The Buzz Around Contemporary African Art: 10 Trending Artists at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair

On the occasion of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, we asked New York-based critic, curator, and entrepreneur Larry Ossei-Mensah to offer his insights on the most popular artists during our fair preview, based on pageviews.

The opening of the second installment of the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair during London’s Frieze Week is a groundbreaking moment for the art world. 1:54 continues to offer an incredible opportunity for curators, collectors, and art enthusiasts to immerse themselves in an experience showcasing a diverse range of artworks from over 100 artists representing Africa and the diaspora. By exhibiting an amazing ensemble of emerging and established talent to an international audience, 1:54 serves as a dynamic platform fostering the fervent interest in contemporary African art. As a curator who is always looking to discover new and interesting artists, the trending list is a wonderful snapshot of the talent percolating from Africa and the diaspora.

The artists featured on this trend list are dynamic, thought provoking, and clearly demonstrate why there is such a buzz around contemporary African art. These artists are utilizing a variety of mediums and materials to inject their point of view into the global artistic discourse. 1:54 provides its visitors an opportunity to discover and be part of a historic movement that promises to change the way we see art, ourselves and the world around us.

1. Peju Alatise

Nigeria-based mixed-media artist Peju Alatise tops the list of trending artists at 1:54. Alatise’s interest in investigating the power of womanhood by utilizing clothing as a material to evoke a representation of the body is truly delightful. Alatise’s work is pulsating with energy and can’t be ignored. Her work promises to be a show stopper this week.

2. Marcia Kure

Nigerian artist Marcia Kure is someone whom I’ve been following closely since seeing her solo exhibition at Susan Inglett Gallery in New York in 2013. Kure explores themes of female identity and hip-hop culture juxtaposed with Victorian and historical fashion, resulting in a dynamic visual discourse around postcolonial existential conditions. I’m particularly drawn to Kure’s photomontages; created with a painterly aesthetic featuring abstracted bodies the works read as more than just a collage. Through appropriation, Kure skillfully takes fragments that tend to define one’s identity to reconstruct a visually striking narrative that is both beautiful and eerie.

3. Meschac Gaba

Representing Benin, Meschac Gaba is a conceptual artist who investigates the constructions of cultural identities and systems of commerce resulting in a playful discourse between African and Western spaces. After being introduced to Gaba’s work during his first solo exhibition in the United States earlier this year, I’m continually delighted by Gaba’s whimsical oscillation between the usage of art and everyday objects. This clever interplay creates a dynamic access point for the viewer to question their notions of systems, hierarchy, intrinsic value, and the establishment.

4. Romuald Hazoumè

I first came across Beninese artist Romuald Hazoumè several years ago when he was featured in the Global Africa Project at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. He is well known for his masques-bidon, or "jerrican masks,” which pay homage to traditional West African masks. What makes Hazoumè’s work truly charming is his humorous Duchampian twist via the appropriation of gasoline jerricans to create his masks. Hazoumè cleverly critiques the multifaceted relationship between Africa and the West via the trope of the mask, which for some is the personification of African art. By leveraging the universal language of humor and irony, Hazoumè creates a platform for political dialogue, while making his work accessible to all audiences.

5.Soly Cissé

Soly Cissé is a Senegalese artist that I just discovered through Artsy. Cissé’s work explores themes of duality, repetition, tradition, and modernity. His paintings palpitate with vitality and rhythm, captivating the imagination of the viewer. I love his use of color and the fluidity of the brushstrokes. Cissé’s work will be a pleasant surprise for 1:54 visitors.  

6. Sandile Zulu 

South African artist Sandile Zulu adroitly marries organic materials and urban detritus to create idiosyncratic works of art. Zulu’s experimental approach to art making, although at times scientific, leaves room for chance and lets nature operate as a co-creator. Often incorporating fire, water, earth, and water into most of his works, Zulu seeks to actively investigate the metaphysical relationship present in all things that give us life. 

7. Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou

Similar to fellow Beninese artist Romuald Hazoumè, photographer Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou juxtaposes the historic with the contemporary, resulting in work that makes a very unique statement. His painterly photographic portraits from the “Demoiselles de Porto-Novo” series (2012) are visually arresting and actively engage in an art historical dialogue, questioning the notions of religion and tradition, as well as both the presence and the void of the black body. I’m delighted that visitors will have the pleasure of seeing these works. Agbodjelou is really pushing the conversation through his artistic practice.

8. Nnenna Okore

I was first introduced to Nnenna Okore through another artist who implored me to check out her work. I was astonished by what I saw and am not surprised to see her on this list. Okore is a Nigerian artist who explores the notions of transformation and regeneration via observations of her environment. She utilizes a variety of materials, from newspaper to burlap, within her artistic practice. I love the shadows that her piece featured on Artsy, Everything Good shall Come to Pass (2014),casts when you view it. Okore is definitely an artist on the rise and should be on everyone’s radar. 

9. Maïmouna Guerresi

Words cannot appropriately capture how in awe I am of Maïmouna Guerresi’s work. Primarily known for her stunning photography, Guerresi provides a profound viewpoint of the relationship between women and society with a series of visually lush photographic tableaux. Her carefully composed photographs exist in a three dimensional space as a result of the vibrant colors and sculptural poses of her subjects, and the mystical vortex that draws the viewer into each piece. Simply wonderful work.

10. Omar Victor Diop

Omar Victor Diop is one of the youngest artists featured on this trending list and for good reason. Diop is an artist whose star is on the rise. His photographs portray a cultural collision of history, identity, and discovery.  Diop seeks to use his work as a catalyst to challenge the viewer to rethink their personal beliefs about history and the untold stories, by creating new narratives.

—Larry Ossei-Mensah

Explore 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair 2014 on Artsy.

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