within that, I knew I wanted to do a show about home and blackness and growing up.

Then, through that, I thought of pairings that would complement each other. I was like, Caleb [Jamel Brown] and Rosa [Duffy] their use of materials and subject matter, would be great together.

Same with Mike [Michael Grant] and B. [Carrie-Yvonne]. Like B’s work is more centered around language and the use of spoken word. Also written literature. Like they use footnotes, for example, in a lot of their images. Then, Mike's photography is more documentary style.

Then similar with Nneka [Kai] and Simon [Skinner]. Like Simon's work is based around him reclaiming his heritage. He’s examining beauty rituals as an act of power. He’s designing combs, you know? And then Nneka's work with the use of hair. And yeah – it worked.

Aineki Traverso, Castita at elsewhere. Installation view, 2023. Photograph courtesy of Anna Akpele

Visit the current exhibition, SCRAPBOOK, at elsewhere on the final day Saturday, November 5. The gallery is open 12-5PM. Featuring work by Caleb Jamel Brown, Rosa Duffy, Michael Grant, Nneka Kai, Simon Skinner and B. Carrie-Yvonne. elsewhere is currently located at 159 Whitefoord Ave SE, Atlanta, GA 30317. Follow @else.where____ and @ayyeeekay on Instagram.