There is a star for each African country sprinkled across the piece, with symbolic objects—religious items, bottles, and French tour books—hanging from each one. A square patch in the upper left is painted a heavy green, representing hope that the legacies of colonialism can be overcome.
The stars make clear what should be obvious but can often go forgotten: Africa isn’t one single place, but lots of countries and cultures, with different histories, some of which have fared better than others. As a result, there’s a broad diversity of artistic practices and perspectives within the continent. And there are also artists on view at the fair who aren’t citizens of an African nation, but who hail from the Diaspora, or who engage with the continent in their work.
Of the 20 galleries with booths, eight are actually located in Africa—up from four last year. So what even is “African art”?
“[The term] baffles me,” artist
said, standing in front of Ghana-based Gallery 1957
’s booth. His sculptural works, priced between $12,000 and $25,000, are comprised of square cuts of large plastic oil jugs. Manufactured in the United States, the wan-colored containers are shipped to Africa, where, after the oil is used, they’re repurposed to hold water. By cutting the American plastic up in Africa and exhibiting it in its country of origin, Clottey is highlighting the uncertain terms of “African art.”
“What do we call this?” Clottey asked of his work. “I’m working in Ghana and I think about the entire world.”