Contemporary African Art, the Global Phenomenon

and the 1:54 Art Fair

Juliette Harris

 View of 2015 New York 1:54 Art Fair. Photo: Katrina SorrentinoContemporary African art is achieving broad, international recognition at this moment and African critics, curators and gallerists are becoming major figures on the international art scene.  

Bruce Onobrakpeya, Negritude, 1960, lithograph. Hampton Univ Museum CollectionIn the 20th century, only a few African-born painters or sculptors working in contemporary styles developed an international reputation — most notably, Twins Seven Seven, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Skunder Boghossian (who lived in Paris and Washington, DC) and Ibrahim el-Salahi (who also lived abroad for much of his adult life).*

However communications, transporation and other aspects of globalization have closed the gap between African achievement in the visual arts and its international recognition. It's an exiciting phenomenon because African artists are contributing to the contemporary art canon in ways that both reflect their various ethnic sentibilities and in ways that transcend ethnicity.

Omar Ba, La Monnaie en Afrique, 200x 131cm, Art Bartschi & CieAn outstanding example of the exhibition dimension of this global phenomenon is the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair,  May 6-8, 2016 at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn. 

Other recent and current events include:

The Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design exhibition at the Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain, October 30, 2015 – February 21, 2016.

The African Perspectives Focus of the Armory Show in New York March 2-7, 2016 which included installations by galleries representing African artists in Africa, Europe and the U.S. and a two-day symposium on artists, curators and collectors from Africa and the Diaspora.

The Sixth Marrakech Biennial, Morocco, April 22 - May 8, 2016. The exhibition builds on a history of Pan Afro-Arab unity, through critically investigating socio political projects, cultural partnerships, and art movements that have led to many shared artistic tendencies. West African artists and African American artists are represented at this year's edition include  El Anatsui, Manthia Diawara, Melvin Edwards, Sam Gilliam, David Hammons, Al Loving, Dijibril Diop Mambety and the Otolith Group (Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun).

Ireland’s Biennial, the 2016 EVA International's Still (the) Barbarians exhibition is curated by Koyo Kouoh,  founding artistic director of RAW Material Company, Dakar, and curator of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London and New York, in Limerick, April 16 - July 17, 2016.  With the participation of artists and arts figures from Africa, Asia and Europe,  Still (the) Barbarians  “aims to draw a concentric artistic and political cartography, mapping the conflations and confines of the global post-colonial typology with Ireland as its central starting point.  The convecting discourses on racism as a foundational and enduring system for exclusion and exploitation will appear throughout the biennial as the framework on which to build contemporary fictions and future utopias of togetherness,” explains the biennial announcement.  

Forum NY 2015, Global Black Subjectivities: Here and Now with (l-r) art critic Chika Okeke-Agulu, Brooklyn museum curator Rujecko Hockley, curator Naima J. Keith (then the Studio Museum in Harlem), artist Julie Mehretu. Courtesy of 1:54. Photo: Katrina SorrentinoThe 12th edition of Dak’Art in Senegal, May 3 -  June 2, 2016 curated by Simon Njami. Some 65 artists from 24 countries are represented at this international exhibition. 

Creative Africa, A Vibrant Season of Exhibitions and Activities at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, May 14 - September 25, 2016. The exhibitions will include historical works of art as well as contemporary fashion, photography, design, and architecture. The centerpiece is Look Again: Contemporary Perspectives on African Art.

And, of course, Okwui Enwezor’s direction of the international art exhibition of the 2015 Venice Bienniale.  

The 2016 New York 1:54 Art Fair  

(Note: With the exception of the Bruce Onoprapeya image, all artwork images shown here are on view at the 2016 New York 1:54 Art Fair and are courtesy I:54.)

1:54 was initiated in London in 2013 by Touria El Glaoui. The show in Red Hook marks the second edition of 1:54 New York. 1:54 London will return to Somerset House for the fourth consecutive year,  October 6–9 2016.

 Omar Victor Diop, Art Comes First, 2016, Le studio des vanités, impression jet d'encre pigmentaire sur papier Harman By Hahnemuhle, 90 x 90 cm. Edition of 5 + 2 AP © Omar Victor Diop Courtesy Galerie MAGNIN-A, ParisThe current New York edition of 1:54 showcases 17 galleries from 9 countries, in addition to an impressive selection of works by over 60 artists working in various artistic mediums and who come from a unique blend of geographical backgrounds, comprising 25 countries: Angola, Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, France, Ghana, Italy, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Madagascar, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Togo, Tunisia, United Kingdom, USA and Zimbabwe.

