Art 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair – Artists to watch
Over the past seven years the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair has established itself as a leading voice in the global discussion on contemporary African art. New African presents a selection of some of the most outstanding pieces from this year’s exhibition in London.
Represented by Nil Gallery. Born 1974 in Ilorin, Nigeria. Lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria
Alimi Adewale is a painter and sculptor whose work examines the complex issues faced every day by his Nigerian community. Imbued with their own mortality, his sculptures are an articulation of long-standing traditional African sculptures and contemporary art. Incorporating elements of minimalism, expressionism, and abstraction, Alimi creates an oeuvre that is distinctly current, and as witty as it is macabre. He challenges accepted belief systems in and about Nigeria.
Alimi Adewale, Untitled, 2020, Hand sculpted Ekki wood, 20 x 25 x 55 cm. Courtesy Nil Gallery
Represented by Ubuntu Art Gallery. Born 1999 in Cairo, Egypt. Lives and works in Cairo, Egypt
Omar Gabr is a self-taught artist curious to experiment with different techniques and materials. His work is primarily inspired by his everyday experiences and his political beliefs. Gabr’s work often depicts individuals in downcast and in despair, his colour palette ranging from solid and vibrant backgrounds to a more muted choice, often working with monochrome. His choices in colour allow him to play with the emotional weight of his paintings, visualising true and humane stimulations of drama that relate to a young demographic.
Omar Gabr, Untitled, 2019, Oil on Canvas, 92 x 40 cm. Courtesy Ubuntu Art Gallery
Represented by THK Gallery. Born 1981 in South Africa. Lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa
Nonzuzo Gxekwa is a photographer whose approach favours the everyday over the spectacular; sharing interesting and intimate moments through focusing the camera on what is around her as well as herself. Whether it is through street photography or the studio, her work explores the human condition. Collaboration is a crucial part of her practice, she has worked with a number of photographers and artists in Johannesburg.
Nonzuzo Gxekwa, Life is Beautiful, Edition of 8 plus 2 AP, 2014, Archival inkjet print on semi-gloss paper, 42 x 29.7 cm, 29.7 x 21 cm. Courtesy THK Gallery
Represented by Galerie Ernst Hilger. Born 1980 in Nairobi, Kenya. Lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya
In his series of works ‘Constellations and Sediment’, Peterson Kamwathi examines the contortions adopted by those who are part of forced migration. Forced mass movements have featured consistently in the media for quite a number of years now. One of the most visible scenes of these mass movements is the image of people clustered together in a state of waiting. In this body of work, Kamwathi started by trying to define what compels people to undertake perilous journeys into the unknown. ‘Constellation’ being the air of collective and individual aspirations, ‘sediments’ symbolising the many layers that constitute the difficult realities inherent to these transitions. Constellations can be hope, dreams for a better future and personal ambitions. Sediments are an individual’s past, the history of one’s society and their place in it, limitations in access to basic human needs and wants.
Peterson Kamwathi, The Wall, 2017, Mixed media on paper, 111 x 115 cm. Courtesy Galerie Ernst Hilger
Ekene Emeka Maduka
Represented by Polartics. Born 1996 in Nigeria . Lives and works in Winnipeg, Canada
Maduka’s practice is an ongoing study of the ‘self’. It is an exploration of individuality and self-representation that translates her experiences to viewers who may or may not be familiar with the story being told. She aims to share a specific narrative that addresses Blackness, culture, her Nigerian heritage and femininity, with herself often being the subject of her paintings. This desire to represent herself and tell her own story came from a place of inquisitiveness and a longing to be a part of on-going conversations about creating an equitable society. Although her practice often deals with sober topics attributed, when addressed in the context of her paintings, these themes are often juxtaposed with satire, commenting on the impulsive human nature to face momentous matters in more digestible ways.
