Musah Swallah’s Sana da Zuwa and The Art of Nigerian Woman at Calabar Gallery 

As I begin to expand Calabar Gallery into Harlem, I am beginning to do exhibitions that are from a range of African, African American and Caribbean artists as well as events that are focused on art like book signings and auction.

Work by Musah Swallah
This May, Musah Swallah’s Sana Da Zuwa, opened on Friday May 12 amd will be on our walls. His work is reminiscent of early El Anastsui as he paints on and carves stories of daily life in Ghana on found wood. Echoimg the spirit of the Hausas and people of Nima, Swallah speaks in a language tgat is accessible as his carefully crafted scenes of everyday life.

The work illustrates vignettes of Ghana, includes potraits of women from a pepper seller to a peanut seller. The exhibition of Swallah’s work will be up up until June 25.

The book, The Art of Nigerian Women

The Art of Nigerian Women by Chuckwuemeka Bosah is an ambitious project realized in a collection of the work of 75 contemporary Nigerian artists. The book was launched on Nigeria earlier this year and it will be launched on May 20 in our gallery here on New York.

The author covers a group of Nigerian artists that typically get ignored, women. He selected a range of artists whose styles and themes vary but speak to the diverse range of work coming from women in and out of the country. To attend this event, attendees must register by Saturday at

2017 Amref Artball

The Amref Health Africa ArtBall is a premier contemporary African art auction and philanthropic event on Saturday, May 6, 2017 in New York City. 

AMREF HEALTH AFRICA: BENEFIT AUCTION 2017 Opens – today at 12 noon NY time

Work by Tracey Rose, Wangechi Mutu, Victor Ehikhamenor, Nnenna Okore, Dimitri Fagbohoun, Armand Boua, Esther Mahlangu, Paa Joe, George Lilanga, Atta Kwami, Boris Nebo and many more. 

BID HERE from 12 noon to May 6.

#atimannetteoton #amrefusacurator #curator #calabargallery #elanatsui  #artsy, #youngparis #africanart #jackshainman, #massimilianodelninno #chefpierrethiam #milkstudios #amrefartball #amref #amrefusa #art #artwork #goodcause #goodtimes #nyc #nycevents #amrefusa2017 #auction #artauction #buyafricanart

See video here:

You are Your Best or Worst Motivator


Some days, I get stopped by folks on the street, who seem to be watching what I am doing on Facebook regularly, with a question and dialogue about wanting to understand what makes me tick and how I continue to do all that I do. I say simply, I am motivated. And at times, I say that they are sleeping too much. But more precisely, I am my best motivator for myself. I want more for myself and enjoy what I do and want to continue to do so on my own terms.

There are four key concepts I have acknowledged as inspiration kickers:

Fear and Failure

I was taught that the fear is a motivator and I should use it to propel ahead. I acknowledge that like everyone I have it but it is not a killer or my enemy. It does stall me from accomplishing things. It is the oil in my engine and I use it to speed ahead thoughtful. Like fear, I have failure as a gauge, it is what makes me move forward and encourages me to select smart ways of working. These two feed into making me my best motivator.


Self Confidence and Reality

I was raised to be self-confidence and bold by my parents. I talk it, walk it and be it quietly and boldly. I choose self confidence in most of my dealings; it is the fuel that sets me apart. I look to it as one of the most important aspects of my existence. I relish in it. Because of it, I deal with things as reality, not imagined, it is my barometer for how things should me. It is how I meet the world and how it meets me.

Navigator and Switch lanes

Life can be simple or complex, but it needs you to navigate things and situations. Trying to figure things out is one of the talents we all possess and using it as a way to get things done is partly a system of motivation to accomplish ideas, tasks and projects. As a motivator, you must be the driver ready to switch lanes and go off the beaten  track when needed.

Pick Me Up and Move Forward

Some people need others to thrive and encourage them. I am my own “pick me up”; I move me, my ideas and projects from concept to reality. It is the ego in me that can look deep down to pick me up from failure and seek to change and grow. I am my best movitator to move me forward.

The Power of Business Love

Most entrepreneurs are uniquely passionate about their “baby”, their ideas put into reality, their notions and master plans. This baby becomes in essence one of the loves of their lives and they work hard at making it grow. It is the core of what they do. This is their business.


I am one of them and over the past eleven years, I have been told as a woman not to admit I have what I call Business Love. It is an idea and concept I have practiced for the last five years with such relish. So, this week, I decided to talk about in this blog.


