The 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair presented its fourth consecutive edition at Somerset House in London (6-9 October 2016) – organised by the Fair’s founding director, Moroccan-born entrepreneur and art enthusiast Touria El Glaoui.
Expanding in size and scale by an increase of 40% since its inaugural edition in 2013, this year’s 1:54 showcased works by more than 130 artists from continental Africa and the global African diasporas, represented by 40 of the most important gallerists, curators, agents and exhibitors promoting African-inspired artwork around the world.
My main motivation for visiting 1:54 was (primarily) to view the new art installation by British conceptual artist Zak Ové (b. 1966, London) – an innovative sculptor, photographer and installationist of Trinidadian descent, whose artworks I have admired for many years since he first came to mainstream prominence in the UK following a series of high-profile commissions via the British Museum more than a decade ago.
Walking from the Strand through the archway of Somerset House on the Saturday morning of my visit filled me with sheer delight, because his vast assemblage of 40 larger-than-life-sized graphite figural sculptures – titled, “Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness” (2016) – was instantly visible from the main road, positioned in a military-style formation like a modern-day version of the ancient Terracotta Warriors of Xian in China. The hybrid nature of the installation was the deliberate referencing of ancient and modern cultural, political and corporeal themes encompassing the vast historical and geographical scope of the African diasporas dispersed over several continents – from the fashioning of facial features reminiscent of West African (specifically Congolese) figural sculptures, through to each (male) statue positioned with raised hands in a supplicatory, non-threatening pose as if to adopt the stance of the 21st century #Black Lives Matter and #Ferguson is Everywhere anti-racism, equality and social justice movements in the USA and world-wide, articulating the plea “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!”
From a distance, the sculptures looked identical in colour, size and shape. However, as you got closer each one appeared to be subtly different as a result of marks and scratches etched onto the surface as a result of moulding and transportation processes, as well as being exposed to the elements and spray from the courtyard fountains over several days of public display.
In addition to the large-scale installation, several more delicate pieces of collage work were displayed by the artist as part of the Vigo Gallery presentation in Room G10, comprising four plywood frames covered in beautifully layered crocheted doilies – each one arranged to create uniquely vibrant, colourful mixed-media mosaics. These works – titled, DP7, DP14, DP15 and DP16 (2016) – were shown alongside recent work by renowned Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi: specifically the black and white artwork made from ink on paper, “Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams III” (2015).
On Zak Ové’s website, the artist describes his mission as seeking to:
“reignite and reinterpret lost culture using new-world materials, whilst paying tribute to both spiritual and artistic African identity… [and pursue art that]… portrays the emancipation of personal existence through incarnation with an ‘other self’, showing us the power of play to free an individual from the contained experience of the self.”Extracts from Zak Ové’s mission statement (Source: zak-ove.co.uk/)
Emerging artists from continental Africa and the African diasporas
Beyond the showcasing of work by established artists, the 1:54 presentation was an opportunity to view a diverse array of work by less well-known and emerging artists whose portfolios were on display at a major arts venue in central London for the first time. Below is a small selection of some of my favourite works observed during my visit on 8 October 2016.
FURTHER INFORMATION AND WEB LINKS
Zak Ové’s website: http://www.zak-ove.co.uk/
Details about artists from southern Africa featured in the Nando’s UK Art Collection
1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair – Official website for the London 2016 edition
Illustrated listing of artists’ works from the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London – www.artsy.net/1-54-london-2016.