Ekene Emeka Maduka, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily life is but a dream, 2020, Oil on canvas, 6.5 feet x 6.5 feet. Courtesy Polartics
Represented by Atelier le Grand Village. Born 1979 in Nairobi, Kenya. Lives and works in Paris, France
Evans Mbugua defines himself as a “graphic recycler”. He breathes new, bright and colourful life into the urban pictograms he collects during his travels and day-to-day life. He constructs paintings upon the representation of these motifs, which he repeats to form a foundation for his compositions. He then layers dots of paint to sketch portraits of the people who cross his path, always staging them within the composition. Mbugua was invited to expand his studio work practice at Atelier le Grand Village this year – an environment unfamiliar to him and his first encounter with non-digital printmaking. The challenge was to find an alternative for the digitally rendered backgrounds that are prevalent in his paintings. Using the resources at Atelier le Grand Village, Mbugua thrived on this element of ‘chance’, and the freedom that it offered.
Evans Mbugua, Who’s that girl? EV 13-16, Edition of 1, 2020, Lithograph, Monotype – Variable Edition, 74,5 x 57 cm. Courtesy Atelier Le Grand Village
Represented by Galerie Eric Dupont. Born 1986 in Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire. Lives and works in Cotonou, Benin and Toulouse, France
Roméo Mivekannin is both an architect and painter. Mivekannin creates ‘canvases’ from linen sheets or burlap sacks sewn together. He paints with acrylic and works with contrasts and dilutions to obtain infinite shades ranging from black to white via a multitude of grays. His chosen subject is the body, more specifically the Black body and its representations throughout history. Following his carpentry training in Benin, Mivekannin graduated from the National School of Architecture, Toulouse. His first solo show, ‘Black Skins, White Masks’, took place at Galerie Eric Dupont in 2020.
Roméo Mivekannin, Les trois grâces, Venus hottentotes, jardin d’acclimatation de Paris, 1888, 2020, Acrylic and elixir bath on free canvas, 273 x 255 cm. Courtesy Galerie Eric Dupont
Represented by Afriart Gallery. Born 1991 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania . Lives and works in Kampala, Uganda
Sungi Mlengeya’s paintings consist of dark figures in minimal shades of black and browns against perfectly white backgrounds. Her topics vary widely from self-discovery to empowerment, but common themes in her work are centred around women, specifically black women. Mlengeya sheds light on the stories of black women, herself included, and explores the journeys, struggles, accomplishments and relationships these women have with their immediate societies. She works primarily with acrylic on canvas, creating paintings that are free, minimalist and with a curious use of negative space.
Sungi Mlengeya, Kyomu, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 86 x 60cm. Courtesy Afriart Gallery
Represented by Mindy Solomon Gallery. Born 1982 in New York City, USA. Lives and works in Brooklyn, USA
Azikiwe Mohammed’s compositions mesh pop culture and internet graphics, elevating seemingly mundane and under-represented figures to the canon of art history. Azikiwe Mohammed graduated from Bard College in 2005 where he studied photography and fine arts. Since then he has shown these things in galleries both nationally and internationally. Mohammed has presented a number of solo exhibitions including at the Knockdown Centre, New York; Long Gallery, New York; the Ace Hotel Chicago, Chicago; Rush Arts, New York; as well as multiple solo offerings at Spring Break Art Fair in New York City.
Azikiwe Mohammed, Places I’ve Been With Helicopters #2, Everywhere Is Home, 2020, Acrylic and gouache on board, 74.93 x 58.42 x 59.69. Courtesy Mindy Solomon Gallery
Represented by Luce Gallery. Born 1994 in Cameroon. Lives and works in New York, USA
Inspired by life events which led him to move from Cameroon to the USA as a young teenager, Ludovic Nkoth’s work is a personal investigation into his own view of Africa; his family history, and the cultures, traditions and ideas of Africa and its diaspora pre- and post-colonialism. Working briskly with acrylic on canvas and calling his practice a dance, Nkoth states “while working on these pieces I’m moving at a fast pace to the rhythm of the music. It allows my instincts to just take over and not overthink my next moves.”