Love is an enduring emotion, it is what we are “built” for but we are only allowed to love people, animals, and for some, things. A business does not fit into any of these three categories, so, it’s relegated to the notion of work or what you do for a living. It is something you either enjoy or not. Not really love.

I love my business and I claim it as Business Love. It is one of my deep passions. I treat it as such. I love and respect it. And it’s been an eleven year old relationship.


Business love is about passion, spirit,  and creativity. It is what brings joy and pain too. It rides the way of the waves with highs and lows. There are good days and bad days but you don’t want to walk away easily from it. And quietly as it is kept, it has a contract, one you have with yourself.

This love makes you rise very early and stay up late. It is what makes you eat junk food, miss family events, and other commitments. Admit, you have been there. And it’s not just for the love of money, it’s for the business.

Business love is what makes you talk to complete strangers, but you call them investors. And they make you lose your mind and a piece of your business. Oh, this love is about sacrifice.

The power of business love is in the eye of the beholder. It shifts things quietly or dramatically. Sounds familiar? It’s Business love and you have it. Admit it. And enjoy it, you are an entrepreneur.

The Grind: First Quarter Assessment

Every April 30, I do my first quarter assessment where I look backwards and forward to see the state of my business, the state of mind and my updated business plan. The quater ends for me on March 30, but with taxes due around April 15, I wait a bit to do my assessment.

This is my reality check, a time to face the truth and an opportunity to redirect my business. It brings me joy to see what has occured positively and sometimes pain to see what has failed that I will need to abandon, change or tweak.

If you are a new or old business, this rhythm does not change. You begin great ideas and then you implement them and sometimes they work spectacularly other times, they are a mess. But rather than beating yourself over the failed idea, assess them to see what happened.

A failed idea may be one that’s not timed well, funded sufficiently or staffed well. I keep some of them in my “tested” box, but only those I have studied and understood well so I can redeploy at another time. The rest, a majority, I throw away.

In 11 years of doing this, what I have learned is that I have 3 more quarters of business to make a change, expand ideas and release new initiatives from this assessment. And each quarter after, I am fine-tuning the ideas.

To be able to do any of this assessments,  you must have begun the year with a map and idea plans. They are, in essence, your guidebook. For me, they are what makes things work and give me the opportunity to be able to change midstream. What’s your grind really about if you don’t understand the importance of assessing if it is working or what has been successful. Think about it.

Channeling Change and Scaling Growth

In 2011, I sat down to do a deep dive of my business and its future in relationship to where and what I felt it needed to be. There were two key concepts and outcomes that became obvious to me: Channeling Change and Scaling Growth.

After 7 years of just one store, it was clear that the business had to change and grow. As I look back at that critical time, I am reminded today where I have been and what it took to get here. I remember starting with the executive summary of my original business plan and expanded it to take the long view by
implementing another 5 year plan and a 10 year plan.

I am now heading to the end that second 5 year timeline and it is in that realm, I am sitting to revisit what I have accomplished and not achieved. This requires a serious indepth analysis of what has been done and not been done will enable me assess and evaluate what to fine tune for the next 5 years and what to add or subtract from the plan.

This process is part of my end of yearly quarter reporting which is essential for the basic business planning process. How are I doing? Or more specifically, how is Calabar Imports doing?

The best I can say is that the first part of the plan called for an extensive expansion into locations and in 2012-2015, we did just that, moving from 1 to 4 stores. So, basically, whave accomplished the difficult tasks of opening the stores. We have met the challenges of change and are now dealing with scaling our growth into the four new stores. Each venue and location has its particularities, nuances and present different situations and opportunities.

The second part of this process has been most challenging and sometimes tricky -staffing the stores to give me time to manage the expansion. So many books have been written about staff in the retail industry, some true, some exaggerated and others not true but the real truth is good staff stay for a year or two a you are on the path to their next future thing.

The third part of the process is to increase revenue, expand events in each store and open up new sections of the business. Revenue increase require a three-pronged strategy: increase and diversify must have products, match price points of products sold to neighborhood, and increase social media activities and online sales.

Last year began an extensive process of doing events in all the stores. And it has continued as an integrated part of the stores. This process has gone through trial and error but it has been able to yield results that have been focused on building awareness of the store. These events have created a distincrive brand identity in the market and most importantly has attracted attention to the business.

This year, the focus will be on opening the last two sections of the business: gallery and showroom. These two distinctive models of business are part of the business plan and have been the carefully thought through to target audience, growth and opportunity. April saw the opening of the gallery and June will be the opening of the showroom. Each model is tricky and after almost 12 years of studying both, the plan has targeted an under-served audience.

