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The 1-54 Lounge Commission: A breathing space at the fair

Arts and Culture

The 1-54 Lounge Commission: A breathing space at the fair

In association with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

Since its inception in 2013, 1-54 has brought together galleries, artists, collectors, students and cultural producers from all over the world, fostering cutting-edge conversations around contemporary African art. Since then the fair has expanded its reach, yet its nature, of being a fertile platform for cultural exchange, remains at the core of 1-54.

From its first edition, the fair has commissioned contemporary designers and artists to create an immersive space for all visitors and exhibitors to come together. The 1-54 Lounge Commission was launched to give a space within the fair to showcase the rich contemporary design scene in Africa, which has been flourishing on the continent for several decades; from traditional fabrics, craftsmanship, weaving and beading methods to the introduction of new materials with the advent of up-cycling of vintage furniture and discarded items, designers and artists have been challenging both colonial aesthetics and the contemporary design world dominated by Western shapes and ideals. However, throughout six years of 1-54, the fair’s Lounge Commission has developed to become not simply a space where designers can present their works and provide a space to relax, but as a project-space where artists can create an immersive room to complement the fair.

For the sixth edition of 1-54 London, the fair collaborates with Ed Cross Fine Art to present a multimedia installation by Malagasy artist Shiraz Bayjoo, whose work explores legacies of European colonialism across the Indian Ocean region and beyond to the West. Indian Ocean Archive brings together an archive of photographs, paintings, ceramic sculptures, and videos, creating an immersive experience for visitors to learn more about the region off the coast of Africa that saw unparalleled forced movement of people through a complex and violent colonial history.

Through an installation like Bayjoo’s, 1-54 visitors are offered more than just an area to rest after their visit across Somerset House, but a space to reflect on the themes and topics transpiring through the fair. Fuelled by a similar ambition, artist Azikiwe Mohammed conceived the lounge for the latest 1-54 New York edition with a site-specific iteration of his New Davonhaime. Tackling the on-going racial tensions in the United States, Azikiwe’s installation placed itself within the discursive continuation of similar themes addressed by African-American artists exhibited at the fair, such as Derrick Adams, whose practice challenges the representation of black bodies in the media.

Starting with the very first 1-54 Lounge designed by Peter Mabeo, bringing wooden stools and tables, several materials have passed through the doors of the fair’s lounge. Bibi Seck and Ayse Birsel conceived the lounge for the first New York edition with stools made of recycled plastic, which can still be found today in the garden of Pioneer Works. The use of forms, materials and especially colour has been exploited in multiple ways. In 2017, the fair saw two approaches to colour. While for the New York edition of 1-54, Ousmane Mbaye’s Graphik collection employed vibrant colours on strong metal furniture, in London, designer Yinka Ilori injected the fair’s lounge room with colour by painting the walls with colour blocks, along with wooden tables and chairs featuring geometrical patterns and traditional fabrics.

Across ten editions of the fair, this space has shape-shifted, morphing itself at the hands of each commissioned artist. In 2015, Hassan Hajjaj took over the London lounge area in Somerset House, presenting a space with Moroccan aesthetics while incorporating visual cues from pop art. In 2016, designer Ifeanyu Oganwu collaborated with visual artist Phoebe Boswell to create a waveform installation to highlight the flexibility of space, designing a refined space with movement and lightness.

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