1:54 – Bringing the Power of Contemporary African Art to New York

I immensely enjoyed the first two editions of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair , and this third one was also a delight.  Held once again at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn, it featured the work of about 70 African artists, represented by 19 galleries from Africa, Europe and the US.  The fair continues to be a testament to the variety of subject matter, techniques and media found on the African continent.  (The name, 1:54 means 1continent, 54 countries).  Here are some of my highlights.

detail from work by Zak Ové, plywood frame with sacking crochet doilies

Being an embroiderer, I headed straight to Vigo Gallery (UK) that showcased Zak Ové’s (UK) fantastic large scale (∼6ft x 4ft) collages created from crocheted doilies adorned with various embellishments.   You can see the influence of the Trinidadian Carnival (he divides his time between London and Trinidad) in his use of color and the musical rhythms of his compositions.  I’d find something new and delightful in his multi-layered works each time I looked. I love seeing traditional crafts being used in new ways.  Not your grandma’s doilies!

Kiosque Baye Fall, Cheikh Ndiaye, oil on canvas


Tapissier, CICAP, Cheikh Ndiaye, oil on canvas

Cheikh Ndiaye’s  (Dakar & NYC) cityscapes are master studies in composition and color – and restraint.  There’s nothing excessive about his use of color, and there are no extraneous elements in his paintings, in which he captures the everyday life of Senegal, yet takes it out of the ordinary.  Galerie Cécile Fakhoury’s (Abidjan)  booth included these two works above.

Untitled (diptych), Armand Boua, acrylic and collage on canvas


[title unknown], Armand Boua, acrylic and collage on canvas

Jack Bell Gallery  (London) had two very large canvases by Armand Boua (Ivory Coast) who applies tar and acrylic paint onto cardboard boxes and then strips them back to create his compelling and layered portraits of street children in his hometown, Abidjan. 

[title unknown], by Serge Attukwei Clottey, plastic, wires and paint

The Keepers, Serge Attukwei Clottey, bronze

Serge Attukwei Clottey (Ghanna)  uses material from everyday objects, especially the yellow gallon containers, which he cuts, drills, and reforms into kente cloth like tapestries, or melts and recasts as bronze  sculptures. These works are a powerful commentary on trade and consumption in modern Africa.   Gallery 1957 (Ghanna) displayed the above works by this multi-talented artist.

Dream in Tatters, Benon Lutaaya, paper collage on canvas

Room  Gallery (Johannesburg) featured the work of four emerging artists, including Benon Lutaaya (Uganda/South Africa) , who uses waste paper material to create abstract canvases that touch on personal space, identity and yearning.

Desunited States of Africa, Nú Barreto, acrylic on canvas, amulets, other objects

(S)itor/Sitor Senghor gallery (Paris) featured the work of several artists, including that of     Nu Barreto (Guinea Bissau/France) whose mixed media work, Desunited States of Africa took up most of the back wall.  I liked how, through it’s simplicity and directness, this work makes you reflect on symbols and patriotism.

Mbeka 2, Maurice Mbikayi

Officine dell’immagine (Milan) featured the work of Maurice Mbikayi (Kinshasa & Cape Town).  The artist collects discarded computer parts, reworking and combining them with other materials into mixed media collages and sculptures, as well as photographs, creating a commentary on electronic waste and its implications for Africa.  Sadly, I don’t think he’s going to run out of materials to use anytime soon.

“Potus” from the “Of Saints and Vagabonds” series by Marcia Kure, collage

The gallery also showed work by Marcia Kure (Nigeria)  who imagines alternative worlds, with stylized, striking, hybrid images that, like fairy tales and myths, are reflections of fears and destabilization – albeit in post colonial societies – as well as hope. 

[title unknown], Ndidi Emefiele, mixed media on canvas

Rosenfeld Porcini’s (UK) booth featured only the work of Ndidi Emefiele (Nigeria and UK), whose mixed media tableaus with their distinctive style of oversized head (often wearing glasses fashioned from unusual materials) on relatively small bodies, upend traditional oil paintings in their exploration of issues of gender identity and social norms. 

Congratulations to 1:54 on another outstanding show – can’t wait to have you back next year!

If you’ll be traveling this fall/winter, 1:54  will be in London on October 5th – 7th, and they will be hosting their first show in Marrakech on February 24th-25, 2018.

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