Ludovic Nkoth, On the Fields, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 101.6 x 76.2 cm. Courtesy of Luce Gallery
Represented by Sulger-Buel Gallery. Born 1979 in Kumba, Cameroon. Lives and works in London, UK
Using a crude and expressive language that incorporates autobiographical content, Adjani Okpu-Egbe’s paintings unfold a wide range of complex themes. Drawing from a number of fields and political movements such as archaeology, feminism, African history and Pan-Africanism, which are all present within Southern Cameroons’ Ambazonian movement, Okpu-Egbe comments on the global social justice system.
Adjani Okpu-Egbe, Syrian Civil War (Triptych), 2019, Mixed media on found wooden door panels, 200 x 228 x 4 cm. Courtesy Sulger-Buel Gallery
Represented by Ed Cross Fine Art. Born 1993 in Wales. Lives and works in Manchester, UK
Anya Paintsil is a Welsh-Ghanaian artist working primarily with textiles. From rug hooking to embroidery, her assemblages evoke tactile tapestry on the one hand, and constitute semi-sculptural interventions on the other. Frequently using weaves, braids and other hair pieces (as well as her own hair), Paintsil laces debates around race and gender into the very fabric of her work. Playful and profound, flippant and forceful, her practice engages the language of fibres – of all kinds – with interrogations of materiality and political personhood. Paintsil completed her BA in Fine Art at the Manchester School of Art in 2020.
Anya Paintsil, Shackles the Snake, 2020, Acrylic, wool, human hair, synthetic hair and titanium on hessian?, 134.6 x 134.6 cm. Courtesy Ed Cross Fine Art
Represented by This is Not a White Cube. Born 1983 in Cabinda, Angola. Lives and works in London, UK
Alida Rodrigues works with issues related to archive, memory, and identity, the manipulation of history, and the sterilisation of culture. Rodrigues’ works promote a deep reflection on the modern and contemporary status of the image, its proliferation and circulation ways, the powers and limits of the image, and its anthropological dimension. It deals centrally with the ‘history of forgetting’, a discipline that has exerted fascination in the audience and, which has been produced over the centuries in different ways but always linked to the erasure of memory, the manipulation, or partial destruction of images and names. Her work integrates the contemporary movement of the restructuring of the historiography of African countries.
Alida Rodrigues, Lactuca sativa, Edition of 3, 2019, Pigment print on cotton rag paper, 50 x 30 cm. Courtesy This is Not a White Cube
Represented by espace d’art contemporain 14N 61W. Born 1980 in Cholet, France. Lives and works in Douarnenez, Marseille
Yoan Sorin started as a professional sportsman before graduating from L’école des Beaux-arts de Nantes, Nantes. He uses various mediums in his work, exploring the limits of creative processes between success and failure. The performance becomes an essential element in his production in order to physically experience the nature of the objects created. Infused with popular culture, his drawings, paintings, videos and performances disturb the distinctions between popular culture and art in a setting set of errors, deletions, repetitions, drawings or lines without ends.
Yoan Sorin, Combat 1, 2018, Print on paper and paint on plexiglass, 60 x 40 cm. Courtesy of espace d’art contemporain 14N 61
Represented by October Gallery. Born 1958 in Coventry, UK. Lives and works in London, UK
In her sculptures, LR Vandy brings together both found and made objects in order to create new meaning. In her ‘Hull’ series, Vandy transforms model boat hulls into ‘masks’, animating them with various materials, including fishing floats, porcupine quills and acupuncture needles. The hulls allude to the transportation of migrants as commodities. As masks they present a transformation of identity, drawing upon the tradition of talismans, charms and amulets. Representing aggressive protection, the materials Vandy applies to the hulls reference witchcraft/voodoo needles or nails, creating a tension throughout the works. The overall forms draw together the opposing aesthetics of attraction and repulsion; alluring and seemingly decorative pieces that on closer inspection provoke a sense of danger in the larger context of our world.
LR Vandy, Heavy Is The Head That Wears The Crown/ Flotilla No. 1, 2020, Wood and metal, 150 x 112 cm. Courtesy October Gallery
For further information about the 2020 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London and view more exhibits online visit the exhibition webpage
Art 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair – Roundtable: How has Covid-19 impacted African art?