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Contemporary African Art Fair Gains Visibility in London

Victor Ehikhamenor, 'Praise and worship dancer', 2016, Enamel on canvas, soft sculpture, 152 x 127 cm flat, (installation size varies), Courtesy of Gallery of African Art (GAFRA)

Praise and Worship Dancer by Victor Ehikhamenor, one of the sculptures on display at the London Contemporary African Art Fair. Image: Gallery of African Art (GAFRA)

ART FAIRContemporary African Art Fair achieves greater visibility in London as African galleries compete to promote artworks by contemporary African artists

BY KAZAD

Namsa Leuba, Patience (from the series Zulu Kids), 2014, Fibre pigment print, edition of 5 + 1 A. P, 112 x 140 cm, Image: Art Twenty One

LONDON— The international art fair dedicated to Contemporary African Art ends in London today. The fourth edition, the fair brings together artists and art galleries from Africa and the diaspora. Known as the 1:54, the fair is one of the major art fairs dedicated to promoting the works of contemporary African artists. The fair’s name references the fifty-four countries that constitute the African continent.

With biannual editions in London and New York, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair  has become  a major platform that promotes contemporary dialogue and exchange with a focus on contemporary African art.

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Touria El Glaoui initiated the idea for 1:54 fair in 2003. Since then, the fair has continued to grow. Held at the Somerset House in London for the past 4 years, the fair has expanded exponentially. When it first started, the fair only occupied one wing of the 16th-century house. However, this year is different. The fair now occupies the whole building, a clear indication of the fairs growing popularity. The fair just recently returned from its second New York edition in May 2016.

The growth of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair highlights the recent focus on contemporary African art in the global auction market. At auctions, artworks by African artists are making record auction prices. It is not surprising that a plethora of international galleries is vying to represent contemporary African artists.

This year’s 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair  features more than 40 exhibitors.  On display are artworks by more than 130 African and African diasporan artists. Located across the East, South and West Wings of Somerset House, the artworks are curated  to gain greater attention.  As expected, galleries did not hold back in their effort to present the best to collectors and art lovers to experience contemporary African art.

Although there has been growth in the number of African collectors collecting African art, the major collectors still reside in the West, including the United States and theUnited Kingdom. This is one of the reasons art fairs like 1: 54 Contemporary African Art Fairs are establishing their presence in Westerner nations. There is so much to gain by artists and galleries in the quest to make contemporary African art more visible in the global space.

Since 1: 54 Contemporary African Art Fairs started, galleries located in Western nations have been key to promoting the artworks of contemporary African artists. However, things are changing. Unlike other years, African galleries are quietly, yet, forcefully inserting themselves into the global art market space. Instead of giving Western galleries the monopoly on representing African artists and present contemporary African art to the world, they are doing it themselves.

Seventeen African-based galleries are making their debut at the 1: 54 Contemporary African Art Fairs this year. They include Gallery 1975 based in Ghana and Addis Fine Art located in Ethiopia. The main objective of these galleries is to give contemporary African artists visibility in the global art market. Owned by Lebanese-born founder, Gallery 1975 represents artists across Africa.

Here are some of the artworks on display at the fair:

Ablade Glover, Market Innuendos, 2014, Oil on canvas 122 x 122 cm. Image: October Gallery. Photograph: Jonathan Greet

Moffat Takadiwa, Smell of Foreign Policy, 2015. Found materials, bottle caps and spray tops, 190 x 154 x 34 cm, Image: Tyburn Gallery

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