1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair London gains momentum each year – round-up

Including more than 130 artists, 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair demonstrates the rising interest in contemporary art from Africa.

For the forth year in a row, contemporary African art takes over Somerset House during Frieze London.

1:54 Contemporary Art Fair. Photo by Victor Raison. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

“1:54 Contemporary Art Fair”. Photo: Victor Raison. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

Held from 6 to 9 October 2016, the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair is a satellite event of London’s Frieze week. Taking place at Somerset House, 1:54 attracted 40 galleries that together presented more than 130 artists from a variety of backgrounds comprising 30 countries.

This was the fourth year 1:54 has been part of Frieze week and it has grown exponentially since its initial foray in 2013. There were 17 new galleries exhibiting this year and it was also the first time Ghana, Ethiopia and Egypt participated.

The appeal of art from Africa

1:54 was founded by Moroccan-born Touria El Glaoui, who sought to establish a leading art fair in Europe and the United States focusing on contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora.

Touria El Glaoui. Photo by Victoria Birkinshaw. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

Touria El Glaoui. Photo: Victoria Birkinshaw. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

In Art Africa Touria El Glaoui explains that art from Africa is becoming increasingly popular with a range of audiences:

It’s a nascent market which is still finding its feet in the global art market. As a result, we still feel the influence of key collectors and individuals, due to the fact that the art world maps them in this way. In many ways 1:54 acts as a geographical bridge and collectors are willing to travel to London and New York to visit the fair.

1:54 has also drawn attention from younger audiences and Touria El Glaoui explains its appeal as follows,

Many of our gallerists’ emerging artists are redefining the scene, bringing politics and social activism to art in new and creative ways. It’s something that people want to be involved in and indeed they can, as the contemporary African art market is accessible to younger generations.

1:54 Contemporary Art Fair. Photo by Victor Raison. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

Visitors at “1:54 Contemporary Art Fair”. Photo: Victor Raison. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

The name of the fair references the 54 countries that make up the large African continent and reflect the multiplicity of contemporary African art. There is an increasing amount of attention paid to contemporary art coming out of Africa, which is starting to be acknowledged through appointments like Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor as the first African director of the Venice Biennale for the 2015 edition, as well as internationally acclaimed multimedia artist El Anatsui winning the Golden Lion at the same edition of the Venice Biennale.

What was evident from this year’s edition is that there are more African-based galleries eager to provide local options for artists, rather than having to travel overseas to be represented by European or American galleries if they want their work to be internationally recognised.

Some exhibition highlights

One of the standouts of the fair was a new sculptural installation by Zak Ové at Vigo Gallery, in the Somerset House courtyard. This was the first time 1:54 used the courtyard space and the result, Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and Masque of Blackness (2016), was an impressive army of almost life-size statues of masked Nubian men that visitors could wander between. As the Financial Times reported, the installation quickly found a buyer in Modern Forms, a contemporary art platform founded by Hussam Otaibi, managing partner of the investment group Floreat, and Nick Hackworth, the curator who previously ran London’s Paradise Row gallery. They bought one of three editions of the work, priced at GBP300,000, and are planning to display the installation in a sculpture park that Modern Forms is creating in Berkshire.

Zak Ové, ‘Masque of Blackness’, 2016. Photo by Victor Raison. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

Zak Ové, ‘Masque of Blackness’, 2016. Photo: Victor Raison. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

Zak Ové, ‘Masque of Blackness’, 2016. Photo by Victor Raison. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

Zak Ové, ‘Masque of Blackness’, 2016. Photo: Victor Raison. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

Another impressive result of this year, according to Artnet News, Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi’s Reborn Sounds III (2015) sold for GBP 600,000. The artist has been referred to as the godfather of African modernism. His practice incorporates various influences, ranging from Modernist aesthetics to inspiration from Arabic calligraphy. He combined a mix of Sudanese, African, Arabic, Islamic and Western cultural influences in his work.

In an article by Vigo Gallery, El-Salahi explains,

I know I draw on an unwavering spiritual origin in which I resolutely believe. I rely on and submit to the metaphysical and the invisible as ways to gain access to the hidden chambers of my innermost self.

Some other sales highlights include Congolese artist JP Mika’s Le rajeunissement (2016) that sold for EUR18,000 while Malawi-born, Johannesburg-based Billie Zangewa’s Domestic Scene (2016) sold for GBP35,000.

1:54 Contemporary Art Fair. Photo by Victor Raison. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

Visitors at 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair. Photo: Victor Raison. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

A connection to and challenging of colonial past was present in various works in the fair. Nigerian visual artist Victor Ehikhamenor, of GAFRA Gallery, referenced the invasion of the Benin Empire and the artefacts still held by the British Museum. He explained to Artnet News that “a lot of water has passed under the bridge” but that this turbulent history isn’t forgotten.

1:54 also presented the first major solo exhibition in the United Kingdom of the late Malian photographer Malick Sidibé, which will be on show until 17 January 2017. In collaboration with MAGNIN-A Gallery Paris,
 the exhibition will show 45 prints from the 1960s and 1970s, taken in the Malian capital Bamako in the wake of the country’s independence. Sidibé is well known for capturing the lives and culture at the time.

FORUM programme

In addition to the exhibiting spaces, 1:54 also presented an extensive talks and events programme, including lectures, film screenings and panel discussions with international curators, artists and art professionals, curated by Koyo Kouoh, Artistic Director of RAW Material Company, Dakar.

Koyo Kouoh, 2016. Photo by Antoine Tempe, Picturetank. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

Koyo Kouoh, 2016. Photo: Antoine Tempe, Picturetank. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

FORUM talks at "1:54 Contemporary Art Fair". Photo by Victor Raison. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

FORUM talks at 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair. Photo: Victor Raison. Image courtesy 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair.

The FORUM programme drew together a number of writers, directors, curators, artists and designers to discuss the challenges facing contemporary art from Africa. Ranging from design to architecture to photography, the discussions explored current trends through artistic practice. As Koyo Kouoh explains in the press release,

In an African postcolonial perspective, challenging the paradigms of creative disciplines dovetails with a critical examination of legacy and identity. Experimentation and play, as well as subversion, are crucial to exploding cultural and historical platitudes about Africa.

Claire Wilson

1344

Related topics: art fairs, African art, sculpture, photography, film, political art, social art, round-ups

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