NEW YORK, N.Y. — Talking about his work at the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, French-born artist Henri Abraham Univers said he uses a series of repeating elements that unify his paintings. Whether his subject is a child soldier in the Ivory Coast, where he grew up, or more mundane themes, his graphic paintings are defined by fields of black paint sprinkled with white stars symbolizing the sky, which he said is ever present regardless of what is going on in the world.

His paintings were exhibited at the fair by Retro Africa, an Abuja, Nigeria-based gallery. Speaking French and a bit of English, Univers discussed his work with one of the gallerists helping to interpret. The artist also pointed out four meaningful motifs, mantras really, that he incorporates in each of his works—time is not money; time is love; there are no races, only men; and 1 + 1 = 1, a reference to unity.

 


Retro Africa, Abuja, Nigeria: At left, gallery co-founder Dolly Kola Balogun (artist not shown) with works by HENRY ABRAHAM UNIVERS, “Zoodo (amitié, affection, respect)” and “Petit Mossi (Chasseur de Coeurs), 2019 (acrylic on canvas, 61 × 50 inches / 155 × 127 cm), each $11,000 | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 

Universe is among more than 70 artists whose work was on view and for sale at the 1-54 Fair. Returning to New York City for a fifth year, 1-54 New York 2019 was held in Manhattan for the first time. Staged at Industria in the West Village, the fair was open to the public May 3-5.

Named in reference to the 54 nations that form the continent of Africa, the fair was established in London in 2013 and introduced in New York in 2015. Located at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn since its debut, the fair moved to the new site for the latest edition, seeking to be more centrally located.

Hailing from 16 countries, 24 galleries exhibited works this year by a dynamic selection of emerging and mid-career figures, alongside highly acclaimed, internationally regarded artists such as Yinka Shonibare, Pieter Hugo, and Seydou Keita (1921-2001). Black, white, and multiethnic artists with direct connections to Africa were represented, as well as U.S.-born artists, such as Derrick Adams, Rashaad Newsome, and Kyle Meyer. The group was overwhelmingly male, with women accounting for about 30 percent of the artists showing work.

Five U.S.-based galleries participated in the fair: James Cohan, Danziger Gallery, De Buck Gallery, Yossi Milo Gallery, and Richard Taittinger Gallery. James Cohan gallery showed works by Ethiopian artist Elias Sime and Shonibare, who is British Nigerian.

A series of photographic portraits woven with wax print fabric were among the works on view at Yossi Milo. Depicting gay men in Swaziland, the works were made by Meyer, who was born in Ohio and is based in New York, N.Y.

Stitched “paintings” by Raphael Adjetey Adjei Mayne were on view at Gallery 1957, which is based in Accra, Ghana. Mayne uses a sewing machine to piece together swatches of canvas to create his mixed-media works ($6,500-$8,000). The Ghanaian-born artist lives and works in Germany.

 


The latest edition of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York was held at Industria in the West Village, where it was open to the public May 3-5, 2019. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


From left, Works by Soly Cissé (2) at Sulger-Buel Gallery, and by Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga at October Gallery. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 

Showcasing their deft use of color, paintings by Ethiopian-born, Tel Aviv, Israel-based Nirit Takele and Henry “Mzili” Mujunga were exhibited in a shared booth. Circle Art Gallery, based in Nairobi, Kenya, presented Mujung’s series referencing a potential African space program side-by-side with Takele’s paintings of figures inspired by sculptural forms, which were shown by Addis Fine Art of Ethiopia.

October Gallery of London featured work by three artists: Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, Alexis Peskine, and LR Vandy. Kamuanga of the Democratic Republic of Congo makes striking figurative paintings that reference the coding culture transforming Kinshasa, his hometown. The jet-black skin of his subjects shows patterns of the chips and wires found in the innards of computers.

The series is called Mangbetu. In its description, October Gallery said the work explores “the predicament of the Mangbetu people, a warrior culture whose existence is being threatened by a national desire to modernise. Presenting various modes of mass-produced advertising alongside sets of traditional aesthetics, Kamuanga’s haunting paintings provide an imaginative forum where centuries-old traditions encounter mass-communication technologies in a compelling encounter of attractive opposites.”

