Arts & Culture

10 artists to watch at this year’s 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London

10 artists to watch at this year’s 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London
  • PublishedOctober 6, 2022

1-54, the first and only international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora, is holding its London edition at Somerset House from 13–16 October 2022. We preview 10 of the artists whose work will be on display this year. 

Celebrating its 10th anniversary in London, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair is delighted to return to Somerset House with its flagship edition, over the course of four days from 13–16 October 2022 (Press & VIP Preview on 13 October). 1-54 London 2022 will host 50 international exhibitors from 21 countries, its largest number of countries to date.

Of the 50 international exhibitors, 17 galleries are from the African continent, and 14 galleries will participate at the Fair’s London edition for the first time. Newcomers to the Fair include albertz benda (New York, USA), Berntson Bhattacharjee Gallery (London, UK), Galleria Poggiali (Milan, Florence, Italy), Portas Vilaseca Galeria (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Selebe Yoon (Dakar, Senegal), and Unit London (London, UK), among others.

London’s Somerset House, the venue for this year’s 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. (Photo: Living Legend / Adobe Stock)

New and returning exhibitors will present over 130 artists working across an array of mediums from painting and sculpture to mixed media and installation. Works ranging from established artists such as Ibrahim El-Salahi, Hassan Hajjaj, and Zanele Muholi to young and emerging artists including Sola Olulode and Pedro Neves will be on view.

1-54 London 2022 will be accompanied by a number of special projects and events, in addition to the 1-54 Forum, the Fair’s multi-disciplinary programme of talks, screenings, performances, workshops and readings, which will be curated by Dr Omar Kholeif. 

In collaboration with Somerset House, interdisciplinary Lisbon-based artist Grada Kilomba brings her critically acclaimed installation O Barco / The Boat to Somerset House’s courtyard from 29 September–19 October 2022.

10 artists to watch at 1-54 London 2022

Robert Peterson, represented by Claire Oliver Gallery

Born 1981 in Denver, Colorado, USA. Lives and works in Lawton, Oklahoma, USA

“Initially, the paintings that I created were based solely on stock images of celebrities that I found on the internet. As I grew as an artist, so did my desire to become more creative and so I began photographing men, women, and children that I know. 

“Over the past two years, my paintings began to evolve and focus more on the Black experience as I know it through my life which is obviously projected onto each new work. 

“My art is my truth and my voice, it reflects a softer side of Black people often not portrayed in the media and yet it still finds a way to show our strength and resilience, something that I want to see more of in galleries and museums.”

Robert Peterson, Head in the Clouds, 2022, Oil on canvas, 122 x 183 x 5 cm. Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery.

Amina Agueznay, represented by Loft Art Gallery 

Born 1963 in Casablanca, Morocco. Lives and works in Casablanca, Morocco

Born and raised in Casablanca, Amina Agueznay left for the US to study and practise architecture. When she returned a decade later, she began a process that has remained constant: understanding, interpreting, and constructing matter and space. 

She researched the incredibly diverse artisanal resources in Morocco, experimenting with different mediums and collaborating with skilled artisans. As her body of contemporary work evolves, this collaborative element assumes greater significance. Her recent installation Curriculum Vitae is a memory exercise, acting as a record of the intangible, gradual passage of time, and the precious quality of connection to the past.

Agueznay’s recent work explores the natural world, building landscapes and recreating spaces that once existed. Talismans are also familiar elements, granting access or protection, and standing guard over the work. From her collective workshops to museum installations, Agueznay’s work is rooted in its spatial environment. She has participated in international, individual, and group exhibitions, and conducted extensive research into the craft process in Morocco. In 2022, she was the artistic director of the Kingdom of Bahrain Pavilion at World Expo Dubai.

Amina Agueznay, Installation: A Garden Inside-Untitled, 2020, Mixed media and spun-dyed natural wool, Variable dimensions. Courtesy of Loft Art Gallery.

