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1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eva Sakellarides.
1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.
1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.
1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eva Sakellarides.
1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.
1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.
1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.
1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.
1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.
Art

Unmissable Works From the 2022 Edition of 1-54 New York

By Eliza Jordan

May 20, 2022

Yesterday at the Harlem Parish in New York, presentations from emerging and established contemporary artists and galleries opened at the 2022 edition of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Showcasing over 50 multidisciplinary creators from 25 international galleries, the show will remain open in Harlem through May 22, joined by 1-54 Forum—an acclaimed program of talks, performances, and screenings. For those who are unable to visit the physical fair, 1-54 continues its long-standing partnership with Artsy to allow patrons to explore, connect, and purchase works online.  

Open Gallery

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eva Sakellarides.

Curated by Novella Ford, the Associate Director for Public Programs and Exhibitions at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the show immersed Whitewall in a state of cultural exploration and appreciation. Upon arrival to the space—previously known as St. Thomas the Apostle Church, built in 1897 and renovated in 2017—artists, gallerists, writers, collectors, and other supporters of the fair wandered throughout the presentation to take in photographs, sculptures, quilted works, paintings, and more.

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1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eva Sakellarides.

Galleries—including Luce Gallery, Hafez Gallery, 50 Golborne, Galerie Carole Kvasnevski, Gallery 1957, Fridman Gallery, Afikaris, Foreign Agent, Nil Gallery, Bkhz Gallery, Jason Shin, and 193 Gallery—presented thought-provoking pieces that touched upon local and global culture, from politics and power to complex visual stories about race, migration, family, and joy. Across three levels, works on view spoke about the African diaspora through many of the artists who live and work there.

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1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.

At the Paris-based Galerie Carole Kvasnevski’s booth, works by Leila Rose Framer reeled us in first. A painter and an illustrator born to a South African artist and an African American musician, she was raised in South Africa and works from her studio in Cape Town. As the director mentioned when explaining her work, this dimensional upbringing and background informs much of her work, as does her relationship with sorority, seen in the paintings presented at the fair. Works featuring dark figures painted without eyes were surrounded by soulful and uplifting atmospheres, dotted by florals, colorful clothing, and orbs representing powers we cannot see.

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1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.

Rounding the back corner of the fair, we were then immersed in a large-scale work by Hana Yilma Godine named Preparation for Wedding in Addis Ababa, 2020. Presented by Fridman Gallery, the oil, acrylic, collage, pencil, and fabric on canvas work stretched across 14 feet on the far back wall of the fair. Depicted in the atmosphere were colorful sitting and standing women above black and white cityscapes that were right-side up and flipped upside down.

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1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.

Turning the corner, Afikaris hosted a handful of engaging works, including Window of Opportunity 2 by the Angola-born, Lisbon-based artist Cristiano Mangovo. Devoted to social and political commentary, the piece overwhelmed us with an array of styles—from figurations and distortion. In the piece, some characters have two mouths—one boxed and off of its face, while others are smoking from a long pipe. Some climb ladders while others reach for the sky.  Oversaturated with information, the painting was meant to reflect society and its individuals today, shining a light on the relentless pace of our media news cycle and the stimulation and distraction that comes with it.

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1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.

At Nil Gallery, we were delighted to be awash in color thanks to photographs by Prince Gyasi. Based in Accra, Ghana, the 23-year-old visual artist’s images were bold and hopeful—and all surprisingly shot on an iPhone. There to uplift the stories of marginalized individuals that may have been pushed out of society, his images reveal fundamental emotions tied with one’s real life, such as childhood, adulthood, motherhood, or fatherhood. Landscapes and vivid backgrounds set the scene for dressed in suits, or a barely-there sarong-esque fabric, to indulge in gold chocolate bars or hang out in treetops.  

Open Gallery

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.

Downstairs, we were struck at once by the work of Wonder Buhle—an artist we recently touched upon in an interview with one of his collectors, Black Coffee. Immediately recognizable for details reflected through florals, his presented work entitled We No Longer Gonna Run is his largest to date, stretching across the booth of Bkhz Gallery’s whole wall. Showing characters in uniform, some were poised and seated while others stood with guns. In front, a young girl with high ponytails and pink flip-flops stands strong with her arms crossed. Below them, a dark sea of bobbing heads is seen, seemingly insinuating that those we can see are standing for those we can’t. A pink floral background brightens up the scene, with a sea of dark green swirls anchoring the base.

Open Gallery

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, photo by Eliza Jordan.

Last but certainly not least, we were entrenched in the color, culture, emotional response, and well-educated creative process of photographic works by the Kenyan artist Thandiwe Muriu. Hosted in 193 Gallery’s booth, large images of models in printed garments against backgrounds in the same prints were seen. There, we were greeted by the artist and the gallery’s director, César Lévy, who welcomed us with a thoughtful tour through the works and their stories. Muriu took us from one corner of the booth to the other, explaining each and every work, noting first that the subjects are shot against the backgrounds and not photoshopped in any way, which came as a shock due to their seamless positionings and lack of shadow. For the past few years, her works have embodied African stories and proverbs, so she finally decided to affix each work to a proverb, such as one work in the show and its correlating saying, “A diamond does not lose its value due to lack of admiration.” Each piece is a true work of art, appreciation, and collaboration, as garments are chosen to bring out the personality and storytelling components of the prints themselves. Then, Muriu works with a team in Nairobi to design the clothing before dressing a model, choosing a historical hairstyle to be reimagined with contemporary twists, and topping the look off with eyewear. Found or handmade, the special specs seen in the photo may represent more meaning than anything else in the image—such as sink drain stoppers spray-painted yellow, reflecting the community of females that congregate and share stories after dinner; and red tassel sunnies tinged with nostalgia, bringing the artist back to her grandfather’s retro car, which used to be lined with a red fringe interior lining.  

1-541-54 Contemporary African Art Fairart fairHarlemNYC

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