Channeling Change and Scaling Growth can be difficult in any business but it is vital to do it to stay competitive and relavant in the global market. As I begin the next five years, I am more cognitive of what the challenges and opportunities are in my future.

Chasing Dreams and finding Reality

Chasing Dreams and finding Reality

I was born a dreamer of two risk taking parents who came from risk taking parents. This is my legacy, my ancestry, and I know no other and cannot claim to be what I am not. It is some of the reasons I became an entrepreneur. I am happy in this mode.


I am a dreamer born in the once small city of 200,000 people called Calabar in Nigeria, which is now 3.3 million people. It is this city my parents made home to my brothers and I. It serves as both my home base and my spiritual base, from my childhood where I blossomed and from which I have the happiest of memories. This city brings a smile to me, even after 31 years away, I carry it in my soul and it bears the name of my business.


Today, I honestly can say I am a New Yorker, for I have lived here most of my life, almost 29 years of it. I am an unapologetic Brooklynite, another place that has my heart and soul so interested, with unbashful love and affection. It is the place where my dreams are hatched and where they have been made. I am by default a child of a writer and journalist so the dream state I engage in always has a reality.


As I leave Brooklyn often and head to Harlem, I am reminded that my mother was born here in Harlem Hospital, so many years ago. I am reminded of her life in Harlem, the Bronx and New Rochelle. I dream that I am re-walking her steps and her parents, on the streets they transversed.

I am reminded that these three are my Harlem legacy; they may have left, my mother into Nigeria with my father and my grandparents into Jamaica but the almost 20 years for my mother and the 30 years are echoed in the words and stories from my mother of their lives here.


Chasing Dreams and finding Reality is what Brooklyn and Harlem are to me. I started in Harlem as a student of architecture and I have returned with Calabar Imports, my retail enterprise. It is Brooklyn that I chose so long ago to be my home, it was about being in a livable city.

What my dreams become are the realities of my life. They come from my soul and speak to desires of my ancestral trajectory of my future. My grandparents made this path, my parents carved their layer nd further enhanced it; now, I am only adding to it.

This path, my legacy, is an ancestral vessel. It is my heritage crossing two continents. I knew it when I felt I was different and never followed others. I knew it when I became an entrepreneur. My soul honors it and this choice. It is the “me” that I am. It is my reality.

Synergy, Alliances and Affiliations

I begun the year with three simple rules: Grow, Experiment and Share. It was not a new way of being but a commitment to my life’s work.


Years ago, Deirdre Scott, Executive Director of the Bronx Council of the Arts, a good friend and colleague and I discussed Africa with the explosion of its people arriving to the Bronx. We wondered out loud about it and in time, we came to several dialogues on doing an exhibition at Longwood Gallery. This was the roots of Bronx: Africa.

It became an opportunity to grow for both LeRonn Brooks and I, to define and mark our footprints in this territory. It was also for the artists selected a place to convene their work under a platform that talked about Africa in a contemporary way and stretched the imagination.

Most importantly, it gave Longwood Gallery and the Bronx Council a way to bring in a new audience, an African one. Bronx:Africa arrived to grow ideas, concepts, and most importantly, to educate the Bronx and New York City about Africans and to educate Africans about what the Bronx Council can offer to Africans. This project spoke directly to synergies, alliances and affiliations.


As a creator and catalyst for change, I often conceive projects years back and wait to release it because the timing when it was developed was not right. That is the case for The Gallery at Calabar which I quietly launched in April at Calabar Imports in Harlem.

It is a space to experiment with ideas about African art, a place to convene a community and most importantly, a place to sell the work of African and African diaspora artists. It is also a space of curating work with a particular perspective and a collaborative space to let artists speak. These spaces are slowly disappearing in New York City, and it’s important to make it available. I look forward to creating synergies, alliances and affiliations for this space.


Since the advent of Facebook, the word “share” often gets used frequently but to do it in the context of one’s life work is challenging and requires finding people who really understand it as a way of being.

I have been lucky to bring several people into my realm who are sharers. It is how I got to curate the Amref Artball. A good friend shared “me” and my expertise. Apparently, I came highly recommended. I am not surprised but it’s nice to say it publicly. My work and ethic speak volumes. In the months so far, it has revealed what synergies, alliances and affiliations can do to grow an idea.

These three concepts embody the way I have been working but it is vital to recognize how they work for me. Life is about experiences and they make my life fuller. What are your synergies, alliances and affiliations?

From architect to magazine designer to educator to curator – Atim Annette Oton

In his latest Four Corners column, Jon Daniel talks to multidisciplinary designer Atim Annette Oton.

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