The first international African art fair debuted in New York during Frieze Week.

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair is a fairly new addition to the international art world and is already expanding from London to New York. This move testifies to the ever growing interest in contemporary African art on the international stage.

Lawrence Lemaoana, 'I didn't join the struggle to be poor', 2015, fabric and embroidery, 155 x 110 cm. Image courtesy Afronova Gallery.

Lawrence Lemaoana, ‘I Didn’t Join the Struggle to be Poor’, 2015, fabric and embroidery, 155 x 110 cm. Image courtesy Afronova Gallery.

1:54 New York

This year, 1:54 debuted in New York during Frieze Week (PDF download) from 15 to 17 May 2015 at Pioneer Works, Center for Art + Innovation in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The fair was held at an iron factory built in 1866 with a 24,000-square-metre exhibition space re-adapted for 1:54 by London-based award-winning architecture and design studio RA Projects – who also designed the 2014 London edition.

As in London, the young African art fair takes advantage of the international art crowds converging to the city for Frieze, while at the same time giving the opportunity to larger audiences to discover and learn more about contemporary art from the African continent.

1:54 in New York featured sixteen exhibitors, half from Africa, and half from Europe and the United States, showcasing over sixty artists from Africa and its diaspora. Artnet News points out that exhibitors from Africa came from only four countries: five from South Africa, one each from Ivory Coast, Morocco and Nigeria.

Ayana V. Jackson, 'Does the brown paper bag test really exist? Will my father be proud', 2013, archival pigment print, AP 1/2, 137 x 108.5 cm. Image courtesy Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

Ayana V. Jackson, ‘Does the Brown Paper Bag Test Really Exist? Will my Father be Proud’, 2013, archival pigment print, AP 1/2, 137 x 108.5 cm. Image courtesy Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

The growth of African art on the international stage

African-born curator Okwui Enwezor has re-balanced the art world at the 56th Venice Biennale by giving precedence to many artists from the ‘peripheries’ of the world in the Central Exhibition “All The World’s Futures”. Among the 136 participants, 21 are from the African continent, including from countries like Malawi, Togo and Mozambique, among the more internationally known art from Nigeria and South Africa. The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement was awarded to El Anatsui from Ghana.

Speaking with the CNN upon his return from the Biennale, Chika Okeke-Agulu, a Nigerian artist, art historian and curator, said:

After this exhibition [56th Venice Biennale], any supposedly international contemporary art exhibition that does not include a reasonable number of African and black artists will look so small, and utterly narrow-minded.

Lavar Munroe, 'Exhibit', 2015, acrylic, spray paint, latex house paint, fabric paint, tennis ball, rope, button, staples, band-aids, award ribbons, string, thread, and found fabric on cut canvas, 292 x 231 cm. Image courtesy NOMAD Gallery.

Lavar Munroe, ‘Exhibit’, 2015, acrylic, spray paint, latex house paint, fabric paint, tennis ball, rope, button, staples, band-aids, award ribbons, string, thread, and found fabric on cut canvas, 292 x 231 cm. Image courtesy NOMAD Gallery.

A host of institutional exhibitions of contemporary African art have also taken place in recent years, such as:

Vincent Michéa, ‘Bintou #2, Or series’, 2013, Collage, 21 x 21 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Cécile Fakhoury.

Vincent Michéa, ‘Bintou #2, Or Series’, 2013, Collage, 21 x 21 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Cécile Fakhoury.

In an interview with Blouin Artinfo, El Glaoui comments on the visibility of African artists, explaining how events such as 1:54 help to bring art from the continent out on the global stage:

I think the biggest limitation that we’ve seen is that Africa is not easy to access for most people. The fact that there’s no access to contemporary African art means there’s no knowledge, no education when it comes to it. It had until now been something very niche, but what we’ve seen in London with the two editions is that this is appealing now to a larger spectrum of the collectors, who think that they have to include contemporary African art in their collection. I think it’s a bit of a vicious circle; if you have no access to it, you can’t have curators thinking of even including them in exhibitions.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: African artists, art fairs, events in New York, events in London

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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