It seems like only yesterday when 1-54 burst onto the UK art scene, but this year's event is, in fact, its seventh. Founded by Touria El Glaoui in 2013, it is the first leading international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa.
For 2019's fair, there are 45 galleries from 19 different countries exhibiting work of more than 140 emerging and established artists, working in a wide variety of mediums. There'll also be nine solo exhibitions, which feature artists such as Louisa Marajo, Alexandria Smith, Godfried Donkor, Prinston Nnanna, Anton Kannemeyer, Chourouk Hriech, Michaeka Younge, Ibrahim El Salahi and Mohau Modisakeng.
With so much to see, we've picked out a few highlights, starting with I Came Apart at the Seams, a collaboration between Somerset House and 1-54 which will showcase new and celebrated works from one of South Africa’s most prominent contemporary artists Mary Sibande.
In her first solo UK exhibition, Sibande presents photographic and sculptural works which explore the power of the imagination and righteous anger in shaping post-colonial identity in South Africa. The show follows the journey of Sibande’s alter-ego, Sophie, as she transitions through time, colour and form, between what has been and what could be. Sibande looks at the body, and particularly how it is clothed, exploring it as a site where history and its legacies can be contested and redressed.
The works on display will centre around the artist’s own body, using it as a vessel to pay homage to generations of women in her family who worked as domestic labourers whilst seeking to empower her own, post-apartheid generation.
Elsewhere, WaterAid, in partnership with Somerset House, will present Water Life, a series of Afrofuturist tableaux by Ethiopian artist and photographer Aïda Muluneh, shot against the extreme backdrop of one of the driest places on earth, Dallol, in the Afar District of Ethiopia.
Reflecting on her travels across the country, Muluneh looks at the number of women who travel on foot carrying heavy containers of water. Each image in this body of work responds to the challenge of water access, exploring it as a social issue directly impacting rural regions and the development of whole communities. The works unpack ideas of gender and equality and reflect broader themes such as women’s liberation, health, sanitation and education.
Studio Kameni, meanwhile, aims to explore, discover and give new life to the photographic archives of Michel "Papami" Kameni, who documented the rapid evolution of postcolonial Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, from 1963 onwards. Through these images transpire the dreams and aspirations of a nation in transition, new musical influences, a westernised fashion and an evolving fusion of tradition and modernity.
1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair runs from 3 October until 6 October 2019. Discover more highlights at 1-54.com.