For the ninth year in a row, the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London will be accompanied by 1-54 Forum, the fair’s extensive talks and events programme. Curator Dr Omar Kholeif gives us an advance preview of the event.
In addition to work from 48 leading international galleries from 23 countries across Europe, Africa and North America, this year’s 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London includes 1-54 Forum, an extensive programme of artist talks, panels, screenings, performances and readings. Entitled Continental Drift, it will be curated by Dr Omar Kholeif, Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation, and will take place both online and at Somerset House.
Born in Egypt to Egyptian and Sudanese parents, Dr Kholeif is a writer, curator and cultural historian. Trained as a political scientist, Kholeif began his career as a journalist and documentary maker before entering the picture palace of museums.
Concerned with the means through which technologies intersect with debates around gender, postcolonial, and critical race theory, Dr Kholeif seeks to understand how these crossroads alter the way audiences ‘look at’ and conceive of culture. He has curated more than one hundred exhibitions and commissions of art, design, and architecture on six continents and are the author, co-author, or editor of 33 books, which have been translated into 12 languages.
Recent volumes include Goodbye, World! Looking at Art in the Digital Age (Sternberg, 2018); The Artists Who Will Change The World (Thames and Hudson, 2018), and Art in the Age of Anxiety (SAF, Mörel, MIT Press, 2021). They are working on a monograph entitled Internet Art: The First Thirty Years (Phaidon, 2022) and a memoir as anthology, Code-Switchers: The Art of Being Invisible (2022/23).
Dr Kholeif spoke to New African about the themes for Continental Drift and what we can expect to see in the programme.
Continental Drift touches upon a wide range of topics. How did you come up with this theme and how does it echo the current time we are living in?
The concept really emerged from a word; and that word as a concept. I was thinking of the notion of the ‘Drift’ consistently. Drift assumes slow but steady movement; the possibility of flipping between time: but what does it mean to try and move slowly; to be reflective; to interrogate the world around you in a world that we have come to believe is moving too fast?
For some people, the pandemic did assume an act of ‘slowing down’ but this was not necessarily a good thing; for many it suggested illness or loss of labour and income.
Simultaneously, we saw the acceleration and sedimentation of a multi-layered and mediated digital culture, quickly accelerating to ensure the sustenance of our cultures.
These infrastructures thus engender new forms of rapid growth that can open up creative possibilities, but which can also be troubling, i.e. the use and / or need of certain forms of bandwidth has meant that new infrastructures, from underwater cables and data centres, need to be constructed fastidiously without care or caution to the environments that they occupy.
With this in mind, I began to interrogate what it would mean to reflect on the various aspects of this context in relation to the continent that I call home. I started to think of Sherry Turkle’s salvo that we are ‘all together, but alone’ not only in relation to the digital, but also when it comes to a world in flux: how do we assume who has access to the macro-level conversation or is given voice?
What I have attempted to sketch out is a chorus or symphony of a sort, where conversation and debate is punctuated with and by sonic interludes; poetry and cinema. It is in essence, a request for the viewer to drift through the various spaces; the diverse chronologies that occupy the concerns of artists and creative practitioners working and living today.
What are your hopes for the 1-54 Forum audience as they engage with the programme?
It is rare for such expansive convening of such breadth of practice, form and content to be staged anywhere in the world. My hope is that audiences will be able to feel a sense of an embodied cultural moment, one that is specifically responsive to the present. With that, there is also the aspiration that the Forum will fuel questions that will continue to re-surface for them for many years to come.
Who can we expect to see in the programme?
You can expect to hear musicians who you might not have heard of before and historic artists reflecting on their influence. You will encounter new poetry by diasporic voices spread across the four corners of the globe, alongside younger practitioners experimenting with the possibilities of digital technologies, including the nascent field of NFTs.
Dr Omar Kholeif is Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation, and Curator of this year’s 1-54 Forum, Continental Drift.
For further information about the Forum visit the Art 1-54 website.