1-54 ART FAIR LONDON
BIGGER AND BETTER; CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART AT ITS BEST
1-54 kick starts Frieze week, returning to London for its fifth
edition. Taking over Somerset House, this year over 40 galleries
from around the world gathered to present soulful African art.
Featuring amongst the special projects was a solo exhibition by
British-Moroccan photographer Hassan Hajjaj. It showcases a
playful western imagery of fashion and street culture. Drawing
close attention to serious perceptions of the hijab but with a hint of
humour. Photographed are women posing on motorbikes, with
heart shaped sunglasses, framed in Moroccan food. Set near the
main entrance in a room of high ceilings and natural light it’s very
hard to miss this.
Continuing to walk through each white partitioned wall you become
aware that the art surrounding you is genuinely about the
experiences these artists and their narratives have lived, nothing is
made abstract to aesthetically please the viewers. This is all done
One theme that surfaced throughout the fair was the references to
politics and history. Each artist tells the story from a different
Bambo Sibiya used traditional printmaking focusing on the
subcultures of the mining industry, which led to many people
moving in search for a better life.
Dan Halter shreds and weaves a huge one trillion Zimbabwe dollar
that is then framed above yet another big one US dollar to show
the contrast in value. Halter’s work shows the economical
damages caused to his home of Zimbabwe under president Robert
Mugabe who still remains in office at the age of 89.
Also taking us on a history trip is Godfried Donkor. Using collages
with backdrops from the Financial Times, he explores ancient and
modern day slavery.
Making your way around the fair it’s kind of like getting lost in a
maze, only this maze will have you feeling rebellious and powerful
in one space, to feel sad and touched in another.
Finally entering the west wing you are greeted by an enormous
sculpture, dressed in a purple uniform. It’s a complex, angry and
sharp piece, rooted deep into the history of its time. It’s a sculpture
by Mary Sibande, telling her story as the daughter of three
generations of domestic workers. Represented by the newcomers
MOMO gallery, the artist has been nominated for the African Art
Award 2017 in Washington.
Hidden away in a tiny room was SMO contemporary art, exhibiting
big canvases by Nengi Omuku. There are rainbows, and blocks of
colour in her artwork, acknowledging the mental trip you face in the
creative process. It’s almost emotional to see how she paints a
dark world so brightly
Nelson Makamo was the only artist at the fair dedicating a whole
series of work for children. Using charcoal as his main medium he
creates a black and white world, revealing the quiet innocents of
There is no denying that Africa’s art industry is growing into an
influential scene. The number of European galleries representing
African artists at the fair is evidence of this. It’s an atmosphere full
of pride and spirit. Still very young, the fair is a blooming event
bringing together fresh, bright and inventive artists who will be
Words by ROSA DERE