Entry 7: 1-54 African Art Fair [New York] 2022

It’s always busy during London’s Frieze week; you have creative events, galleries are putting on shows, and you also have 1-54 African art fair as well. The same holds true across the Atlantic, in New York. During their Frieze week this year, you had Volta art fair, The Photography Show by AIPAD, and 1-54 too.

1-54 is a very important fair within the art world, it showcases African talent and talent across the diaspora. Its inaugural fair was a huge success, and that was in London, in 2013. Two years later, it expanded to New York, and in 2018, it further expanded to Marrakech.

In terms of its 2022 New York fair, this year saw 27 galleries exhibiting in Harlem Parish, and in my opinion, they couldn’t have picked a better location. If we look at Harlem’s history, it is steeped in black culture. Harlem experienced a renaissance period in the early 20th century, between 1910 to the mid-1930s, and during that period, Harlem was a mecca for black talent. If you were black and an actor, or a poet, or a musician, or a businessman, you needed to be in Harlem! Even today, Harlem’s impact is still present with notable names such as Sean Combs (aka Diddy), Damon Wayans, Faith Ringgold, and A$AP Rocky.

So back to this year’s fair, how was it? Well, I liked it, and I liked it because of its intimacy. If we look at Frieze and Art Basel, they can be intimidating and overwhelming experiences, and that comes down to the sheer number of galleries exhibiting. Both fairs receive this reputation of being too commercial, and I’m sorry to break it to you, but they are. You rarely see non-profit galleries or organisations exhibit because the galleries exhibiting are commercial galleries. These fairs are designed to attract the biggest collectors from around the world, and in the end, sell! Sell! And sell! Now, I’m not saying 1-54 is the complete antithesis to this, absolutely not! Deals do get done, but you don’t feel it in the air compared to Frieze and Art Basel. You don’t get the impression your interest as an art enthusiast is time-wasting to the gallery at the booth. At 1-54, I can be the art blogger, and be the art enthusiast as well, and I think me being able to feel that way is indicative of the fair’s ethos.

Another aspect that was good to see and was very prominent in New York’s 1-54 compared to London’s, was the number of black-owned galleries. When I first started memoirsbychard, I didn’t see directors or founders who looked like me. I’ve started to see them now in London, and traction is beginning, but over in the states, the idea of a black-owned gallery or a black director is not a phenomenon. It’s normal, and I love that!

In terms of my favourite booths, they were Hafez Gallery and 193 Gallery.

Ibrahim El Dessouki and Nevine Farghly were represented by Hafez Gallery. Ibrahim El Dessouki’s series of works titled Doors and False Doors were beautiful, the female figures were poised and elegant. I also loved his Cactus series, the artist used the unpainted areas of the linen canvas as a desert backdrop for his series. Nevine Farghly and her works made from iron and aluminium were striking, their sad facial expressions were inescapable – when I initially saw them, I felt compelled to know more. 

Ibrahim El Dessouki and Nevine Farghly at Hafez Gallery. Photo Credit: Raphael Oliveira
Nevine Farghly at Hafez Gallery. Photo Credit: Raphael Oliveira

193 Gallery represented the Kenyan photographer, Thandiwe Muriu. Muriu’s images are stunning – her process is so meticulous. The first step is determining the background for the shot. The next step is creating the model’s clothes, and these must match the background. The final steps are the model’s hair along with their accessories. The hairstyles come from traditional East African hairstyles, and the accessories are created from items she finds.

Thandiwe Muriu at 193 Gallery. Photo Credit: Raphael Oliveira

Some standout artists from the fair are Preston Sampson, Audrey Lyall and Lord Ohene.

Preston Sampson showed with the Long Gallery, and his work was vibrant and colourful – a true eye-catcher. The first layer of his work is the silk stain, once that is set, he adds the figures. What is impressive about the second step is there’s no physical reference, all the figures come from the artist’s memory. In the piece below, the artist pays homage to the friends he grew up with in Harlem.

Talisman by Preston Sampson. Photo Credit: Raphael Oliveira

Audrey Lyall showed with Superposition Gallery, and her works use various materials from rhinestones to sunglasses. In the piece below, you can see a figure walking down a runway while being photographed. If you look much closer, you can see the figure on the runway flicker between two states, one of joy and ecstasy, and the other being distrust and apprehension.

MS. POPULAR by Audrey Lyall. Photo Credit: Raphael Oliveira

Lord Ohene showed with Gallery 1957, and he had three large pieces on show. What caught my attention was the thickness of the paint, especially on features such as the figures’ hair. In each of the pieces, the figures were bold, confident, and oozed sophistication.

Lord Ohene at Gallery 1957. Photo Credit: Eva Sakellarides. Courtesy of Gallery 1957

So that was my experience of New York’s 1-54 this year, and as I said in the beginning, I enjoyed the fair. Seeing all those black-owned galleries for example Cierra Britton Gallery, Hannah Traore Gallery and Long Gallery made me excited for London’s future in that space. So, with that being said, let’s see what awaits us in London when 1-54 comes this October.

Photo credit: Featured Image by Raphael Oliveira (Audrey Lyall at Superposition Gallery)

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