Steve Bandoma, Zakalaha, 2015, Surrounders series, acrylic, ink and collage on paper, 59.84 x 47.24”, Courtesy of MAGNIN-A, Afronova GalleryThe fair is curated by Koyo Kouoh, founder and artistic director of RAW Material Company, Dakar. Kouoh invited Adrienne Edwards (Performa, New York and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis), Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi (Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College), and Dexter Wimberly (independent New York-based curator) to the program as collaborators.

With contributions from a rising generation of cultural entrepreneurs and producers, the discussions and artist talks for 1:54 FORUM will pivot around a number of key themes, including the African art market, curating in the digital age, and contemporary forms of dissemination.

In addition to FORUM, 1:54 will host 1:54 PERFORMS, a new performance section for this year’s edition co-presented with Performa and curated by Adrienne Edwards, curator at Performa and curator-at-large at the Walker Art Center. This innovative platform of the fair will center around two original Aida Muluneh, Sai Mado, The Distant Gaze, 2016, digital photograph, edition of 7, 12.2 x 12.2 cm / 4.8 x 4.8performances.

1:54 has also fostered a partnership with the Dakar Biennale (Dak’Art - Biennale de l'Art Africain Contemporain) for the fair’s special project TRANSMISSIONS. To celebrate the concurrence of the biennale’s opening week with 1:54 in New York, 1:54 is screening daily highlights from the Dakar Biennale in a projection room at Pioneer Works during the fair. Simultaneously, daily highlights of the fair will be screened in Dak’Art during the biennale. Fostering a cultural exchange between 1:54 and the current artistic activity in Dakar, the collaboration aims at mapping out the points of convergence between the two platforms.

Houston Maludi, Le Vendeur de Pétrole, 2015, 99.5 x 99.5 cm. Courtesy Galerie MAGNIN-A, ParisAdditional special projects and events include: 1:54 Bookstore focusing on specialized publications at Pioneer Books

Presentation and book signing with artist Mickalene Thomas for her latest publication, Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs (Aperture, 2015)

1:54 Lounge designed by Stephen Burks with a site-specific lounge installation.

Pop-up restaurant by Senegalese chef, restaurateur, and author, Pierre Thiam, in the garden of Pioneer Works throughout the duration of 1:54 NY.

The Full Program Schedule (with times) and admission and location details are here. 

Panel discussions

Monsengo Shula, Untitled, 2015, 129 x 129 cm Courtesy Galerie MAGNIN-A, ParisBeyond Cultural Polarities: Africa’s Creative ‘Repats.’ As Africa’s international creative class becomes more visible on the continent – particularly in major metropolises like Dakar, Lagos, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Luanda and Johannesburg – many diaspora Africans are choosing to return to the continent. Many of these returnees, known as ‘repats’, are highly educated and skilled, and while they have shown that they can seize new opportunities and transfer skills to Africa’s nascent creative industries, they face plenty of challenges. This panel frames the concept of African repatriation through the insight of three entrepreneurs: Andrew Dosunmu (filmmaker based in Nigeria); Nina Keïta (entrepreneur based in Côte d'Ivoire); and Elinyisia Mosha (journalist based in Tanzania). Moderated by Claude Grunitzky (Founder and Editor-in-Chief of TRUE Africa).

Steve Bandoma, Horizon 2050, 2015, Eldorado, acrylic, collage, 200 x 140 cm. Courtesy Galerie MAGNIN-A, ParisMedia Platforms for the Promotion of the Arts, Visual Cultures, and Social Experiences of and about Africa and the Diaspora. This panel explores the new wave of omnibus digital content providers focused on African and African diaspora contemporary cultures and social activities. The discussants are Claude Grunitzky (chairman and editor-in-chief of TRUE Africa) and Abiola Oke (CEO of okayafrica). Moderated by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi (Curator of African Art at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College).

Nathalie Boutté, Peter the Great, 2015, ink, 101.2 x 71.5 cm © Florian Kleinefenn. Courtesy Galerie MAGNIN-A, ParisThe Politics and Privilege of Play: Dexter Wimberly (independent curator) in Conversation with Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze (artist). Navigating the liminal space between fantasy and reality, ruby onyinyechi amanze's drawings envision speculative narratives of self-discovery, supernatural existence and spatio-temporal escapism to evoke ideas around cultural hybridity, belonging and displacement. Amanze's works on paper are influenced by textile design, photography, printmaking and architecture.

