Over a decade since its inception, 1-54 Contemporary Art Fair continues to defy expectations and stretch the imagination of audiences about what constitutes contemporary African art. On offer is history, heritage, culture, colour, and diverse stories as told by the artists.
When 1-54 started, its founder’s goal was simple; give the audience a taste of what’s possible and see if they would bite. They did more than sample what was on offer, they fell in love with the vision, which has grown exponentially. Today, 1-54 London, is the biggest and leading international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora outside the continent. What started with 17 galleries has grown to 62 exhibitors representing over 170 artists, and 31 nations. 14 of the galleries present this year will be participating for the first time, requiring additional space at Somerset House, which has become its home away from home over the years.
For its 2023 edition, get ready to be inspired and challenged, and come with high expectations. Here are 11 things to bear in mind as you walk the halls of Somerset House.
- 1-54 was created by Touria El Glaoui in 2013 to demonstrate the potential, promise and power of contemporary African art to the world by showcasing the diversity of art practices from the continent and its diaspora.
- The inaugural 1-54 was curated by Koyo Kouoh, executive director and chief curator of Zeitz MOCAA (Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa), Cape Town
- In the year of its inauguration, 1-54 occupied the west wing galleries of Somerset House. Today, it spreads across the Embankment galleries as well as the entire South Wing and its first floor, the West and East Wings, screening room, terrace room and courtyard.
- The first major courtyard exhibition at 1-54 was in 2016, with the work of British artist, Zak Ové, who made a bold statement with his installation, The Invisible Man.
- October Gallery, Jack Bell Gallery, Vigo Gallery and Tiwani Contemporary, all UK-based galleries, except Tiwani which also has a home in Lagos, Nigeria, are returning galleries which have maintained a presence at the fair since 2013.
- Leading Africans artists whose works have appeared at 1-54 include: El Anatsui, Joana Choumali, Zanele Muholi, Yinka Shonibare, Romuald Hazoumè, Peju Alatisse, Sokari Douglas Camp, Nike Davies-Okundaye, Soly Cissé, Ibrahim El Salahi, Amoako Boafo, Abdoulaye Konaté, Hassan Hajjaj, Esther Mahlangu, Eddy Kamuanga, and Julie Mehretu.
- 1-54 started in London, but now takes place across three continents; North America (1-54 New York), and on the African continent (1-54 Marrakesh) annually.
- 2023 will see the highest number of galleries from Africa at the fair, this includes; Afriart (Kampala, Uganda), BKhz (Johannesburg, South Africa), L’Atelier 21 (Casablanca, Morocco), and UBUNTU Art Gallery (Cairo, Egypt).
- 1-54 is dedicated to gender equality and representation, and 2023 will see an increased number of female artists represented by galleries. Art lovers can look forward to works by South African artist, Zana Masombuka, represented by October Gallery. Angèle Etoundi Essamba, Cameroonian photographer, represented by Doyle Wham, and Ghanaian artist, Theresah Ankomah, represented by TAAH (The African Art Hub).
- Moroccan artist, Amine El Gotaibi, will take centre stage with his installation, Illuminate the Light, twelve individual geometric sculptures inspired by the seeds of a pomegranate that vary widely in shape and colour, to represent the diversity and abundance of the African continent. The work is in collaboration with MCC Gallery, Marrakech, Morocco.
- Efie Gallery (Dubai, United Arab Emirates), Wunika Mukan Gallery (Lagos, Nigeria), The African Art Hub (TAAH) (London, United Kingdom), Hannah Traore Gallery (New York, United States of America) and MCC Gallery (Marrakech, Morocco) are some of the galleries exhibiting at 1-54 for the first time.
A bonus surprise is the unveiling of the art and music collaboration by renowned Afropop and Banku music artist, Mr Eazi, with 13 artists from across Africa for his first studio album due later this year. A first-of- its-kind fusion of African music and art, Mr Eazi worked with artists from Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Ghana, Togo, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Senegal, and South Africa. According to Mr Eazi, the “artworks visually unlock the ideas, emotion, and energy within my music.”
1-54 Contemporary Art Fair runs from 12-15 October 2023 at Somerset House, London