Millennium Visits: 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House,London


African art’s status on the international art scene continues to grow at rate which is impossible to ignore. Each individual artist contributes a flourishing presence on the art fair stage, with galleries from London and the world over enjoying the deserved attention.

During a bustling week of London Art Fairs in October 2013, we were delighted to have the opportunity to cover the first 1:54 International Contemporary African Art Fair in London. Taking place at Somerset House, the fair was organised by daughter of revered Morrocan artist Hassan El Glaoui, Touria El Glaoui, and an impressive curatorial team including Koyo Kouoh and architect David Adjaye.

Named after the 54 countries of the African continent under one collective conscience, 1:54 brings together an inimitable and dynamic collection of African artist’s and artists inspired by Africa.

“1:54 is a platform for galleries, artists, curators, art centres and museums involved in African and Africa related projects and aims to promote art by established and emerging talents amongst an international audience.”

African artists carry with them a story. Stories which communicate effortlessly the vast array of rich cultural identities which Africa is so loved for, matched only by references to sometimes extreme life experiences and history. The work featured in 1:54 last year by the likes of Romuald Hazoumè, Aboudia, Ransome Stanley, Vincent Michéa, Sammy Baloji, Malick Sidibé, Gonçalo Mabunda, Ernest Mancoba and Virginia Chihota to name but a few, evoke something special to the audience, an authenticity which is hard to match, both conceptually and in terms of raw aesthetics.

One such example is internationally acclaimed, Mozambican artist Gonçalo Mabunda. His sculptures using decommissioned arms, most famously his series of “Thrones” represent a conscience of demobilization taking place in Mozambique since the mid 90’s. They are objects of formidable beauty and humanity, reminiscent of Picasso and Braque forms, with an inherent pacifist message to the future generations. In a more alluring and serene way, the black and white photos of Malian photographer Malick Sidibé are perfectly unique. Perhaps most famous for the brilliant photo entitled “Nuit de Noël” showing a couple jiving bare foot, Sidibé’s rare talent for capturing the “Joi de Vivre”, intimacy and anticipation in the people of 1960’s Mali has seen his work exbibited in some of the most well respected museums in the world, in a career spanning 50 years.

All the art represented left an impression on ones soul, which was also as much to do with a well curated and designed layout. The space and intimacy encouraged a more focused intensity, never oppressive in it’s aim and one which made the fair seem more exclusive. Something which is often lacking when experiencing some of the larger London art fairs.

Whether the intimate quality of 1:54 is replicated this year remains to be seen, but few would argue against the prediction that the fair’s stature will be matched by the continued surge of both successful established and emerging African Artists into the global art market. A belief which lies the core of Touria El Gauoi’s plans to give African artist’s a fitting stage, matching of course, the profound quality and integrity of the Artists.

We would like to extend our special thanks to the teams at Kallaway, Touria El Gauoi, Somerset House and to the featured Interviewees, Galleries and artists including:

Jack Bell (Jack Bell Gallery)
Romuald Hazoumè
Koyo Kouoh
Francis Mancoba (Son of Ernest Mancoba)
October Gallery
Jack Bell Gallery
Galerie Mikael Anderson
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Production and editing: Millennium TV Corporate Production Dep in Association with rKive Productions

Producer: Monica Y. Dee

Presented by: Antoinette Alexis

Duration: 6 minutes 27 seconds
Sponsored by: Landrich Trading Co.