Omar Victor Diop, Oumy Ndour, 2015, Le Studio des Vanités, 90 x 60 cm, edition de 5 ex + 2 AP © Omar Victor Diop Courtesy Galerie MAGNIN-A, ParisReframing Beauty: Deborah Willis (University Professor chair, Department of Photography & Imaging, New York University. Tisch School of the Arts) in conversation with Omar Victor Diop (artist) Omar Victor Diop is an artist and photographer interested in exploring the philosophical reference of beauty as well as the interplay between fact and fiction, identity and history. For this conversation, Deborah Willis combines a historical, contemporary, and theoretical approach to how Diop’s images are constructed through an African Diasporic history and global references to beauty, media, advertising, fashion, and popular culture. Discussion will pivot around Diop’s references to iconic images, performance and photography, and the extendable power of images.

Frances Goodman, Violaceous, 2015, False nails, resin, foam, glue 66.9 x 55.1 x 19.7”  Richard Taittinger GalleryEmerging Social Entrepreneurs and Cultural Brokers. This panel explores the changing dynamics and growing interest in contemporary art and cultures of Africa and African diaspora. It spotlights an upcoming generation of African social entrepreneurs who are seizing the opportunity to mobilize new platforms of discussion. Speakers are Sharon Obuobi, (founder of Art Accra: West African Contemporary Art Fair); Shimite Obialor (lawyer and founder of the digital platform Anoko); and Ifeanyi Awachie (curator of Africa Salon: Yale University’s contemporary African arts and culture festival). Moderated by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi.

Farah Khelil, Point of View, Listening Point, Officine dell’ImmagineMuseums and Contemporary African Art. The panel explores practices in collecting, curating, and the display of contemporary art by African artists in American museums with discussants Karen Milbourne (Curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art);? Kevin Dumouchelle (Associate Curator of Arts of Africa and the Pacific Islands at the Brooklyn Museum); and Yesomi Umolu (curator of exhibitions at University of Chicago’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts). Moderated by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi.

 Chéri Samba, Hommage aux scientifiques, 2015, acrylic, 135 x 200 cm, © Kleinefenn, ffCourtesy Galerie MAGNIN-A, ParisMateriality, Storytelling, and Grand Narratives in Contemporary African Art: Dexter Wimberly (independent curator) in conversation with Billie Zangewa (artist) Billie Zangewa is an internationally celebrated Johannesburg based Malawian artist who works with fabrics, mostly silk, to create intricate tapestries. By way of her rich, elaborate silk ‘paintings', Zangewa celebrates black femininity, self-empowerment and the importance of storytelling.

Adrienne Edwards (curator at Performa and curator-at-large at the Walker Art Center) in conversation with Dave McKenzie (artist). McKenzie is a conceptual artist working in performance, photography, and video. McKenzie has been invited by Adrienne Edwards to compose a special text-Yéanzi, Bracodi village, 2016, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 230 cm, Courtesy of Galerie Cécile Fakhourbased performance for 1:54, which will be performed at intervals throughout the fair. Titled This ship would set sail, even anchored as it was (2016–), the project takes the centennial anniversary of Pan-African leader Marcus Garvey’s arrival in New York City in 1916 as its point of departure. This conversation between Edwards and McKenzie explores the depth of the project as an expression of the influence of printmaking on the artist’s approach to multi-disciplinary performance.

1:54 Performs

JP Mika, La Mannequine, 2015, acrylic, 138 x 138 cm. Courtesy Galerie MAGNIN-A, ParisDave McKenzie —This ship would set sail, even anchored as it was, 2016. Throughout the building and grounds of Pioneer Works.  As a special project for FORUM, Dave McKenzie composes a slow text-based performance using sneakers he is currently prototyping. The soles of the shoes function like keys on a typewriter that allow him to print text on a paper surface through touch and bodily pressure. The performance takes as its point of departure the curatorial proposition centered on the centennial anniversary of Pan- African leader Marcus Garvey’s arrival in New York City in 1916. The text is generated as a series of short performances/gestures, constructing an automatic/serial script that reveals itself over time. Trained in printmaking, McKenzie’s new work references and reimagines newsprint, a communication tool and vital organizing vehicle for Garvey once he arrived in the United States. Much like letterpress, lithography, and woodblock printing, McKenzie’s actions produce misprints as well as a record of the act of mark-making impressions. In McKenzie’s hands, the newspaper is rendered an ephemeral form as the artist creates images and text using his body and objects, creating a visual and sonic matrix through which we come to think about the possibilities for a story and a body to merge as image and speech. Visitors will receive prints as he converses or interacts with them.

Cheikh Ndiaye, Import export #1, 2016, motor, gunny, wood, acrylic,102 x 44 x 34 cm. Courtesy of Galerie Cécile FakhouryBook presentation and signing with Mickalene Thomas for Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs (Aperture, 2015)

1:54 Lounge designed by Stephen Burks Man Made. Since 2005, Stephen Burks has collaborated with hundreds of artisan groups internationally, bridging contemporary design, traditional craft methods, and industrial manufacturing to produce iconic designs for the home. For 1:54, Burks brings multiple material compositions – most exhibited for the first time – together in a lounge setting displayed amongst his Ahnda lounge seating collection for outdoor furniture manufacturer Dedon. Large-scale recycled carpets complete the installation. Like islands of patchwork, color and pattern, the Material Composition Lounge is both functional and imaginative.

