The Continent Comes To New York For 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair
The dominant trend in global contemporary art over the past five to ten years has been a foregrounding of artists from Africa and the African diaspora. Leading institutions and collectors worldwide finally realized how their historic neglect of the continent rendered collections deficient and shamelessly out of touch with the 21st century.
Perhaps she, they or he can be found at the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair being held Thursday, May 18 through Sunday, May 21, 2023, at the Malt House in the Manhattanville Factory District in West Harlem (439 W 127th Street).
Since its first fair in London in 2013, 1-54 has presided over a massive shift in art world awareness and market interest in contemporary African and diasporic art practices. With editions now held annually in London, Marrakech and New York, 1-54 is the leading, first and only global event series dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.
“It’s been wonderful to watch artists of African descent increasingly receive the recognition they deserve,” Founding Director of 1-54 Touria El Glaoui told Forbes.com. “A growing number of African and diasporic artists are now represented by international blue-chip galleries, exhibit at major international art fairs like Art Basel and Frieze, are included in the collections of internationally renowned museums, and featured in important large-scale exhibitions and events like the Venice Biennale. Good examples include Gideon Appah, who first exhibited at 1-54 back in 2018 and recently presented a large solo exhibition at Pace Gallery in London, or Kapwani Kiwanga who showed at 1-54 in 2015, and will represent Canada at 2024 Venice Biennale.”
Debuting in New York in 2015, 1-54 has dedicated itself to broadening global awareness about the art-historical significance of African modern and contemporary art. This year’s New York edition features a total of 26 leading international galleries hailing from across Africa, Europe and the U.S., all specializing in contemporary African art.
The fair’s title refers the 54 countries on the African continent. That moniker alludes to the event’s educational mission.
“A common misconception is that African art is invariable or uniform. In fact, contemporary African artists are dealing with numerous interesting and layered themes from identity and the human condition, to history and politics, and the environment,” El Glaoui explains. “At this year’s New York fair, for example, we have artists exploring ideas of ritual and rites of passage, perceptions of beauty, fashion and so much more. A goal of 1-54 has long been to highlight the diversity of art practices in Africa and the diaspora. From installation-based artists, painters and sculptors to conceptual, performance, and digital artists, there is not one style, medium, or genre that is predominant.”
Africa, many need reminding, is a vast continent, not a singular country. 7,000 miles separate Tangier, Morocco in the north along the Mediterranean from Cape Town, South Africa in the south along the Atlantic. That’s more than twice the distance from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to Miami.
“A hotspot that immediately comes to mind is Nigeria, where kó, Retro Africa and Wunika Mukan Gallery, who are all showing with us at 1-54 New York, have gallery spaces. Morocco is another country from which many of our galleries and artists come,” El Glaoui responded when asked to name prominent centers of contemporary art across the continent. “Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and Dakar, Senegal both have extremely vibrant art scenes, with the latter the home of Black Rock Senegal, artist Kehinde Wiley’s multi-disciplinary artist residency, and internationally known artists like Amoako Boafo, Gideon Appah and Serge Attukwei Clottey have definitely put Accra, Ghana on the map.”
So, which artists among the dozens represented at the fair should visitors be particularly keen to identify? El Glaoui mentioned two, Emma Odumade (b. 2000, Lagos, Nigeria) and Delali Ayivi (b. 1998, Baltimore), both young, emerging artists with work she’s excited to see at this month’s event.
“Emma Odumade, who is represented by AFIKARIS, creates hyperrealistic drawings that explore notions of identity and the social constructs of beauty and power, with the artist viewing her pencil as a weapon for activism and a means for reconnecting with personal stories and experiences,” she explained. “Delali Ayivi is a Togolese-German photographer represented by Galerie Number 8 whose practice focuses on diversifying representations of black communities, with a focus on fashion. Finding the work of her great-great grandfather, Alex A.–one of the first Togolese photographers–inspired the artist to document people and in 2019 Ayivi founded Togo Yéyé, a project which scouts innovative Togolese talent, documenting and empowering the Togolese creative community.”
May 18 through May 21 at 548 West, 548 West 22nd St
Art lovers visiting New York for the fairs will surely enjoy staying at the Bauhaus inspired ModernHaus SoHo featuring first rate original contemporary art throughout the property including pieces by KAWS and George Condo.