Contemporary art Fairs United Kingdom

Giving African artists a platform

The first fair dedicated to contemporary art from the vast southern continent opens in London

Richard Mudariki, The Last Judgement, 2013 is in a non-selling show with the Museum of Modern Art Equatorial Guinea at 1:54

The art world is always looking for the next big thing and African art seems to be fulfilling that role in London during Frieze week. 1:54, the first art fair in the capital dedicated to contemporary African art, opened at Somerset House on Tuesday (until 20 October), offering works by more than 70 artists from the vast continent. The 15 participating galleries, meanwhile, hail from cities including Berlin, London and Seattle as well as Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, Ségou in Mali and Lagos in Nigeria (half of the exhibitors overall are from Africa).

The fair’s “African” focus has, however, raised questions for being too broad, but Touria El Glaoui, the founding director of 1:54, points out that at most Western art fairs, only 0.05% of artists are of African origin. “We have a duty to provide these artists with a platform,” she says. “1:54 [the 54 refers to the number of nations in Africa] is a means to delve deeper into individual countries and artists.”

Some, including the Beninese artist Romuald Hazoumè, who is showing with London’s October Gallery at 1:54, have already made their mark on the international art scene. In 2007, Hazoumè won the Arnold Bode Prize at Documenta 12 in Kassel, while his tribal-style masks made from fragments of plastic petrol flagons (six of which are on show at the fair, prices on request) were first shown in the UK at Saatchi’s “Out of Africa” show in 1992. For Hazoumè, whose work is bought in the West by collectors such as Jean Pigozzi and Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller and museums including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC and the British Museum, taking part in 1:54 is “about showing Africans it is possible to do something”.

African collectors and artists, it seems, are taking notice. Marc Stanes, the curator of the Museum of Modern Art Equatorial Guinea, which has a non-selling show at the fair of works by artists from Zimbabwe, Benin, Burkina Faso and Senegal, among others, says the collector base is shifting. “People are getting richer in countries such as Nigeria, South Africa and Angola and they are beginning to buy African art,” he says. “There’s also a new generation of younger artists who are now able to make a living in Africa.” Stanes is showing a politically charged painting by the promising young South African artist Richard Mudariki, The Last Judgement, 2013; another painting by Mudariki is being sold in the first online auction of African art hosted on 18 October by (est £1,600-£2,600).

For the gallerist André Magnin, who spent 20 years working with Jean Pigozzi building his African art collection and is showing paintings by another young talent, Amadou Sanogo, priced between €6,000 and €7,000, the term “African” art is no different to being branded “European”. “We all come from somewhere,” he says philosophically.

For an interview with Touria El Glaoui, see the third edition of our daily Frieze papers, published on Thursday 17 October

Romuald Hazoumè, OFNI, 2011, with London’s October Gallery
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