Works exploring trade and migration by SERGE ATTUKWEI CLOTTEY of Accra, Ghana, at Gallery 1957. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


THIS WEEK, A WIDE SELECTION of art fairs opened around New York. Catering to serious collectors and the art curious, the offerings include Art New York, Collective Design, Spring Break, and TEFAF at the Park Avenue Armory, which describes itself as the “world’s leading fair for art, antiques and design,” a platform for “museum-quality works from all eras and genres.”

The fairs are scheduled to coincide with the biggest draw, Frieze New York, the London-based contemporary art showcase on Randalls Island. The most compelling event among the group is also off the beaten path, the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

The name of the fair is inspired by the 54 countries that compose the African continent. The third edition of 1:54 in New York features a tightly curated group of 19 exhibitors from Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, France, Ghana, Italy, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, the UK, and United States, presenting the work of 60 artists.


Installation view of works by DERRICK ADAMS at Vigo Gallery. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


A few of the artists presented are familiar to the American market. David Krut Projects, with locations in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and New York, features photographer Aïda Muluneh (Ethiopia), and artists William Kentridge and Diane Victor (both of South Africa).

Located near the front of the space, the large-scale works of Baltimore-born, Brooklyn-based Derrick Adams are hard to miss. His works exploring African heritage and American nationalism are on view at Vigo Gallery. The UK gallery is also showing work by Sudan-born Ibrahim El-Salahi and London artist Zak Ové, whose work “pays tribute to both spiritual and artistic African and Trinidadian identities.”

Many of the works on view are heavy with symbolism and tackle critical cultural and socio-economic issues that resonate around the African continent.

Many of the works on view are heavy with symbolism and tackle critical cultural and socio-economic issues that resonate around the African continent.

LAWRENCE LEMAOANA, “Garden Boy” and “Suburban Bliss,” both 2017 (embroidery on kanga), at Afronova Gallery. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


Lawrence Lemaoana lives and works in Johannesburg. His practice challenges the role and control of media and its charged relationship to ordinary people, in which they lack a real voice and representation. His graphic works produced on kanga fabric are displayed at Afronova Gallery of Johannesburg. With messages such as “Zuma is Like Jesus,” “Soweto Belies Suburban Bliss,” and “My Father Was a Garden Boy,” the textile works are packed with meaning and pointed political commentary.

Prior to assuming the presidency of South Africa, Jacob Zuma was charged with rape and later acquitted. At the time of the incident, his accuser wore a kanga dress and at the 2006 trial he said he viewed the garment as a sexual invitation. Lemaoana says the fabric made infamous at the Zuma trial actually has significant spiritual healing and religious connotations in South Africa and is also animated by the complications of global trade.

About kanga fabric, the artist has said: “Kanga fabrics are used extensively in my work. Designed in the Netherlands, manufactured in the East, and brought to South Africa to be sold in markets and bazaars, the journey of the fabrics speaks of the idiosyncrasies and trade imbalances of globalization.”


Sitor Senghor of (S)ITOR Gallery talks about “Disunited States of Africa” by NU BARRETO. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


A monumental installation at the back of the fair has garnered the attention of the press. Made in 2010, “Disunited States of Africa” is by multi-discplinary artist Nú Barreto of Guinea Bissau (a tiny country under Senegal). On view at Paris-based (S)ITOR Gallery, the large-scale tarp-like canvas is inspired by the design and concept of the American flag.

Sitor Senghor told me Baretto chose to use the four colors that commonly appear in African flags and that the artist invokes specific meaning in each of the hues: green (hope), yellow (anger), red (bloodshed), and black (Africa’s people). The blue field where white stars appear on the American flag is now green, but in Baretto’s African iteration, the black stars are scattered throughout the flag’s ground so as not to make a comment on the degree of hope present or peace experienced in each of the nations.

Rather, the artist generally characterizes the countries with amulets afixed to each of the stars. Similar to good-luck charms, the amulets are composed of “fetishes” or things collected in the streets to make art works that may have spiritual or cultural meaning such as horse tails, sandals, mirrors, prayer beads, small bottles, and CDs.


Photos by ANTOINE TEMPÉ include images of fellow artists Kehinde Wiley, Malick Sidibe, and Alexis Peskine (bottom left) at (S)ITOR Gallery. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


The (S)ITOR booth also features photography by Dakar, Senegal-based, Franco-American Antoine Tempé. His works are desaturated images of artists and cultural figures, Malick Sidibe (1936-2016), Omar Victor Diop, Kehinde Wiley, and Alexis Peskine, among them.

Paris-born and -based Peskine holds degrees from Howard University and the Maryland Institute College of Art. His work is on view at Frieze New York in the October Gallery booth.

“Alexis was here yesterday. He knows, obviously, about the photo, but he was very happy to see it,” Senghor said. “It’s a way of showing here photographers or artists who are not, at this moment, represented at the fair. So you still have their presence here.”

The fair is relatively small compared with other New York art fairs, but it has big impact. A wide range of works, in terms of price, style, and medium, is on view by artists with complex origins and views.

Programming at the 1:54 fair includes a series of FORUM talks and special projects focused on African photography. “Malick Sidibé: The Eye of Modern Mali” is a solo exhibition at Red Hook Labs, where a group show, “Nataal: New African Photography II,” is also on view.

The fair also collaborated with Aperture to promote the release of “Platform Africa,” the summer edition of its magazine focusing on African photography. CT


Today is the final day of the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York. It is open at Pioneer Works, Red Hook, Brooklyn, from 12 noon-8 p.m. Its first Africa edition is in Marrakech, Morocco, next year (Feb. 24-25, 2018).


To further explore contemporary African art, consider recent volumes that document the field, such as “Contemporary African Art Since 1980,” which is co-edited by Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu, “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists,” which accompanied a traveling exhibition, and “Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design.” In terms of photography, “Africa under the Prism: Contemporary African Photography from Lagos Photo Festival,” is a good primer. “African Photography from The Walther Collection” offers another perspective. Also focusing on contemporary African photography, “Platform Africa: Aperture 227,” the forthcoming summer edition of the magazine will be released soon.


NIYI OLAGUNJU, “Lega III,” 2016 (bisected wood sculpture, aluminum and copper foil, set on black patinated steel stand), on view at TAFETA Gallery. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


Detail of NDIDI EMEFIELE, “Poolside Masterbator,” 2017 (mixed media on canvas), at Rosenfeld Porcini. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


AIDA MULUNEH, “All in One,” 2016 (digital photograph, edition of 7), on view at David Krut Projects. In background, Wura-Natasha Ogunji at 50 Golborne Gallery. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


Detail of a new work (mixed media on digital polyester inkjet plate) by PAUL ONDITI, at ARTLabAfrica. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


Mohamed Melehi, Installation view of works by Moroccan artist MOHAMED MELEHI, including in foreground “Untitled,” 2016 (acrylic on canvas), at Taymour Grahne Gallery. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


Works by MAURICE MBIKAYI at Officine dell’Immagine. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


OLALEKAN JEYIFOUS, “I No Get Change O!,” 2017 (wood, wood stain, acrylic paint), at 50 Golborne. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


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