John Liebenberg, radio star, 1986, edition of 5, Afronova GalleryGoodman Gallery presents the work of Misheck Masamvu in the 1:54 Lounge.  Established in Johannesburg in 1966, Goodman Gallery works with artists who are at once contemporary and influential, strive to shift perspectives and engender social transformation. In 2016, Goodman Gallery celebrates five decades of representing contemporary artists and shaping the field of art within and beyond the continent. Misheck Masamvu studied at Atelier Delta in Harare and Kunst Akademie in Munich, Germany. His practice encompasses painting, drawing and sculpture. Masamvu’s works have been exhibited widely including at the 54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale in Italy – where he represented Zimbabwe, the Bienal de São Tomé e Príncipe in São Tomé and Principe;? and Dak’Art, Biennale de l'Art Africain Contemporain.

Lawrence Lemaoana, 1985, fabric and embroidery, 2015 Afronova GalleryTRANSMISSIONS: A partnership with the 12th Dakar Biennale. 1:54 has formed a partnership with the 12th Dakar Biennale (Dak'Art - Biennale de l'Art Africain Contemporain) for this edition. To celebrate the concurrence of the biennale’s opening week with 1:54 in New York, 1:54 is screening daily highlights from Dak’Art at Pioneer Works during the fair and simultaneously, daily highlights of the fair will be screened at Dak’Art during the biennale. Fostering a cultural exchange between 1:54 and the current artistic activity in Dakar, the collaboration aims at mapping out the points of convergence between the two platforms.

Billie Zangewa, Mother and Child, silk tapestry, 137x125 cm, 2015, Afronova Gallery1:54 Bookstore at Pioneer Books featuring specialised and hard to find publications on contemporary African art, artist monographs, exhibition catalogues, and journals. 

Zohra Opoku, Self Portrait, C-print, 147 x 110 cm. Mariane Ibrahim Gallery Garden cafe by Chef Pierre Thiam. Thiam returns to 1:54 NY to serve his delicious Senegalese-inspired menu.  Chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author, Thiam was raised in Dakar, Senegal. Moving to New York in the late 1980s, Thiam opened his first restaurant, Yolele, a visionary African bistro in Fort Greene, Brooklyn in 2001. His second outlet, Le Grand-Dakar Restaurant followed, opening in neighboring Clinton Hill three years later;? and quickly became a culinary and cultural locus. Currently he owns Pierre Thiam Catering, which introduces a diverse New York clientele to contemporary interpretations of African cuisine. Thiam has published two books: Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl and Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal. 

Vincent Michéa, Or Série #2, 2015, collage on silver print,  20 x 20 cm Courtesy of Galerie Cécile FakhourClocktower Radio will curate a week-long series of artists interviews and music programs exploring African and African Diaspora art, culture, and music. Since 2004, Clocktower Radio has been collecting discussions with artists, critics, organizers, and other art world activists alongside independent and experimental music, audio art, DJ sets, poetry, historic audio, and radio theater. These programs are all available free and on-demand in an archive now containing nearly 7,000 hours of content. From its location at Pioneer Works, where it operates as a full-time radio production and broadcasting project, Clocktower Radio disseminates experimental work to numerous communities, and promotes a rich cultural and social dialogue between artists, audiences, and institutions worldwide.

Farah Khelil, IQRA, 2016, drawing, ink, 30x30 cm, Officine dell'ImmagineParticipating Galleries: Afronova (Johannesburg, South Africa), Apalazzo Gallery (Brescia, Italy), ARTLabAfrica (Nairobi, Kenya), Art Bärtschi & Cie (Geneva, Switzerland), Axis Gallery (New York City), David Krut Projects (Johannesburg, South Africa and New York),Galerie Anne de Villepoix (Paris, France), Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire), In Situ /Fabienne Leclerc (Paris, France), Jack Bell Gallery (London, UK), Magnin-A (Paris, France), Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (Seattle,WA), Officine dell Iimmagine (Milan, Italy), Richard Taittinger Gallery (New York City), Sabrina Amrani Gallery (Madrid, Spain), (S)itor/Sitor Denghor (Paris, France), and Gafeta (London, UK).


*The Hampton University Museum's collection of modern 20th century African art includes works by Bruce Onobrakpeya, Ben Enwonwu, Ibrahim El Salahi, Gerard Sekoto and Skunder Boghassian.