Malek Gnaoui, represented by Selma Feriani Gallery

Born 1983 in Gabes, Tunisia. Lives and works in Tunis, Tunisia

The work of Malek Gnaoui engages with issues centred around social conditions and the notion of human sacrifice. Working across video, ceramics, printmaking, installation, sound, and performance, Gnaoui’s approach towards materiality enables him to develop an alternative practice that combines everyday materials with traditional techniques, such as grinding bricks into powder which becomes lithography pigment. 

He often introduces powdered bricks to clay to produce sculptures with a specific quality. The physical involvement of production allows a performative aspect to emerge.

Malek Gnaoui, S.C/22 spacing point, 2022, Print on tarpaulin, 240 x 170cm. Courtesy of Selma Feriani Gallery.

Sola Olulode, represented by Berntson Bhattacharjee

Born 1996 in London, United Kingdom. Lives and works in London, United Kingdom

Sola Olulode received her BA in Fine Art Painting from the University of Brighton in 2018. Her dreamy queer visions explore embodiments of British Black womxn and non-binary folks. 

Working with various mediums of natural dyeing, batik, wax, ink, pastel, oil bar, and impasto, she develops textural canvases that explore the fluidity of identities. Drawing inspiration from lived experiences, friends, and cultural reference points to centre Black queer womxn, Olulode emphasises the integral need of representation and celebration of queer intimacies.

Her utopian scenes celebrate relationships that transcend crude notions of queer sexuality. Her figures exemplify the warm embrace of queer love, a temporal space to bathe in memories of intimacies abundant with scenes of profoundly deep tender connections. Her figures represent multifaceted individuals and the energy they hold in their bodies, relishing in a boundless temporality of self-validation and joy.

Recent exhibitions include: Bold Black British, Christie’s, London (2021); Stäying Alive, Berntson Bhattacharjee, Sweden (2021); An Infinity of Traces, Lisson Gallery, London (2021); among others.

Sola Olulode, The Lovers, 2022, indigo, wax, oil, ink and oil pastel on canvas, 152 x 122 cm. Courtesy of Berntson Bhattacharjee.

Zanele Muholi, represented by Galerie Carole Kvasnevski

Born 1972 in ​​Umlazi, Durban, South Africa. Lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa

Zanele Muholi documents and archives the lives and struggles of LGBTQI+ communities. Through portraits, calligraphy, installations, and, more recently, paintings and sculptures, Muholi evokes the fate of Black South African women workers, and explores violence and questions of identity.

Muholi’s self-proclaimed mission is to “re-write a Black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of such resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in South Africa and beyond.” Creating a powerful, daring aesthetic with an evocative force, Muholi frees themselves from codes and rules to create new canons and models.

Zanele Muholi, Loba III, Paris, 2019, Baryta print, 80 x 60 cm, Edition of 8 + 2AP. Courtesy of Galerie Carole Kvasnevski.

M0XC4, represented by HOA Galeria

Born 1995 in Porto Seguro, Bahia, Brazil. Lives and works in Porto Seguro, Bahia, Brazil

João Lucas Nascimento Santos, known as M0XC4, is a visual artist and industrial design student. Much of his multimedia production goes beyond 3D, capturing and manipulating images, discussed as social constructions imposed on the body of racialised people in Brazil. 

In this context, the artist sees exploration as a device injected into the culture of subjects, from dimensions such as work, automatism, industrialisation, and the body-machine. He explores the subversion of values ​​by building non-usable and non-exploitable humanoid machines.

For SP-ARTE 2022, the artist presented an excerpt from his current research that interpolates large-scale printing techniques such as serigraphy with the modes of conventional painting. Superimposed on a machine universe of references that range from his childhood in the family mechanic shop to the debate on automatism provoked by contemporaneity, he creates his own machinery. 

His works mirror replication techniques and tubular arsenals as part of the development of a new humanoid, as well as pursue the possibility of contesting painting as an ‘installational image’.

M0XC4, 0NY4N, 2022, Mixed media on canvas, 161 x 91 cm. Courtesy of HOA Galeria.

Kenrick McFarlane, represented by Unit London

Born 1990 in Chicago, Illinois, US. Lives and works in Los Angeles, California, US

For his oil paintings, Jamaican-American artist Kenrick McFarlane takes inspiration from old masters’ compositions and visual techniques of Renaissance painting, juxtaposing those with a bold colour palette and a cartoonish stylisation. 

