Art in the Diaspora

These Galleries take 1-54 London Fair by Storm

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On Thursday, the 11th London edition of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair opened at Somerset House, welcoming an impressive 62 exhibitors from 32 nations. The fair’s most ambitious edition to date, it features 170 artists’ works in a variety of media, including mixed media, sculpture, photography, film, and painting. This year’s edition also includes a group exhibition at Christie’s called “Transatlantic Connections: Caribbean Narratives in Contemporary Art” and a unique project by Nigerian musician Mr. Eazi called “Evil Genius,” which is a groundbreaking fusion of music and contemporary African art.

Here is a look at the top exhibits at 1-54, which are on display through October 15.

Wunika Mukan Gallery
Victor Ubah, 2023, Stage of Revitalizing, Acrylic on Canvas, 91.4 × 76.2 cm.
Image courtesy of Wunika Mukan Gallery.

Wunika Mukan Gallery debuts at the London fair with the solo presentation of an enthralling new series of paintings by Nigerian artist, Victor Ubah. In his recent body of work, Ubah intends to blur the lines between our imaginations and the real world to depict the coexistence of both elements. Exploring their interconnectedness, each painting offers a journey where the characters find solace in their shared experiences. Through using exclusively monochromatic palette, the characters are thrown into a sanctuary that transcends the ordinary thus creating a sense of wonder that appreciates the tangible world and the concept of time. Through surrealist elements, the artist intends to foster a reconnection and exploration of self into another, while at the same time bringing the other into the self. Bringing together these concepts creates ‘Harmony’ and offers a fantastical sense of wonder and possibility, ultimately inviting viewers to rejoice in the harmonious connection between oneself and the universe.

SMO Contemporary
Ayoola Gbolahan, One with Vision, Mixed media on canvas, 2023, 122 x 91.5 cm. Image courtesy of SMO.

SMO presents When Love is Right, an exhibition of paintings, sculpture, and mixed media works by Ayoola Gbolahan, Jill Berelowitz, and Victor Sonoiki. These three artists explore the universality of love, a balanced relationship with the earth, and the need to preserve our cultural identity for past and future generations. Their works create a powerful interplay by artists from three different generations, who show us what it means to come to terms with our human connections, our environment and our ancestry, through the exploration of a muilti-ethnic African lens. They experiment with paper and sand, bronze and resin, and oil on canvas with pen and ink highlights, creating a cohesive conversation which resonates through their work.

Afriart Gallery
Kaleab Abate, It’s Not Romance Anymore, Mixed medium on canvas, 2023 150 x 150 cm.
Image courtesy of Afriart Gallery.

At the 2023 edition of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair London, Afriart Gallery present three artists: April Kamunde, Emmie Nume, and Kaleab Abate.

The artists’ art processes are driven by vulnerability in terms of both use of the material and internal investigations of their subject matter. For Nume, his mental predicaments and experience of life itself dictate action. Abate’s reflection of how young Africans, like himself, are enslaved by systematic uncertainty in form of politics, social systems, economic crises, miseducation, and past and present historical ambiguities. Kamunde’s recent body of work explores meanings of rest and the pursuit of it, from a personal and feminist angle. The work is driven by personal reflection and response to feelings of weariness triggered by her recent experiences of the pandemic, a rapidly changing world and the endeavor to live a successful and fulfilling life in fast-paced Nairobi, one of Africa’s mega cities.

Affinity Art Gallery
Damilola Onosowobo, Chewing on a straw, 2023, Oil on Canvas, 122 × 152 cm. Image courtesy of
Affinity Gallery.

Affinity Gallery debut at the fair features works by Damilola Onosowbo and Anne Adams. In this presentation, the artists seek to come to terms with the reverberations of lives lived; both from those that came before, and the influence the lives we currently live will have on those that will come after. Damilola Onosowobo’s large paintings in this duo, bring out feelings of joy—a much-needed tonic to all the things happening in our world.

Eclectica Contemporary
Ayogu Kingsley, Brotherhood (trilogy), 2023, Oil on Canvas, 138 × 202 cm. Image courtesy of Eclectica Contemporary.

Eclectica Contemporary presents a solo exhibition by Ayogu Kinsley for 1-54 London Art Fair 2023. The exhibition showcases latest developments in the artist’s ongoing series Icons In The White House.

Icons in the White House is an empowered expression of Black Life. Focused on the Black Icons from Africa and the African diaspora, the exhibition’s vision and purpose is to convey the precarious truth of the fragile sovereignty of blackness. Kingsley’s painted subjects are strikingly diverse, though each in their singular way conveys the artist’s dream of sovereignty. The series includes a painting of Malcolm X with his posture modelled on Barack Obama – this asks us to reflect on an alternative political reality and further compels us to rethink the canon and its erasure of Black thought. Featured alongside Malcom X are prominent figures in black history, Frantz Fanon, Chinua Achebe, Fela Kuti, Thomas Sankara, Kwame Nkrumah, Lucky Dube, Winnie Mandela and Mohammad Ali. The potency of these works lies in the critique of the institutionalisations of white superiority and racism within the American context following the Black Lives Matter protests of which notoriously succeeds the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. The renewed visions of these leaders that had succumbed to early deaths further echoes the necropolitical and insidious underpinnings of our global economy – especially the ways in which our economy has been built upon centuries of the exploitative labour and dispossession of Black people.

Cynics consider Black Portraiture a fad, a boom-bust phenomenon akin to ‘tulipomania’. It cannot be so easily discarded and disregarded. Its impact in America is especially critical, given an incipient civil war and threat to democracy. What the Black Body, Black Life, in art represents is a vital drive to diffuse and overcome this threat. Ralph Ellison’s memorable words – ‘I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook … Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids, and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me’ – is the challenge Ayogu Kingsley has assumed. His refusal to be refused by others, his desire to be seen, is a testimony and a love song.

Author

Bardi Osobuanomola Catherine is a budding storyteller. Her academic credentials include a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Benin. She has contributed to numerous Art publications across Africa. She is currently a Writer for Art News Africa.

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