A record number of galleries from Africa—20, among a total of 47—are participating in the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House in London this week (until 17 October), with some dealers taking advantage of newly relaxed pandemic travel rules in the UK. South Africa, for instance, was taken off the UK government’s “red list” earlier this week, meaning that visitors from the country will no longer be subject to a mandatory ten-day hotel quarantine.
“I booked my flight to make it to the fair just in time to install,” says Julie Taylor, the founder of Guns & Rain gallery in Johannesburg, which is offering works by Thina Dube priced from £1,000 and earth pigment pieces by the Botswana-based artist Ann Gollifer, ranging from £2,500 to £5,000.
Marc Stanes, the co-founder of Ebony/Curated gallery in Cape Town and in Franschhoek on South Africa’s Western Cape, says that he sold around 70% of works by artists such as Kimathi Mafafo and Zemba Luzamba during the VIP preview on Thursday. “This fair has built up a solid collector base; institutions also attend,” Stanes says, adding that there is currently “a lot of activity in the contemporary African art market since US collectors began buying a few years ago”. Price points for works on the stand range from £3,500 to £14,000.
Aissa Dione, the founder of Galerie Atiss Dakar in Senegal, noted that Covid-19 restrictions made it “extremely difficult to get here” but nevertheless considers 1-54 an important platform as “the market is very restricted in Africa”. Her gallery is selling Ngimbi Bakambana’s painting Chaussures descendant un escalier (2021), priced at €11,000, and the textile piece Colours of the “silenced” (2020) by Elolo Bosoka (€7,500).
Many of the participating galleries cite the impact of Frieze, highlighting how high footfall from the fairs in Regent’s Park extends to the ninth edition of 1-54. “We get a wider audience thanks to Frieze,” says Nneoma Ilogu, the manager of the Lagos-based gallery SMO Contemporary Art, which sold three works by the Nigerian artist Deborah Segun during the VIP preview, priced at £6,750 each.
The Ethiopian gallery Addis Fine Art, which recently opened its first permanent London location on Eastcastle Street in the Fitzrovia gallery district, is participating in both Frieze London and 1-54. “We want to make sure we make space in the mainstream for our artists,” says Rakeb Sile, the gallery’s co-founder. Addis Fine Art sold four works by the Ethiopian artist Tesfaye Urgessa at the 1-54 VIP preview, priced at £10,500 each.