This Major Contemporary African Art Fair Returns In October

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, African art, London Art Exhibitions, Rebecca Anne Proctor
Courtesy of Galerie Nathalie Obadia
Youssef Nabil. Self portrait, Essaouira. 2011. Hand colored gelatin silver print. 75x115cm. Edition one of three.
Now in its sixth edition, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair returns to Somerset House with an expanded programme of events

The African art scene descends once again on London from 4-7 October at Somerset House, taking place at the same time as Frieze Art Week, endowing art collectors, aficionados and professionals with a unique taste of the growing art and cultural scene on the continent.

This year sees an expanded programme of participants, with 43 galleries from across Europe, Africa, the Middle East and North America taking part, and more than 130 artists and 11 solo shows. “We are welcoming 11 new galleries this year. Among others this includes ADN Galleria, Spain; Gallery Nathalie Obadia, Paris; Yossi Milo New York; Mov’Art, Angola; and Loft Gallery, Casablanca, in our London edition,” says founder and fair director Touria El Glaoui, who started the fair in London before adding satellite editions in New York and Marrakech. “This is a unique dynamic and energy because new artists are shown, new connections are made, and conversations broadened.”

Now a leading voice for African modern and contemporary art worldwide, participants hail from 21 countries across Europe, Africa, the Middle East and North America, including Angola, Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, Denmark, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, the UAE and the US.

Omar Ba Fusion Animal Homme

Omar Ba. Fusion, animal-homme. 2017. Oil, pencil, india ink, gouache and acrylic on cardboard. 200x105cm. Courtesy of Art Bartschi & Cie; 

“I am really looking forward to Burning in Water as they are presenting a solo exhibition of work by Esther Mahlangu,” adds El Glaoui. “Esther Mahlangu is a South African artist whose work is based on long-standing traditional Ndebele wall painting and beadwork. I am also anticipating James Cohan Gallery who will not only be participating for the first time, but will also be presenting Yinka Shonibare, who has not been at the fair before in our London edition.”

Of note is an expanded programme of Special Projects, including Ibrahim El-Salahi’s first public sculpture and Athi-Patra Ruga’s first major UK solo show. “I am very excited about the amazing array of Special Projects that are taking over Somerset House,” says El Glaoui. “Among other projects, Larry Achiampong will present a mixed-media installation, and South African Athi-Patra Ruga will also be presenting his first major solo UK exhibition Of Gods, Rainbows and Omissions.

The lounge is becoming an archive of the Indian Ocean presented in beautifully designed wooden vitrines and cabinets by Shiraz Bayjoo.” For the third consecutive year, 1-54 will take over the Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court at Somerset House with El-Salahi’s Meditation Tree, a sculpture by the renowned Sudanese modernist represented by Vigo Gallery with the support of the Kamel Lazaar Foundation. This builds upon the artist’s continuous investigation into the tree and body metaphor revealed in this celebrated series, which was shown during his solo exhibition at Tate Modern in 2003. The showing at Somerset House will expand on the artist’s first sculptural project, Meditation Tree, and will reflect on his interest in the Haraz tree, indigenous to his homeland.

Marion Boehm Gastineau

Marion Boehm. Gastineau. 2018. Collage on paper, mixed media. 136x102cm. Courtesy of ARTCO Gallery

Ruga’s show (until 7 January 2019) will reveal a mythical world that challenges the perception of cultural identity, imitating the establishment of the South African nation state in the post-Apartheid era. Included in the exhibition will be three bodies of work: The Future White Women of Azania (2012-15), Queens in Exile (2015-17), and The Beatification of Feral Benga (2017-).

“We are always working towards improving the fair, but something we have really been working on this year is further engagement,” says El Glaoui. “We want collectors, buyers and the public to be immersed and fully engaged in the work they see. This is why we have widened the scope and the number of Special Projects and are organising numerous artist encounters and tours to complement the participating galleries and their artists.” This includes numerous artist and curator-led talks at galleries across London, for example, a tour of Zina Saro-Wiwa: The Turquoise Meat Inside at Tiwani Contemporary and a curator-led tour of Omar Victor Diop: Liberty/Diaspora which is followed by a cocktail at Autograph ABP. “I am also very excited for the studio visit with Larry Achiampong that has been organised for VIPs,” she adds.

Ghanaian-British writer and curator Ekow Eshun is set to curate this year’s FORUM, the fair’s talks programme. It offers a way to deepen the awareness and appreciation of African art to the art world. “We have over 20 speakers and panellists at this year’s FORUM, all drawing on this year’s point of departure Freefall,” says Eshun. “The concept of Freefall is introducing a range of enquiries concerning the nature of contemporary black creativity.

African Art

Derrick Adams. Floater No. 28 (unicorn). 2016. Acrylic paint and fabric collage on paper. 127x127cm. Courtesy of Vigo Gallery

From panels discussing archive moving image, art and revolution in Haiti, portraiture as a political medium and the rise in survey shows of African photography, numerous questions are going to be dismantled and discussed. Contributors include Larry Achiampong, Hurvin Anderson, David Bailey CBE, Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom, Sonia Boyce, Kimathi Donkor, Gaylene Gould, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Helen Jennings, Lebohang Kganye, Madison Moore, Renée Mussai, NT, Rashaad Newsome, Harold Offeh, Irvin Pascal, Professor Alessandra Raengo, Athi-Patra Ruga, Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA), sorryyoufeeluncomfortable and Marie-Ann Yemsi, among many others. The full programme of artist talks, panels discussions, films and performative interventions will be announced in September.” FORUM offers critical engagement in the ways in which politics and culture in Africa are shaping its art.

“I want to explore the aesthetic principles and the thematic ideas that are governing new artistic practice and also think about how shifts in politics and culture more broadly are shaping art,” he adds. “The important thing for me about 1-54, and one of the reasons why I believe it’s been internationally successful, is that it doesn’t exist just as a superficial cheerleader of any or all African art. Both the fair and FORUM offer an opportunity for critical discernment about the issues and topics and fascinations that are concerning artists of African origin. And one of the reasons I’m especially excited to be curating FORUM this year is because it also offers a chance for people from all over the world to gather together and talk in depth about work and ideas that really mean something to them.” 


1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair runs from 4-7 October 2018 at Somerset House in London. 1-54.com

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1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, African art, London Art Exhibitions, Rebecca Anne Proctor
Courtesy of Galerie Nathalie Obadia
Youssef Nabil. Self portrait, Essaouira. 2011. Hand colored gelatin silver print. 75x115cm. Edition one of three.