THREE TREES HAVE SPROUTED in the courtyard at Somerset House where the latest edition of 1-54 London is underway. The installation is by acclaimed Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi, one of the most critically recognized figures in African and Arab Modernism. “Meditation Tree” is part of his ongoing investigation into the tree/body metaphor and references the Haraz tree, which is indigenous to Sudan.

Works by more than 130 artists, including El-Salahi, are on view at the sixth edition of 1-54 London, which opened to the public today. The contemporary African art fair is bringing together 43 galleries from 21 countries. Sixteen galleries are from Africa; Three are based in the United States (Burning in Water, James Cohan, and Yossi Milo Gallery); and 12 galleries are participating in 1-54 London for the first time.

About 25 percent of the galleries are dedicating their entire booths to one artist. Eleven are presenting solo exhibitions featuring the following artists: Addis Gezehagn (Addis Fine Art), Omar Ba (Art Bärtschi & Cie), Marion Boehm (ARTCO Gallery), Paul Onditi (ARTLabAfrica), Atta Kwami (Beardsmore Gallery), Esther Mahlangu (Burning in Water), Wonga Mancoba (Galerie Mikael Anderson), Youssef Nabil (Galerie Nathalie Obadia), Anton Kannemeyer (Huberty & Breyne Gallery), Ailou Diack ((S)ITOR/Sitor Senghor) and Mongezi Ncaphayi (SMAC).

“We are so proud of how far we have come since our first London fair in 2013. Following the launch of our inaugural Marrakech fair in February and our fourth New York edition in May, we have gone on to develop new audiences for contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora across three fairs and three different continents,” founding director Touria El Glaoui said in a statement. “The growth and popularity of the fair is a real testament to the shift away from Euro-centric art-historical narratives.”

“The growth and popularity of the fair is a real testament to the shift away from Euro-centric art-historical narratives.”
— 1-54 Director Touria El Glaoui


ATHI-PATRA RUGA, “Miss Azania 2019,” 2015 (archival ink-jet print on Photorag Baryta, 150 × 190 cm.). | Courtesy of the artist and WHATIFTHEWORLD, Photo by Hayden Phipps

 

In addition to the gallery presentations, 1-54 London features Special Projects and a Forum program. The courtyard installation is El-Salahi’s first public art project. In addition to “Meditation Tree,” the Special Projects include installations by British-Ghanaian artist Larry Achiampong; self-proclaimed visionary and spiritualist Robert Saint-Brice (1893-1973); and Congolese artist Gastineau Massamba.

“Of Gods, Rainbows and Omissions,” an exhibition featuring new and rarely seen works by Athi-Patra Ruga, is also on view. In his first major solo show in the UK, the South African artist explores “a mythical world which challenges perception of cultural identity and parodies the construction of the South African nation state in the post-apartheid era.” Presented in partnership with Somerset House, the exhibition includes three of Ruga’s defining bodies of work—The Future White Women of Azania (2012-15), Queens in Exile (2015-17), and The Beatification of Feral Benga (2017-present).

WHILE THE ARTWORK ON DISPLAY and for sale is always the big draw, the Forum program organized for this edition of 1:54 London is particularly compelling, too. The slate of conversations is curated by Ekow Eshun, a Ghanaian-British writer and curator. He is the author of “Modern: Creating the Contemporary Art of a Continent” and chairman the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, which oversees a public art program in London.

Titled “Freefall,” the Forum program centers around discussions about contemporary black creativity. Today, Alessandra Raengoand, a professor at Georgia State University explored the video work of Khalil Joseph as an entry point to talk about her research group, liquid blackness. Her presentation was followed by Eshun in conversation with Ruga about his solo exhibition at Somerset House.

 


Artists Sonia Boyce and Hurvin Anderson. | Photos: via Royal Academy and by Vanley Burke via Tate

 

Tomorrow there is a panel on African photography. Over the course of the fair, conversations will be dedicated to archival moving images and “black visibility through portraiture.” There are also artist talks with Achiampong, whose installation is part of the Special Projects program, and Modupeola Fadugba of Togo about his exhibition “Dreams from the Deep End” at Gallery 1957 in Accra, Ghana. New York-based, multidisciplinary artist Rashaad Newsome is discussing the role of improvisation in his work.

