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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- African women first: “Lucy’s Iris” at Musée Départmental d’Art Contemporain, Rochechouart – August 2016 – “Lucy’s Iris” considers Lucy’s view of her prodigal daughters who are shaping the landscape of contemporary art practice on the African continent
- “African Art Against the State”: advocacy and agency from prehistory to the present – April 2016 – Williams College Museum of Art’s exhibition explores the various ways in which African art has highlighted the continent’s history of activism and resistance
- “Making Africa: a continent of contemporary design”: 120 Africa artists on display in Barcelona – in pictures – April 2016 – “Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design” presents the work of over 120 African artists and designers
- “Senses of Times” at LACMA: African artists examine the lived experience of time past, present and future – March 2016 – artists use video to explore diverse temporal realities: the personal and the political, ritual and technology and the body and automation
- Is African art London’s next big thing? Frieze London 2013 and 1:54 – fair round up – October 2013 – African contemporary art takes centre stage in two London fairs: Frieze London 2013 and 1:54
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