When Sia Alexander looks around her downtown art gallery, Pure Lagos, she doesn’t just see paintings. She sees a space where the healing journey takes flight. A sacred place where creativity serves as the taproot for a life well lived, where trauma is healed and cultures come to better understand each other.
“We are primarily an art gallery,” Alexander says, holding court in her lavishly-decorated space in the Historic Freemason District. “But we believe art is dynamic and can be expressed beyond the visual paintings on the wall.”
While the gallery is home to many paintings from African art legends such as Uche Okeke and Rufus Ogundele (along with many contemporary Nigerian painters), it’s also a space where local clothiers, booksellers, food vendors, chefs and other makers can display their wares in a welcoming environment.
You could call Sia and her partner, Chike Joseph Nwagbogu, a real-life success story with origins as a humble pop-up in the Selden Market incubator. Transitioning into a full-fledged business on Bute Street in late 2020, Pure Lagos has blossomed into a gathering place for those interested in art, holistic healing and generally looking to learn about African culture.
“We’re trying to use our formula for growth to be an incubator for others,” Nwagbogu says. Paying it forward, in other words.
Among those small businesses displaying in the gallery include a vegan sushi chef, a vendor selling alkaline water, dressmakers, tea sellers and, of course, visual artists. According to Nwagbogu, this allows small creators to “focus on their business so they don’t have to worry about rent on a monthly basis.”
The main gallery features larger paintings for the serious investor, while the cozy backroom has a Bohemian vibe and features smaller works for those looking to dip into the world of art investment. Or, as Alexander says, guests are free to sit on the couch, unwind with a cup of tea or read a book and escape the constant pressures of the outside world.
Coming Full Circle With History
If a visit to Pure Lagos is a feast for the senses, Alexander’s own story is a treat for those who’ve dreamed of traveling the world and satisfying a wanderlust fueled by a desire to reconnect with their own heritage.
Alexander, a former Ford model who graced the catwalks of New York, Paris and Cape Town, South Africa, comes from a long line of “passionate, driven and committed folks.” Her brother is the best-selling author and Emmy-winning television producer Kwame Alexander. He recently featured the artworks found in Pure Lagos in his hit Disney+ series, “The Crossover.”
Alexander’s ancestor, Sgt. March Corprew, was a Black man who fought in the Civil War. After enslaved Africans were freed, Corprew bought land in Bells Mill, Chesapeake, where he built a school for local black children and helped family members acquire land of their own, she says.
“We are renewing his commitment to the community and reviving the kind of passion for creative endeavors that empower and heal on a deep level, not just for members of the family, but for our neighbors,” Alexander says.
After spending time in Lagos, Nigeria, Alexander says the idea came to her to reforge the ties between west Africa and Virginia that are fraught with so much trauma.
“Our mission is to heal that legacy of the Transatlantic trade in human beings,” she says. “Through the sharing of art, we believe that this sort of recoloring of that link through bringing beautiful art over, voluntarily and with intention, we can shift that trauma and make it into something that’s healing, uplifting and inspiring.”
Recent history also plays a part in the Pure Lagos story. In previous lives, the space was home to a tea shop, a wine cellar and a used bookstore. The building, Alexander says, “had many lives.”
“We’ve been able to take a little of each of those businesses. The energies are still in the building.”
Holistic Healing Arts
Equally important as the artworks on display in Pure Lagos is the idea of healing the mind, body and soul. Alexander, who holds degrees in therapeutic herbalism, child psychology, acupuncture and ayurveda, says she offers sound baths, flower remedies, love readings and life coaching for those looking to chart a new course in life. Art is essential to this journey, she says.
Nwagbogu emphasizes this latter point.
“When you’re engaged in artistic exploits, you’re usually meditating,” he says. “That practice is a form of therapy because you’re literally in a meditative state communing with that creative, universal self. It’s a form of healing that takes you away from the problems you’re having.”
Pure Lagos, located at 251 W. Bute St. is open every day from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and, “if you don’t see us, we’re in the studio,” Alexander says. Text or call the number on the door and Alexander or Nwagbogu will happily show you around and pour you a cup of home-brewed roots tonic. Learn more at www.purelagos.com.