A painting by 28-year-old Kamuanga from the series recently sold at Sotheby’s London for $106,031 (fees included), more than twice the high estimate, setting an artist record. Similar-sized paintings by Kamuanga were priced $65,000 at the fair.

Works by the likes of Keita, Shonibare, Armand Boua, Romuald Hazoumé, and Chéri Samba, artists whose work has also been offered at major international auction houses, were on view with other galleries at the fair.

In addition to the exhibitors, fair programming included 1-54 FORUM, a series of conversations and film screenings curated by Black Chalk and Co., a creative agency founded by artists Nontsikelelo Mutiti and Tinashe Mushakavanhu, who are both from Zimbabwe. Participants included artists Derek Fordjour, Richard Mudariki, Miatta Kawinzi, and Lizania Cruz; Brooklyn Museum curator Ashley James; Columbia University architecture professor Mabel O. Wilson; and Tandazani Dhlakama of Zeitz MOCAA. CT

 

Art fair prices provided directly by galleries and via Artsy. Purchase prices should be confirmed with galleries.

 


October Gallery, London: From left, EDDY KAMUANGA ILUNGA, “Untitled,” 2019 (acrylic and oil on canvas, 170 x 130 cm); and clockwise from left, RAMUALD HAZOUMÉ (4), “Noosa,” 2016 (found objects), “Fariza,” 2018 (plastic), “Bacon,” 2018 (mixed media), and “Tangoreac,” 2017 (plastic and mixed media). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


James Cohan Gallery, New York, N.Y.: Detail of YINKA SHONIBARE, “Planets in My Head, Young Mathematician,” 2019 (fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, globe, steel baseplate, leather and abacus, 51 1/8 × 27 1/2 × 54 inches / 129.9 × 69.9 × 137.2 cm). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Installation view of James Cohan Gallery with with Yinka Shonibare’s “Planets in My Head, Young Mathematician” (2019) and in background, Elias Sime, “Tightrope Noiseless 14,” 2019 (reclaimed electrical wires and components on panel). In foreground, far left, terracotta vases by RANTI BAM on pedestals at 50 Golborne Gallery. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Loft Art Gallery, Casablanca, Morocco: Far left, SIWA MGOBOZA, “Reaching the dreams,” (tulle, beads, thread, 186 x 190 cm). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Danziger Gallery, New York, N.Y.: Installation view of photographs by SEYDOU KEITA, various sizes approx. $6,000-$17,000. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Danziger Gallery, New York, N.Y.: At center, SEYDOU KEITA, Untitled portrait, 1950s (gelatin silver print), various sizes approx. $6,000-$17,000 | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


1-54 FORUM: Participating in a panel called “To Exhibit Means to Show: the making of an artist’s book,” from left, artist DEREK FORDJOUR, GEE WESLEY (co-founder and co-director, Ulises), and photographer STANLEY WOLUKAU-WANAMBWA. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (and Dakar, Senegal): Installation view of wood sculptures by JEMS ROBERT KOKO BI and portraits by DALILA DALLÉAS BOUZAR (on wall), about $3,000. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


October Gallery, London: Installation view, From left, ALEXIS PESKINE, “Nkisi,” 2018 (moon gold, nails, earth, water, coffee and archival varnish on wood, 153 x 104 cm), and untitled painting by EDDY KAMUANGA ILUNGA (partially obscured). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Espace d’art Contemporain 14N 61W, Fort-de-France, Martinique: Installation view of works by JEAN-ULRICK DÉSERT. On back wall “Waters of Kiskeya,” 2017 (9 panels, hand embellished – pearlescent acrylic paint, ink, watercolors – on vellum xerography paper) 1 of 2 unique. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


