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African Modern & Contemporary Art

London Sets the Stage for Contemporary African Art

Pascale Marthine Tayou's installation, Summer Surprise in The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court at Somerset House, introduces visitors to the 5th edition of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, London (5–8 October 2017). Tayou's extraordinary work, Cache-Sexe, sold in the inaugural Modern and Contemporary African Art auction at Sotheby's in May 2017. Launched in 2013, 1:54 is now the leading international fair of contemporary African art. It opens in Marrakech in February 2018 and returns to New York next May for the fourth time. 

PASCALE MARTHINE TAYOU, SUMMER SURPRISE. 2017. INSTALLATION IN THE EDMOND J. SAFRA FOUNTAIN COURT AT SOMERSET HOUSE. 1:54 CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART FAIR.

The name 1:54 references the 54 countries that constitute Africa and the exhibition explores their artistic output, engaging with the size of the continent and celebrating its diversity. Purdy Hicks Gallery represents Samuel Fosso, perhaps best known for his self-portraits in which he is dressed as a politician or historical figure. Fosso's work, Human, a selection of large Polaroid close-up shots of the artist's facial expressions, will be exhibited at Somerset House. Idahor Taiye, with SMO Contemporary Art, is a Nigerian artist who combines pencil-drawn paper, collage and photographic material, to produce textured works centering on questions of beauty. VOICE gallery presents the young Moroccan Remli Btihal who uses photography to approach architecture. It is easier to contrast rather than to compare Fosso's, Taiye's and Btihal's art, and the pieces by the many other artists exhibited within 1:54. Travelling through their different aesthetics, visitors traverse the diversity of Africa.

Yet the idiosyncrasy of each corpus of work stems from shared experiences which transcend the personal lives of the artists. A contemporary African artwork is political. By portraying himself as the artist, the Cameroonian photographer comments on his own role; the various materials composing Taiye’s sketched bodies raise questions of skin; Btihal's spaces hint at the people within them. Issues of identity, race and belonging concern all the artists in 1:54.  Upon leaving and crossing Tayou's Summer Surprise, visitors are invited to reflect on the fair. The installation references togunas: traditional Dogon structures where men congregate to discuss village affairs. 

HASSAH HAJJAJ, RIDER. FROM THE EXHIBITION LE CARAVANE, SOMERSET HOUSE, 5 OCTOBER 2017–7 JANUARY 2018. 1:54 CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART FAIR.

The conversation on African art has only just begun. It continues across the Terrace Rooms in Somerset House where Hassan Hajjaj’s photographs are displayed within Le Caravane (5th October–7th January 2018). Hajjaj weaves Moroccan motifs into westernised subjects, evoking the shifting framework for his art, practised between Morocco and England. The relationship between African and Western culture becomes more palpable as African and Western artists are aligned within the context of another important fair, Frieze in Regent's Park (5–8 October 2017). Nicholas Hlobo is represented by Stevenson; the installation Ndize: Tail by the South African artist was included within the recent exhibition Art/Africa at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. A new series of hand-stitched textile works by Billie Zangewa are presented by Blank Projects, an independent artist-run gallery space based in Cape Town. Works by established artists are shown by Goodman Gallery: Mikhael Subotzky, Candice Breitz, William Kentridge and the winner of the Frieze Artist Award 2017, Kiluanji Kia Henda, among them. Kiluanji is the first African artist to receive the award: he will create an installation for Frieze Projects, and will inaugurate his first solo exhibition with Goodman Gallery in Cape Town on 7 October 2017.

KUDZANAI-VIOLET HWAMI, EGO IN RED SOCKS. FROM THE EXHIBITION IF YOU KEEP GOING SOUTH YOU’LL MEET YOURSELF. TYBURN GALLERY, 29 SEPTEMBER–15 NOVEMBER 2017.

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami interprets cultural tension as an exchange. Her first solo exhibition If You Keep Going South You’ll Meet Yourself is hosted by Tyburn Gallery (29 September–15 November 2017), and reflects the “multiple cultures” inhabited by the Zimbabwean immigrant  — “layers”, in her own words, “that make up my individual experience”. The first solo show in the UK of another artist, Malala Andrialavidrazana, takes place at 50 Golborne (6 October–17 November 2017). Her Figures 1850 print illustrates African women alongside a fair-skinned girl. Carrying the weight of Africa on their heads, they allude to all the questions that concern geography but that geography cannot answer.

 

Read our profile of Hannah O'Leary, Head of African Modern and Contemporary Art at Sotheby's.

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