Entry 11: 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair – London 2022

London Frieze week is always a hectic week for anyone in the art world. Across the week you have openings, parties, and of course, Frieze London and Frieze Masters. But alongside that, you also have 1-54 Contemporary African art fair.

1-54 is always a refreshing fair, it’s less hectic than Frieze, and there’s less fanfare. It’s an important fair in my opinion because it highlights talent across Africa and its diaspora. People always ask me, “I want to see more art from people of colour… I want to see more black art… I want to see more African art… I don’t think fairs such as Frieze cut it.” And my response is always the following, “Go grab a ticket for 1-54!”

But I’ll like to caveat that response by saying we should not ignore Frieze because this year’s fair had black artists. Frieze London showed works from artists such as Lubaina Humid, Joy Labingo and Sahara Longe, and Frieze Masters showed works by Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold and Frank Bowling. But nonetheless, if you want something more, and you’re craving something more… Something that is purely dedicated to showcasing art by Africans and its diaspora, then it’s 1-54.

2022 was a monumental year for the fair as it turned 10, and it is something to celebrate. Just like Frieze London, the fair began in London and continued to expand. In my previous mini-memoir, I said Frieze London and Frieze Masters are the crowning jewels of London’s art scene, and on this occasion I’m wrong. A better analogy is the holy trinity of London’s art scene is Frieze London, Frieze Masters and 1-54.

With each passing year, the fair has continued to be a resounding success and has continued to grow its audience. This year saw 50 galleries exhibit, and even though it’s a much smaller number compared to Frieze, anticipations were high, and people left satisfied.

In terms of my favourites, starting with the booths, they were Primo Marella Gallery, Galerie Véronique Rieffel, DADA Gallery and Berntson Bhattacharjee Gallery.

Primo Marella Gallery had works by Abdoulaye Konaté and Joël Andrianomearisoa. Both artists infuse their heritage into their work, Abdoulaye Konaté is a Malian artist, and his works are made from coloured cotton strips. Traditionally trained as an architect, Joël Andrianomearisoa uses a range of materials from fibres, silks and species of rare plants. His work explores life, and the range of emotions that come from being alive. Visually it was a good juxtaposition between the two artists, Konaté’s colours are more vivid, and his strips are wide, while Andrianomearisoa’s colours are muted, and his strips are thin.

Abdoulaye Konaté at Primo Marella Gallery. Photo Credit: Chard Adio
Joël Andrianomearisoa at Primo Marella Gallery. Photo Credit: Chard Adio

Galerie Véronique Rieffel showed works by Clay Apenouvon, and his work examined the life of the late boxer, Muhammad Ali. For those who don’t know, before Ali changed his name, he was known as Cassius Clay. The prior surname of the late boxer is the artist’s first name. The artist uses that connection and pays homage in his works. The central piece of this presentation is the following piece we see, made from plastic and survival blankets, it’s a bird’s eye view of a boxing ring. Apenouvon chose plastic because he wanted to highlight our harmful use of plastic, in a concept he coins, Plastic Attack.

The Ring by Clay Apenouvon at Galerie Véronique Rieffel. Photo Credit: Chard Adio

DADA Gallery did a solo presentation with Bunmi Augusto. Bunmi Augusto is someone I’ve been following for a very long time. Surrealism meets Yoruba culture; the artist creates these dream-like scenes that are imbued with her Yoruba heritage, and we see this from the clothes to the face markings.

Two Irunojis Landscaping by Bunmi Augusto at DADA Gallery. Photo Credit: Chard Adio
Two Degrees of Awareness (left) and But Ijapa Cannot Swim (right) by Bunmi Augusto at DADA Gallery. Photo Credit: Chard Adio

Last in this selection is my number one booth, Berntson Bhattacharjee Gallery, and they did a solo presentation with Sola Olulode. My love for the booth comes from what Sola Olulode did, she completely took control of this space, from the pieces that were shown to the bed installation. I remember interviewing the artist, and we discussed the concept of the bed, and how it makes us feel safe. This very notion is reflected in the works, her figures are at peace, and they feel comfortable. It is universally considered that the bed is a place where we can feel vulnerable, especially in the presence of someone we care about and love, and this is truly evident in the body language of Olulode’s figures.

Sola Olulode at Berntson Bhattacharjee Gallery. Photo Credit: Chard Adio
Sleeping deep in the blue of your love by Sola Olulode at Berntson Bhattacharjee Gallery. Photo Credit: Chard Adio

With regards to favourite artists, my standouts were Goncalo Mabunda, Ayanda Mabululo, Chris Soal, Miguel Angel Payano Jr., Sikela Owen and Simone Saunders.

Goncalo Mabunda’s work examines the civil war in Mozambique. By reusing the very weapons that caused devastation, Mabunda intends to tell a different narrative, politically charged, but charged to tell the power of art along with the resilience and creativity that emerges from Africa.

The chronicler’s throne by Goncalo Mabunda at Jack Bell Gallery. Photo Credit: Chard Adio
The chronicler’s throne (detail) by Goncalo Mabunda at Jack Bell Gallery. Photo Credit: Chard Adio

Ayanda Mabulu explores his experiences in South African society. In this work, we see a powerful and striking female figure. An embodiment of true divinity and regalness, the female figure holds her right fingers in a position akin to saints depicted in art. For this particular piece, Mabulu took inspiration from the colours of The Black Panther Party.

Ikhakhayi Lika Hintsa by Ayanda Mabulu at Kalashnikovv Gallery. Photo Credit: Chard Adio

2022 has been the year I truly appreciate installations, and Chris Soal adds to that. Made from toothpicks, both new and burned, his installation titled, In contending with shadows was jaw-dropping.

In contending with shadows by Chris Soal at WHATIFTHEWORLD. Photo Credit: Chard Adio
In contending with shadows (detail) by Chris Soal at WHATIFTHEWORLD. Photo Credit: Chard Adio

Miguel Angel Payano Jr.’s work was intriguing because it utilised his time in China with the incorporation of peaches. A symbol of longevity and immortality, the peaches are combined with money which is synonymous with security and wealth. For me, it begs the question, do we achieve longevity and immortality through money? I know the artist didn’t intend for such discourse, but the combination of the two evoked this question within me.

Miguel Angel Payano Jr. at Galleria Poggiali. Photo Credit: Chard Adio

Visual echoes, Sikelela Owen’s work is about family, friends, and relationships. A colour palette of predominantly greens and browns, the central focus in her works are the figures.

The Hunt (Moyo’s of New Jersey) by Sikelela Owen at Taymour Grahne Projects. Photo Credit: Chard Adio

Simone Saunders’ textiles captured my eye. Radiant and ethereal, the sheer execution behind the works is something I have to applaud. The works shown at 1-54 honour her ancestors; Saunders sees her ancestor’s struggles and love as a constant influence in this particular series of works.

The Messenger by Simone Saunders at Claire Oliver Gallery. Photo Credit: Chard Adio

So why do we need a 1-54? Well, we need it to bring a different perspective. I think art is about telling stories. Whether you want to discuss your own life or a particular group of people, it’s all about bringing your perspective. For decades the art that has been showcased and highlighted on a global stage has been eurocentric, but that is changing, it’s slow, but it’s happening. We need fairs such as 1-54, ART X Lagos and AKAA to turn the attention to Africa and its diaspora. We have our own stories and our own experiences. So here’s to another ten years of 1-54 in London.

Written by Chard Adio

Featured Image: Joël Andrianomearisoa at Primo Marella Gallery by Chard Adio

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