As Frieze, the mother of all art fairs, enters its 26th year and nowadays lends its name to an entire week when London is bursting at the seams with peripheral art fairs and satellite exhibitions, my tip for a refreshing antidote to the usual blue chip artists that populate the white cubes of Frieze, can be found at 1:54 Art Fair.
Still in its infancy, 1:54 presents contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora, and there are editions in London, New York and Morocco. At the 5th 1:54 Art Fair, 42 exhibitors are showcasing more than 42 artists from 17 countries. Often when African art is presented the exhibitors could be accused of cultural appropriation or colonialism, but that is absolutely not the case here where a carefully picked selection of galleries present artists of African origin living in locations as varied as London, Paris, Senegal, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Tunisia and Morocco.
Somerset House is the palatial setting for the 5th edition of 1:54, and the art fair is complemented by an incredible solo exhibition of British-Moroccan photographer Hassan Hajjaj.
Here are my highlights;
1. Hassan Hajjaj “La Caravane”:
A joyful and witty celebration of fashion, music and Moroccan street culture reflecting Hajjaj’s peripatetic lifestyle. Populated by a host of brightly dressed characters encountered by the artist on his travels, his portraits are encased in Hajjaj’s signature frames created with brightly coloured tin cans or everyday objects. The highlight is a room with a long bespoke banquette where you can sit and watch a multi-screen musical performance. On Saturday afternoon there is an art workshop inspired by Hajjaj’s themes.
2. Abe Obedina at Ed Cross Fine Art:
A standout solo show of paintings by Abe Obidana, ‘Body Language’ features striking portraits on plywood and applied to boxes and screens, referencing life and death with a Pop Art vibe that fuses his Nigerian roots with a London edge. Originally trained as an Architect, Brixton-based Obidana describes himself as a folk artist and his style has been described as ‘Brixton-Baroque’.
Abe Odedina, Ed Cross Gallery
3. Aicha Snoussi at Agorgi Gallery:
Paris-based Tunisian artist Aicha Snoussi is only 28, yet even in its infancy her practice is defined and intelligent. Her visceral ink drawings sprawl over a collection of old-fashioned school exercise books.
4. Niyi Olagunju at Tafeta Gallery:
For his wall sculpture ‘Ekpiri #36’, takes the unusual material of Ekpiri seeds and weaves them into undulating curves that visually emulate the sound created by simple musical instruments traditionally made with the seeds. Covered in gold and copper leaf and copper wire, the organic material takes on a more majestic appearance in his hands. Accompanying the wall hanging is ‘Mende (Female)’, a beautiful bisected wood sculpture hand-gilded with gold and silver leaf, a clever twist on traditional African sculptures of women.
5. Ernest Duku, Oumar Ly and Ndary Lo at Sitor Senghor Gallery:
A beautifully curated exhibit featuring monochrome photographs of African women by Oumar Ly, surreal new drawings by Ernest Duku, and tall fragile figurative sculptures by Senegalese artist Ndary Lo. His welded steel Giacommeti-esque figures and ethereal trees celebrate the Senegalese emblem of the tree as an enduring symbol of life and wisdom.
On until Sunday 8 October at Somerset House: 1-54.com/london/