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1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, Somerset House

Academics, artists and art critics have been trying to bring African art, historical as well as contemporary, to greater attention since africa95 in 1995. The 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House London (16 – 20 October 2013) aims to take this further, writes SAJID RIZVI. Success is guaranteed, in more than moderation.

1-54logoThere are several reasons for this optimism. After many years of assiduous efforts in continental Europe, most of them well-intentioned though somewhat limited in geographical reach, African art is experiencing an “arrival” moment after Tate Modern’s recent spotlight, if a tad too tentative and flawed in parts, on contemporary African art. Granted the two shows mounted by Tate Modern (Ibrahim El Salahi and Meschac Gaba) were representative rather more of African art in diaspora than African art as it’s being created on the continent, the public gallery’s anointing of those two practitioners has been a defining moment.

Modern and contemporary African art from outside dynamic centers in South Africa and West African countries began showing up in London’s art auction houses over the past few years. Sales have been moderate to brisk, some of them due to London’s burgeoning communities, the City’s financial diversity and a small concentration of high net worth individuals from the continent. A few commercial galleries focused on African art have also managed to survive economic doldrums and build a customer base. All in all, the future is here.

 Below is the 1:54 organisers’ take on the upcoming event.
1:54, the first international fair dedicated to modern and contemporary African art, begins 16 October with an extensive programme.1:54 Contemporary Art Fair refers to the 54 countries that constitute the African continent, while reflecting the multitude of artistic canons within its compass. Spanning several generations of diverse artistic practices, 1:54 will showcase 15 attentively selected galleries from Abidjan, Nigeria, through to London, Berlin and Seattle to present over 70 emerging and established artists. 1:54 will feature a host of leading organisations from the African art scene around the world who will gather in London to create the most significant cross-sectional-insight into art from the Continent ever seen.Taking place during Frieze Week, the new fair builds upon the burgeoning popularity of contemporary African art and presents a rare opportunity to explore the rapidly emerging African art market in an environment supported by some of the most influential people and organisations in the art world. From painting to sculpture and photography the fair will present visual African art in its many dynamic forms giving collectors, art enthusiasts and culture-seekers the chance to be the first to experience and engage with African art on this level.Highlights of artists represented at the fair include:

  • Edson Chagas, whose work featured in the first pavilion of the Republic of Angola at the 55th Venice Biennale, 2013 which won a Golden Lion, the highest accolade at the Biennale, making Angola the first African country to win the award.
  • Meschac Gaba, from Benin, whose Museum of Contemporary African Art installation has recently been acquired by the Tate, and is subject to great international acclaim.
  • Aboudia, from Ivory Coast, whose powerful political paintings have been aquired by major collections worldwide including the Saatchi Gallery.
  • Sokari Douglas Camp CBE, Nigerian-born British artist who was shortlisted in 2003 for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth and is one of the first female African artists to have attracted the attention of the international art market.
  • Sammy Baloji, from Democratic Republic of the Congo whose work won two awards at the African Photography Encounters in Bamako in 2007. His striking and historically-charged works of the Katanga region were exhibited at Tate Modern in 2011.
  • Godfried Donkor, a Ghanian born London based British artist whose work represented the first African pavilion at the 2001 Venice Biennale and is part of the collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington D.C.

The fair is founded by Touria El Glaoui, daughter of celebrated Moroccan artist Hassan El Glaoui. To mark the inaugural year, internationally acclaimed Ghanaian-born British architect David Adjaye, winner of 2013 RIBA International Award, will design unique elements of Somerset House’s West Wing.

1:54 will be accompanied by a critical conversations programme organised by the fair’s artistic director Koyo Kouoh, a Dakar-based Cameroonian-born exhibition maker and Founder of Raw Material Company, a pioneering non-profit centre for art, knowledge and society in Dakar.  The extensive programme aims at stimulating discussion and will feature lectures, film screenings and panel discussions presented by international curators, artists and leading experts in the field. Discussion topics will include markets and economies, collections, artistic practice and Africa as an inspirational ground. Highlights in the programme include:

  • An “In Conversation With” discussion with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Berlin-based Nigerian-born Otobong Nkanga whose performative work was recently seen at the Sharjah Biennial, UAE.
  • Panel centred on public collections with Chris Dercon, Director of Tate Modern.
  • Panel discussions with prolific international artists working in Africa-related projects including German artist Carsten Höller, who holds a studio in Ghana, Swiss sculptor Not Vital who developed a vast programme of social sculptures in Niger and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson whose global Little Sun project is providing clean, affordable solar-powered light to thousands of people in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi, Senegal and South Africa.
  • Conversations with Edson Chagas, representative for Angola’s Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale and Stefano Rabolli Pansera Co-Curator of the Angola Pavilion.

Touria El Glaoui, Founder of 1:54 says:

“The interest in the inaugural year for 1:54 has been tremendous and we are thrilled to have the support from so many individuals and organisations. 1:54 will offer visitors the chance to experience and engage with contemporary art from Africa and the African Diaspora like never before.

The fair aims to provide galleries, curators, artists, art centres and museums from Africa and those working with Africa-related projects with a unique platform to promote art by established and emerging talent to an international audience. In bringing together such a broad variety of artists – each of the highest calibre – we aim to act as a catalyst for generating momentum in this exciting emerging market. Through our extensive educational programme we also hope to stimulate discussion by providing a rare opportunity to meet with some of the art world’s key thinkers.”

Paul Hewitt, Managing Director of Growth Markets at Christie’s, supporter and speaker at the fair says of 1:54 says:

“The announcement that this, the first ever international art fair dedicated to African art, will be open in London during Frieze Week sends a clear message that this is a market on the rise. Events such as these act as a critical convening moment for all those interested in this rapidly emerging market and we are delighted at Christie’s to add our support. We hope as many collectors, curators, students and artists as possible will visit Somerset House in October to see the first 1:54 for themselves.”

Author: Editor

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