McFarlane skilfully comments on the politics of self-representation and the historical objectification of Black people in visual culture and beyond. By allowing the protagonists of his canvases to inhabit stories filled with intimacy, vulgarity, humour, and beauty, he disrupts and redefines traditional Black portraiture.

Another characteristic quality in McFarlane’s practice is an alluring retention of details, such as the blurring of facial features and figures reduced to mere colourful brushstrokes. This abstraction gives the viewer space to participate in the narrative, while at the same time permitting the subjects a sense of privacy and self-preservation. Recently, McFarlane’s work was exhibited at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in Los Angeles, where the artist is currently based.

Kenrick McFarlane, A Reunion of Two Souls, 2021, Oil on canvas, 91.4 x 91.4 cm. Courtesy of Unit London.

Esther Mahlangu, represented by albertz benda

Born 1935 in Middleburg, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Lives and works in Middleburg, Mpumalanga, South Africa

As a young girl, Esther Mahlangu learned traditional Ndebele mural painting, which features large-scale geometric patterning rendered with extreme precision. Now 82, Mahlangu still employs the techniques that she adopted at age 10 – painting her lines and shapes freehand using a chicken feather and without stencils or preparatory drawings. 

Despite her use of traditional forms and techniques, Mahlangu is a resolutely contemporary artist. Early on, she began to translate the traditional Ndebele aesthetic into a more individualistic style. She has cited the realisation that relatively few people would view her mural paintings in her home region as the impetus to adapt her work to other settings. 

She has since painted buildings in Tokyo, created artwork for BMW cars and painted British Airways airplanes. Today, as one of the few women still adept at painting in the traditional Ndebele idiom, she remains a living link to the history of the Ndebele people while brilliantly adapting her work to a global context. Solo exhibitions include Esther Mahlangu, presented by BMW, Frieze, London (2016) and Esther Mahlangu 80, University of Cape Town, Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town (2015).

Esther Mahlangu, Ndebele Abstract, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 120x 120 cm. Courtesy of the artist’s studio.

Sikelela Owen, represented by Taymour Grahne Projects

Born 1984 in London, United Kingdom. Lives and works in London, United Kingdom

Sikelela Owen is an artist who brings experiences that are usually behind closed doors out in the open. In Owen’s paintings, familial bonds providing a safe space are openly and generously depicted. Owen takes her figures from family photographs and stills, merging them with art historical references from the past and present. 

Whilst partly autobiographical, the works are not limited to realism. There is fair scope for alternative histories to be imagined and explored. Her depictions of Black figures illuminate those previously consigned to the shadows of art history.

Owen’s work is actively becoming a part of the zeitgeist and the important renaissance in the painting of Black figures. She has participated in solo exhibitions at James Freeman Gallery, London, HSBC Canada Place, London, and NAM Project, Milan, as well as exhibited in group shows at BEERS London and GESSO Artspace, Vienna.

Sikelela Owen, Eli and Bear, 2021, Oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne Projects.

Henry ‘Mzili’ Mujunga, represented by Afriart Gallery

Born 1971 in Kampala, Uganda. Lives and works in Kampala, Uganda

Mzili’s work references his immediate environment, both natural and man-made, to construct scenarios of heroism that seek to champion human strength and empathy. 

His work features numerous seemingly disparate objects brought together into a single frame. They are set in intimate spaces where highly personal interactions take place – often combining several such spaces into one. The titles of his works describe the interactions within the paintings themselves, and at the same time allude to external associations. 

The renowned painter and printmaker is an indigenous expressionist: making reference to his intuition, childhood memories, and learned practice to create artworks.

In 2003, Mzili was a winner of the Royal Overseas League Art Scholarship, and in 2022 he was shortlisted for the Norval Sovereign African Art Prize. His work is in several prestigious collections and has been exhibited globally, including at ARCO Lisbon 2022, South South Veza 2021, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair New York 2019, Cape Town Art Fair 2017/18, and FNB Art Joburg 2016.

Henry Mzili Mujunga, Red blanket and Devine, 2020, Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm. Courtesy of Afriart Gallery.


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New African

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