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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I first came across Beninese artist
years ago when he was featured in the Global Africa Project at the Museum of Arts and Design
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.
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
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.
Similar to fellow Beninese artist
, 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.
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.
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.
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.