The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair opened its 11th London edition at Somerset House on Thursday, bringing together an impressive 62 exhibitors from 32 countries. It’s the fair’s most ambitious edition to date showcasing the works of 170 artists, spanning painting, photography, film, sculpture, installation, and mixed media. In addition to the exhibitors’ booths, this year’ edition also includes a group exhibition, titled “Transatlantic Connections: Caribbean Narratives in Contemporary Art,” on view at Christie’s and a special project, titled “Evil Genius” by Nigerian musician Mr Eazi in a first-of-its-kind merging of music and contemporary African art.
At the forefront of contemporary African art from the continent and the diaspora, the expansive fair champions diverse perspectives and experiences, collaborating with leading and up-and-coming galleries from around the world. Below, a look at the best on view at 1-54, which runs until October 15.
Roméo Mivekannin at Galerie Eric Dupont
Galerie Eric Dupont presents a selection of large-scale works by Beninese artist Roméo Mivekannin, who draws on his deep knowledge of art history to create works that look at the contemporary world via inherited traditions from Benin. The paintings, done on cloth that is then dipped in voodoo potions, are awe-inspiring not only for their scale but also the subject matter. One painting, for example, shows a seated Black man in a red turban facing a naked white woman lying on draped sheets spread on the bed, calling to mind 19th-century Orientalist art made by Western artists. The woman looks down at the blue flower she’s holding, while the man looks directly at us. The artist took inspiration from Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s famous painting Portrait of Madeleine (1800) in creating this enigmatic work. Facing that work is another painting that shows a regal-looking man, presumably a king, in luxurious attire reclining on a sofa. Next to him is a shirtless man with an expression like he is about to say something. Their power dynamics are apparent due to the two men’s clothing—or lack thereof.
Larissa de Souza at Albertz Benda
São Paulo–based Afro-Brazilian artist Larissa de Souza’s vibrant paintings exude happiness. Part of a duo presentation with Michaela Younge for Albertz Benda, de Souza shows her subjects in states of relaxation and play. A woman reading to a boy, another woman riding a broomstick horse, or a girl laying on the ground watching the ballerina inside the box twirl around. She includes traditional Brazilian textiles, glitter, and candy wrappers in these mixed-media works to further add layers to these complex scenes. Inspired by the architecture of São Paulo—directly referenced in A bailarina dentro da caixa (The ballerina inside the box) with its green walls—de Souza depicts Afro-Brazilian women and girls with joy as a way to counteract stereotypes that are still prominent in Brazil.
As a self-taught artist, de Souza aims to preserve collective memories on canvas in defiance to the historical erasure of the Afro-Brazilian culture. Navigating between space, body, desire, memory, and ancestry, she uses a variety of techniques and materials in her work including collage, embroidery, resin frames, fabric, and found objects in the textured paintings that form a biography of sorts of the artist’s life.
Josué Comoe at (S)ITOR
(S)ITOR gallery has on view a series of paintings from the Côte d’Ivoire–born, Paris-based multidisciplinary artist Josué Comoe. Titled “La Mystique du Corps,” the solo presentation seems to ask, “How does it feel when the body that one is confined to begins to ask questions?” There’s an otherworldliness to these paintings. The figures are outlined in white against a deep brown background that is flecked with black. Each of them glows like they’re being activated after emerging from another dimension.
Created during a six-month residence at the Fondation Donwahi in Abidjan, Comoe attempts to depict the body as the place for a mystical experience that blurs the lines between private and foreign encounters. Using a physically intensive technique in a visual language all his own, he produces a feeling of tension—an ecstatic, mystic experience of having an inner body and an outer body.
Caleb Kwarteng Prah at Nil Gallery
A collection of Caleb Kwarteng Prah’s collage-style photographs standouts in Nil Gallery’s group presentation. The bright purple and pink images of minibus doors—known as Tro tro and one of Ghana’s main modes of transpiration—act as a mediator between the subjects posing at the front of the door and the imagery behind it. One shows, for example, two men dancing as while a celebratory gathering is going on behind them, while another features two men sitting on a motorbike. The booth also includes a physical white minibus door painted with a red flower, a “Not Refundable” stamp, and photographic cutouts of two men and a woman stuck on the exterior. Inspired by post-independence photography and drawings on various archival images, Prah is a visual storyteller who aims to present contemporary Ghana through the symbols and objects that are part of daily life.