espace d’art contemporain 14N 61W, Fort-de-France, Martinique: JEAN-ULRICK DÉSERT, “Your silence will not protect you,” 2019 (fine-grain concrete casted birds, mirrors, LED display). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, N.Y.: In background, mixed-media photographic portrait with wax print fabric by KYLE MEYER ($14,000). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, N.Y.: Left, works by HASSAN HAJJAJ (2) and, at right, large-scale, mixed-media photographic portrait by KYLE MEYER ($35,000). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Jack Bell Gallery, London | From left, ARMAND BOUA, “Kouman de Kekechoz,” 2018 (acrylic and collage on canvas, 210 x 280 cm); Far right, works by BORIS NZEBO. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Afronova Gallery, Johannesburg: At center, LAWRENCE LEMAOANA, “Dithoto Ke Lefa La Ba Bohlale,” 2018 (embroidery on kanga); At left, 2016 inkjet prints by LEBOHANG KGANYE. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Installation view of various works. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Loft Art Gallery, Casablanca, Morocco: Installation view of two collage and embroidery on C-print works by JOANA CHOUMALI. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Barnard, Cape Town, South Africa: RICHARD MUDARIKI, “The Son of Afrika,” 2019 (oil on canvas, 50 × 50 inches / 127 × 127 cm). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Barnard, Cape Town, South Africa: Installation view of booth featuring paintings by RICHARD MUDARIKI. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Barnard, Cape Town, South Africa: Installation view of paintings by RICHARD MUDARIKI, from left, “Man of God” and “Afronoid,” both 2019 (acrylic on canvas, 35 2/5 × 35 2/5 inches / 90 × 90 cm). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Galerie Anne de Villepoix, Paris: Installation view, at center, FERDINAND KOKOU MAKOUVIA, “Apékin,” 2019 (wood, copper, steel). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Addis Fine Art, Ababa, Ethiopia/Circle Art Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya: Installation view of paintings by NIRIT TAKELE (up to $12,000) and HENRY “MZILI” MUJUNGA ($7,500). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Magnin-A, Paris: Installation view, far left, CHÉRI SAMBA, “J’aime la couleur,” 2018 (acrylic on canvas, 53 1/10 × 78 7/10 inches / 134.9 × 199.9 cm) $100,000, on table, sculptures by ISEK BODYS KINGELEZ and, in background, paintings by AMADOU SANOGO (2), about €16,000. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Magnin-A, Paris: Installation view of CHÉRI SAMBA, “Autoportrait,” 1989 (acrylic on canvas, 53.94 x 88.19 inches) €75,000 – 100,000, and, in left foreground, FABRICE MONTEIRO, “Watermelon Boy,” 2017 (Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag 310gr), various sizes €5,000 – 9,000. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


1-54 FORUM: 1-54 FORUM: Participating in a discussion titled “From the Pavement, a Gallery: curator as broker” about “recent projects that extend the role of the curator into the realm of community builder and collaborator,” from right, AMBER ESSEIVA (assistant curator at Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University) and TANDAZANI DHLAKAMA (curator and education manager, Zeitz MOCAA). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


1-54 FORUM: Participating in a discussion titled “From the Pavement, a Gallery: curator as broker” about “recent projects that extend the role of the curator into the realm of community builder and collaborator,” from left, ASHLEY JAMES (assistant curator at Brooklyn Museum) and TANDAZANI DHLAKAMA (curator and education manager, Zeitz MOCAA). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


50 Golborne, London: Installation view of four works by SAFAA ERRUAS (pieces of paper, pins and pictures of human eyes) with terracotta vases by RANTI BAM on pedestals. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


50 Golborne, London: Installation view, far left, MARIE-CLAIRE MESSOUMA MANLANBIEN, #3 #Map,” 2019 (copper and hair scrubbers, 64 x 47 inches) with terracotta vases by RANTI BAM on pedestals. | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 


Sulger-Buel Gallery, London: At left, Gallery owner Sulger-Buel Lowell. In background, from left, SOLY CISSÉ (2) “The Important VI” and “The Important V,” both 2018 (acrylic and oil on canvas, 120 x 120 x 2 cm / 47.2 inches). | Photo © Brittany Buongiorno, Courtesy 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

 

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