From established figures to rising stars, African art fair 1:54 returns to Somerset House
‘Azonto’ (2013) by Romuald Hazoumè
ast year, among October’s proliferating events and exhibitions in London, there was a smart new kid on the block. 1:54: Contemporary African Art Fair set up shop in the neoclassical apartments of Somerset House, offering a platform to 15 galleries and not-for-profit spaces, with work by 80 African artists. The title hints at the impossibility of representing all 54 countries in one event, but the fair included galleries both in the west and in Africa, showing artists working within Africa and in the wide diaspora.
Some were hesitant. Cécile Fakhoury, based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, who represents the painter Aboudia, whose work is currently on display at the Saatchi Gallery as part of Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America, comments: “I was not sure about the project. I want to be a contemporary art gallery in Africa, not necessarily a contemporary African art gallery.”
The fair’s founder is businesswoman Touria El Glaoui, daughter of revered Moroccan artist Hassan El Glaoui, and she had high ambitions. She asked the Tanzanian-born, RIBA award-winning British architect David Adjaye to design the fair, and put together an impressive series of talks to provide critical context. Hans Ulrich Obrist was in conversation with Berlin-based Nigerian-born performance artist Otobong Nkanga, whom he presented this June in his 14 Rooms at Art Basel; the 2013 Venice Biennale winner of the Lion d’Or, the Angolan artist Edson Chagas took part. As did Chris Dercon, director of Tate Modern, basking in the afterglow of Tate’s 2013 show of its recent purchase, Benin artist Meschac Gaba’s exuberant Museum of African Contemporary Art.
‘Hippo’ (2014) by Ransome Stanley
With prices congenially low in comparison with elsewhere in London, dealers reported excellent business. Fakhoury comments: “I sold a lot of work. I met many museum curators and many good collectors. You could feel the interest.”
Next week, the fair returns to Somerset House, this time with 27 galleries taking part, 11 from Africa. You will be able to see work by 113 artists from established figures such as Benin artist Romuald Hazoumé, South African Ernest Mancoba (who died in 2002) and London’s Sokari Douglas-Camp, to rising stars such as the Nigerian Peju Alatise (Art Twenty One), Sammy Baloji from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Galerie Imane Farès) and London-based Cameroonian Adjani Okpu-Egbe (Knight Webb Gallery).
1:54 is just one expression of a current ferment of interest in contemporary African art. It has been a slow build. The Goodman Gallery from South Africa, exhibiting at Frieze, has been in existence since 1966, nurturing the careers of both black and white artists. The October Gallery in London was founded in 1979 to bring attention to African as well as other “transcultural” artists. In 2002, the British Museum’s purchase of the “Throne of Weapons” by Mozambican artist Kester led to collaborations with contemporary African artists, while in 2011 Tate launched its African Acquisitions Committee.
‘Untitled Tete’ (2014) by Aboudia
The touring exhibition Africa Remix (2004-07) showcased figures such as South African photographer David Goldblatt and the Ghanian master El Anatsui, while in 2007, Hazoumé was awarded the Arnold Bodé Prize at Documenta 12, in Kassel, Germany.
Internationally, influential critics such as Okwui Enwezor, now director of Munich’s Haus der Kunst and Simon Njami, curator and co-founder of the art journal Revue Noir, have long fought to create a space for African artists within the global art world. Enwezor’s appointment as curator of the Venice Biennale 2015 is just one indication of the current changed status of African art.
Today, however, it is the market, not just the not-for-profit spaces and museums, that is taking note. Besides the African artists on view at Frieze and Frieze Masters, who include the magisterial South African William Kentridge, African art is on view next week at many other commercial galleries, including the three-year-old Tiwani Contemporary and the brand new Sulger-Buel-Lovell. At Bonhams’s fifth Africa Now sale in May, 10 new records were broken, with Nigerian and Ghanaian artists achieving prices well into five figures. Art fairs in Dubai and Johannesburg have also opened up new markets to African art.
‘Privilege Heritage’ (2014) by Adjani Okpu-Egbe
But as Ross Douglas, director of the Joburg Art Fair, explains, the key to the transformation has been the beginnings of a local market. Until recently the only country within Africa to have a mature market, of mostly white collectors, was South Africa. Now rising wealth in Nigeria has combined with a growing interest in buying art to stimulate a strong art scene in Lagos, with auction houses, commercial galleries, not-for-profit spaces and the emergence of significant private collections.
At this year’s fair in late August, Douglas says, we began “to get a sense of the pan-African art market”. Besides local collectors, both black and white, there were many Nigerians, with buyers from Zimbabwe, Zaire and Ghana, and “collectors were looking for artists across the African continent”.
Until recently the only mature market was in South Africa. Now rising wealth in Nigeria has stimulated a strong art scene in Lagos
This new pan-African vibrancy is confirmed by Joost Bosland of the highly regarded Stevenson Gallery, which is also exhibiting at Frieze this year: “Increasingly our artists come from all over Africa. Ten years ago none of them were showing.”
Bomi Odufunade, a Nigerian and the co-founder of art consultancy Dash & Rallo, points out that until recently, in the absence of viable internet, mobile phone or even flight connections, it was hard for collectors and artists to connect across the continent. Today, as an art adviser – to Congolese collector Sindika Dokolo, the lead sponsor of 1:54, among others – she encourages her collectors to start locally, then reach out across the continent to the diaspora and beyond. In her view, “this is more representative of how we have all influenced each other”.
Far from being an imprisoning concept, she hopes 1:54 will set both artists and collectors free.
1:54: Contemporary African Art Fair runs October 16-19, 1-54.com
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African contemporary art eyes int’l market
LONDON, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) — A major contemporary African art fair kicked off in London Thursday, with dozens of African artists seeking opportunities in Europe and beyond.
The 1:54 African Contemporary Art Fair, one of the largest of its kind held in Europe, featured paintings, sculptures, photography and installations.
The fair comprised 27 selected galleries representing over 100 international artists from Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, France, Italy, Germany, Britain and the United States and so on.
Inaugurated in London last year, this year’s fair has doubled in size, aiming to expand the presence of contemporary African art in the international market.
“For a very long time, there was no role for African art in the international art market, but from last year to right now … countries have the exhibitions done with African artists, so I know it is getting stronger and stronger,” said Touria El Glaoui, founder and director of the fair.
Mariane Ibrahim-Lenhardt, director of U.S. based M.I.A Gallery, which mostly presents contemporary African artists, described the 1:54 as a party for Africa related art to join in the international art market.
After being around with African artists for several years, she decided to devote herself to creating a market for them.
“The people are looking at African contemporary art, is more like they realize that this is a big thing … maybe later there would be a greater demand,” she said, adding that “we are all on the edge and we are waiting for it.”
The organizers are also aspiring to take the fair to other parts of the world, particularly in Asia.
“The Asia market is curious about everything and it is happening in art,” Glaoui noted.
She listed Singapore and Hong Kong as the most probable locations for the fair when it is held in Asia.
Apart from the exhibition, the fair has also created an online platform named “Artsy” to help African artists to gain access to the international market.
Glaoui said the online platform opened the door for African artists to get in touch with the whole world’s collectors.
“For them, it changed everything,” she said.
The participants have also voiced their surprise at the diversity of the African contemporary art on display.
“Just like the artists from many other parts of the world, African artists are talking about gender, political, social, environmental issues and so on. They are a window of the society,” Ibrahim-Lenhardt explained.
“For me, when talk about Africa, it is about the entire human civilization,” said Marcia Kure, a Nigerian artist living in the United States.
The 1:54 African Contemporary Art Fair will be held from Thursday to Sunday in London’s Somerset House.