J.K. Bruce-Vanderpuije at Efie Gallery
A local photographer in West Africa’s Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana), J.K. Bruce-Vanderpuije was one of the early pioneers of studio photography in the African continent. He maintained a small studio in the then colonial city of Accra, capturing its residents from different walks of life, in sharp contrast to Western colonial-era photographs of Accrans. Part of a group presentation by Dubai-based Efie Gallery that spans three generations, Bruce-Vanderpuije’s photographs are a documentation of lives lived from the past, a record of history for future generations to witness. Looking at his works like the Optimists (1930), for example, makes you curious to know the lives of these well-dressed men sitting around a table full of glass: how did they live, what did they do for a living, and who were they?
Theresa Weber at DADA Gallery
German-born, London-based artist Theresa Weber’s sculptural wall art in resin emphasizes the history and mythology she comes across through research. The sculptures have materials of cultural significance inserted in them, like an archival photograph of Poseidon’s head, a partial cut-out of the Burney Relief from ancient Babylon also known as The Queen of the Night, or a tiny photograph of a masquerade held at Somerset House, where some revelers don blackface. Due to their size, these works require close looking to reveal the various details in them. Each viewing reveals something new. As oppositions to colonial narratives, they make space for fluidity and the simple act existing as a multifaceted beings in different spaces.
The sculptures are an extension to the new site-specific commission by Somerset House where the artist responds to the colonial history and neo-classical, Georgian-era architecture of the cultural institution. The installation includes a large-scale, hanging textile sculpture spanning multiple floors, inviting the audience to think about the way hierarchy is designed into building’s architecture—and prevailing historical narratives.
Damilola Onosowobo Marcus at Affinity Art Gallery
A celebration of little everyda, moments, Damilola Onosowobo’s four large paintings in Affinity Gallery’s duo presentation, with Anne Adams, bring out feelings of joy—a much-needed tonic to all the things happening in our world. Part of a series “I Don’t Know Her Name,” the artist embraces the unknown in her journey to self-discovery. To the artist, the new works “serves as a rebirth of sorts,” she said. There’s a freeing nature to these paintings that emanates from her confident brushstrokes as seen in Table for you and a few. Onosowobo weaves layers of painted squares and scenes, capturing emotionally charged subjects; the painting Chewing on a Staw, for example, shows a smiling family with a boy in the distance drinking from a coke bottle.
Raymond Fuyana at Guns & Rain
For his first London exhibition, Raymond Fuyana has a captivating series of paintings that take us on a surreal journey of discovery from the canals of Venice, to the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, to the Statue of Liberty, and to the diamond mines of Kimberley, where Cecil Rhodes and his De Beers corporation mined. The paintings, feature recurring visuals like chessboards, the environment, and technology, depict the continued maneuvering of life needed as part of being human. They also offer a view of playfulness and chance.
The artist’s imagination is vivid. Inserting himself in the paintings, he serves as a navigator between the futuristic landscapes that slip between the real and unreal. Fuyana, who is deaf, trained as a printmaker at the Artist Proof Studio in Johannesburg but is a primarily self-taught as a painter who specializes in creating surrealist-inflected scenes.
Christa David at 193 Gallery
Christa David, who is based in New York and Atlanta, uses a combination of found material from historical sources such as National Geographic, historical and recent newspapers and magazines, and her own photographs to create her works that toe the line between collage and painting. A researcher, writer, and artist, David’s work also draws on the work of artists like Romare Bearden, Alma Thomas, and Wangechi Mutu, as well as texts by James Baldwin. A red-painted wall in the booth is filled with framed photographs that have served as source material. In several, a women bows her head as if in a moment of prayer or contemplation; she is often surrounded by flowers, wings, birds, or celestial planets. The booth’s opposite wall displays four larger collage works showing women in fields, with eerie backgrounds. In works like these, she creates new narratives about belonging, identity, home, and faith that meld together imagery from nature and the physical and spiritual world.
Malangatana Ngwenya at Richard Saltoun
In a group presentation for Richard Saltoun, Mozambican artist Malangatana Ngwenya’s compelling paintings and ink drawings combine elements from his Indigenous ancestry with symbols of progress and modernity, politics and art. Ngwenya’s bold works show a connection between humans, animals, and plants as seen in the booth’s centerpiece, a painting titled O Vôo Pombos Sagrados (The Flight of Sacred Doves).
Ngweny joined Mozambique’s liberation movement FRELIMO in 1964 and was detained shortly thereafter by Portuguese secret police and imprisoned for 18 months. After the war, he established himself as an artist and became a key figure in the Mozambican modern art movement that imagined a broader Africanist aesthetic. Ngwenya’s artistic practices are linked with his politics and reflect the socio-political landscape of Mozambique during the struggle for independence (gained from Portugal in 1975) and the country’s civil war (1977–92).