Review: 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair 2018

By Maya MK

1-54 African Contemporary Art Fair

From 4-7 October, 1-54 African Contemporary Art Fair is opening its doors to visitors. In the heart of London at Somerset House (South Wing).
Now in its 6th year, this international art fair is the brainchild of Touria El Glaoui.

Siwa Mgoboza and Maya MK @thecaratsoup
Siwa Mgoboza (Artist) and Maya MK (Founding Editor @thecaratsoup)

The thing about art fairs these days is-… actually no. The thing about anything these days, it’s a matter of what is most Instagrammable. What can I put on the Internet that everybody will “like, share, follow and subscribe to?” A question often asked by regular social media users. We get a buzz from it. This is possibly one of the most awkward reviews I’ve written to date. Not just on The Carat Soup. I mean, ever written by me and published. Here goes…

Watching an artist in their atelier in VR was certainly one of my personal highlights.

1-54 African Contemporary Art Fair 2018
By Siwa Mgoboza

1-54 African Contemporary Art Fair 2018

You know that feeling when you go for sports day and you truly want your child/niece/nephew/grandchild to win the race they’re in. They are 6 years old, donning their house team’s colour and you’re squawking at them like a colony of penguins shimmying on an iceberg. Well, that was my sentiment yesterday as I walked into Somerset House for the 2018 edition of 1-54 African Contemporary Art Fair. I truly wanted to like it. Really, really, like it. Post about it online. Show off about it. Find any excuse at dinner parties to bring up the topic: “Oh you know, it reminds me of the time I was at the 1-54 African Contemporary Art Fair in London.” Alas, I don’t think I’ll be doing the latter.

1-54 African Contemporary Art Fair 2018

The Concept
At first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I couldn’t quite understand what the problem was. Lighting? No. Floor pattern? Possibly. Reader please note, I’m a stickler for detail and often insist on walking clockwise at most fairs, shops (even at the supermarket!) and exhibitions. After roughly 3 hours of walking, absorbing the atmosphere and soaking up the pleasure and pain that comes with getting up close and personal with Works, I had an aha moment. Allow me to digress one more time and then we’ll get stuck in… You know how there’s an emerald ring and a ring with emeralds. That’s a statement, not a question. It’s the same with African contemporary art. There’s artwork by contemporary African (and diaspora) artists and then there’s contemporary African (and diaspora) art. Capturing 54 diverse nations under one roof was always going to be arduous. As there are numerous differences and differences in differences. It’s great to have a space dedicated to a part of the art world that has seen a (relatively) recent increase in demand. Yet, execution is everything.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The Galleries/Exhibitors
An art connoisseur and collector asked me: “Who’re the biggest art dealers and galleries in Zambia?”, I replied “X, Y and Z” (with actual names), they asked: “are they here?”, I said, “no”, eurgh. Again another question, “what about the same for Namibia?”, I hastily and heatedly replied, “no”. I do wish there could be galleries from each country respectively, represented here in London. It would make an enormous difference. Curators, directors and decision makers @154artfair please take this into consideration going forward.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The Art (including highlights)
The whole point of going to an art fair is to see art, n’est-ce pas. Some was a bit “flat”, though I wonder if that was influenced by the distinct lack of oomph and some of the distasteful pieces. We’re in 2018 for crying out loud, can somebody please make a public service announcement as a reminder!?! I’m surprised some of it is allowed to be exhibited.
Artists of note
Ibrahim El-Salahi; Taiye Idahor; Siwa Mgoboza; Nadia Kaabi-Linke; Lrvandy; Esther Mahlangu; Nelson Makamo; Evans Mbugua – who in summer 2018, did a fascinating collab with Chaumet.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Ultimately
Support the arts because you believe in it.
Support the artists because you believe in them.
You also believe in the magic, power and beauty of art.
Yet, make sure it is an authentic experience with sincere incentives.
To represent a continent the size of Africa with a population of 1 billion, is always going to have its challenges. Yet talking to people on the ground, with sheer talent and who are business savvy, shall add the je ne sais quoi to 1-54 African Contemporary Art Fair 2019 which was otherwise missing in 2018. Fingers crossed for the 7th edition!