The Forum program includes one official performance. Ghanaian artist Harold Offeh is re-enacting album cover images that depict black men in repose. Titled, “Lounging” (2018), the performance explores what was a common trope among black male singers in the 1980s.

A performance of sorts, the Sunday program concludes with artists and curators coming together for a group reading of Fatima El-Teyeb’s book “European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Post National Europe.”

Prior to the reading, two major British artist are in conversation—Sonia Boyce and Hurvin Anderson. A pivotal figure in the Black Arts Movement in the UK, Boyce’s first retrospective exhibition was on view earlier this year at Manchester Art Gallery. She is a professor at Middlesex University and professor of Black art and design at University of the Arts London. Her work is currently featured at Frieze London. It is on display in the Apalazzo Gallery booth in the Social Work section of the fair, which is dedicated to women artists.

The Forum discussion will focus on Anderson’s work. His paintings blend figuration and abstraction. He mines memory and history and often references family experiences in his work. Anderson made the shortlist for the 2017 Turner Prize. Last month, the Government Art Collection announced he was the first of 10 artists to be commissioned over the next decade to create an original, limited-edition print for display in the UK’s diplomatic buildings around the world. CT

 

The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair is Oct. 4-7 at Somerset House in London.

READ MORE about Hurvin Anderson on Culture Type

 

TOP IMAGE: IBRAHIM EL SALAHI, Installation view of “Meditation Tree,” 2018, at Somerset House London. | Photo courtesy of Vigo Gallery and the artist. Photographer Peer Lindegard

 


1-54 London 2018: Installation view at Tiwani Contemporary. The “Untitled” (2017) painting by Joy Labinjo on the left, has been the featured image in many of the marketing materials for this year’s fair. Works by Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum are shown at right. The London-based gallery is also showing works by Délio Jasse, Thierry Oussou, and Zina Saro-Wiwa. | Photo © Katrina Sorrentino, Courtesy 1-54 Fair

 


1-54 London 2018: Installation view of works by South African artist ESTHER MAHLANGU at Burning in Water gallery (New York). | Photo © Katrina Sorrentino, Courtesy 1-54 Fair

 


Installation view at 1-54 London 2018. | Photo © Katrina Sorrentino, Courtesy 1-54 Fair

 


Installation view at 1-54 London 2018. | Photo © Katrina Sorrentino, Courtesy 1-54 Fair

 


1-54 London 2018: Installation view of “Microcosmos” works by Benin-born Dimitri Fagbohoun at Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire/Dakar, Senegal). | Photo © Katrina Sorrentino, Courtesy 1-54 Fair

 


1-54 London 2018: Works by South African artist ANTON KANNEMEYER at Huberty & Breyne Gallery (Paris/Brussels). | Photo © Katrina Sorrentino, Courtesy 1-54 Fair

 


1-54 London 2018: Installation view of works by Ghanaian artist Atta Kwami (at far left and far right) at Beardsmore Gallery (London). | Photo © Katrina Sorrentino, Courtesy 1-54 Fair

 


1-54 London 2018: Special Projects – Installation view of EMMA WILLEMSE, “Suture,” 2018 (wood, mutton cloth and Eucalyptus bark ink dye), presented by Nando, the South Africa-based restaurant chain, in partnership with Spier Art Trust. | Photo © Katrina Sorrentino, Courtesy 1-54 Fair

 


Installation view at 1-54 London 2018. | Photo © Katrina Sorrentino, Courtesy 1-54 Fair

 


1-54 London 2018: Installation view of works by Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté (far left), bench by Ifeoma U. Anyaeji of Nigeria, and Angolan artist Januario Jano’s 24-part installation “Ilundu,” 2017 (ink-jet on 100% cotton fine art paper rag), at Primo Marella Gallery (Milan, Italy). | Photo © Katrina Sorrentino, Courtesy 1-54 Fair

 


1-54 London 2018: IBRAHIM EL SALAHI, Installation view of “Meditation Tree,” 2018, at Somerset House London. | Photo courtesy of Vigo Gallery and the artist. Photographer Peer Lindegard

 

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Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an editorially independent solo project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Happy Holidays and Many Thanks for your support.