Omar Kholeif's Curated Highlights from 1-54 London 2022

Oct 10, 2022 11:09AM

Dr. Omar Kholeif is an author, curator, historian, and broadcaster who currently serves as Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE. Kholeif—one of the most prolific creators of their generation is the author, co-author, or editor of 41 books; is the curator of 63 exhibitions, and the commissioner of more than 100 works of art. They are the Curator of the 1-54 FORUM. Working as Dr. O, they host the artPost21 Podcast on art, music, and the emotional experience of collective listening. In 2022, Sternberg Press published a new book series developed by Kholeif, Imagine Otherwise, focusing on queer, non-binary, and female artists. The first in the sequence focuses on Sonia Balassanian and was released in October 2022. In Spring 2023, Phaidon will publish their much-anticipated book, Internet_Art: From the Birth of the Web to the Rise of NFTs.

Omar Khloeif by Blake Gallacher

The mind boggles. A decade has passed and 1-54’s programme guides, and annual books now form an arsenal of knowledge on contemporary art of Africa and its multiple diasporas. The inaugural edition of 1-54 in autumn 2013 presented 15 exhibitors, showcasing a thoughtful and focused presentation of artworks by the likes of Edson Chagas and Ernest Mancoba. Now, on the precipice of the Fair’s 10th anniversary, I have arrived to bear witness to 1-54’s sweeping takeover of Somerset House, where there is much to discover, revisit, as well as art that will serve to deepen and nourish our reservoirs of aesthetic knowledge.

At Selebe Yoon, I am enchanted by Arébénor Bassene’s epic upstretched and unstretched canvasses—the ink, graphite and natural pigments are layered and textured, creating a palimpsest like dreamscape in the The Night Fighters (2022).

Arébénor Bassene
The Night Fighters ('Les combattants de la nuit'), 2022
Selebe Yoon

At Richard Salton Gallery are some of the most pointed feminist artists of their respective generations—figures who each harken for critical re-appraisal on a global stage. Everlyn Nicodemus’s Mama from 1985 fashions an evocative expanse, where the body is a mutable site of re-working. Jan Wade’s Coloured Entrance (Epiphany) (1995/2018) is a prime example of the artist’s found objects, which she uses to create makeshift shrines and altar pieces for the vanquished—her work, this among them, exists as an act of reclamation.

A hugely significant work—is the exhibition of the late, Mozambican, and Italian artist, Bertina Lopes. Her oil on canvas from 1963, Totem, is a rare opportunity to see and indeed, acquire, a work from one of the pioneers of modern art in Africa.

I am thrilled to see Portas Vilaseca Galeria from Brazil making an appearance this year. I look forward to spending a little more time with Pedro Neves’s work. Loeve&Co. Gallery, Paris, is presenting a unique booth of work by Roland Dorcely, a Haitian painter whose art I discovered in the Sharjah Art Foundation Collection.

Pedro Neves
Untitled, 2022
Portas Vilaseca Galeria

Zanele Muholi’s portraits also feature throughout this special tenth anniversary edition. It is a magnificent occasion to be reunited with Muholi’s self-portraits after their Tate retrospective. I was particularly struck by seeing Muholi’s person cast in bronze such as in, Muholi II (2021).

At Eduardo Secci Contemporary, I found myself descending into Adjani Okpu-Egbe’s Two Million Years of Consciousness (2013)—his Afro-Expressionist dreams for freedom, play with archetype and stereotype, upturning them constantly. Elsewhere, Omar Mahfoudi’s works on paper works were a discovery—these ink drawings are so fine and delicate, and yet seemingly free, and precise at the same time.

Adjani Okpu-Egbe
Two Million Years of Consciousness, 2013
Eduardo Secci Contemporary

Sola Olulode’s Fluffy (2022) brought a smile to my face. Their scenes of intimate queer love are ebullient, colourful, transcendent—reconciling multiple historical points of reference in their material and form. Mulambo’s flailing, or rather falling palm tree, is reminiscent of colonial atrophy, meanwhile Selma Feriani presents an unusual rendering from M'Barek Bouhchichi—a Moroccan pattern on rubber—a work that is elusive and intricate as it is tactile. Feriani—who in the last decade has come to be recognised as one of the pioneering galleries to emerge from the continent, also presents a number of works by Malek Gnaoui—my favourite is a brass plated sculpture wedged by a round bar. A once roaring lion sits at its base, not quite able to elicit its growl. Still, all things considered, ten years on, 1-54, is ushering us through its halls with anything but a hushed whisper—the expansiveness of this year’s presentation is tailored to unmoor all expectation of one’s imagination of African art.

–– Dr. Omar Kholeif

Omar Mahfoudi
Le Touareg , 2022
Sola Olulode
Fluffy, 2022
Berntson Bhattacharjee
M'Barek Bouhchichi
Moroccan Pattern No. IV, 2018
Selma Feriani Gallery
Malek Gnaoui
S.C/22 above below, 2022
Selma Feriani Gallery