Walking up to the open doors of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair a Pioneer Works in Brooklyn this weekend, visitors were promptly greeted by a massive military vehicle called a Casspir. An icon of political repression in South Africa during the apartheid era, the truck’s presence as a colorfully-adorned place-marker, painted over with striking new patterns by artist Ralph Ziman, made for a fitting first note of the works on view inside, images from a thriving circuit of galleries and artists looking both to Africa’s past and future for inspiration.
Inside, the themes and concepts were diverse, but a shared vision of new challenges and a global outlook for the continent’s diverse contemporary arts communities could be seen in every booth. Founded several years ago by Touria El Glaoui, the fair’s 21 international exhibition spaces and broad collector pool has made it a network hub for those of the African diaspora, a space where artists and collectors from the U.S., Caribbean, South America and the Middle East can find mutual ground and share new ideas through a shared lens of the African continent. True to form, some galleries expressed a focus on using their exhibition programs, and events like this one, as a space for artists from diverse parts of the world to meet and network, strengthening ties and connections towards building a stronger scene of artists worldwide.
The fair also seems to be pulling in increasingly large galleries to participate in the event, with James Cohan Gallery counting among the participants in the exhibition. Drawn by the enthusiastic collector pool and the energy felt throughout the fair, the New York-based gallery had brought a group of works by Yinka Shonibare, capitalizing on the specific nature of the fair’s exhibition program, as well as on the artist’s recent commission for the Public Art Fund.
Also of particular note was a booth from the Ghanian exhibitors Gallery 1957, where works were arranged around an installation designed to mimic a Ghanian living, complete with works by painter Gideon Appah. Laying together photographs and nuanced painterly depictions of his family, the space presented itself as a multi-faceted window into the lives and memories swirling around the artist and his work. Another large-scale installation was on view nearby at the fair lounge, where artist Azikiwe Mohammed had established a town center of sorts, where those stopping by could enjoy a “safe space” for relaxing and gathering their thoughts. The space, with its glowing lights and deconstructed elements, allowed for a subtle experience of space and personal interactions in relation to the show more broadly.
It’s this same idea, that of a central meeting space, that perhaps explains why 1-54 has become such a vital part of Frieze week. Away from the blue-chip frenzy of Frieze and TEFAF uptown, 1-54 offers a site where real communities can grown and flourish.
The fair closed yesterday, May 6th.
— D. Creahan
1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair [Exhibition Site]