My Highlights from 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair 2014

Simon Njami
Oct 6, 2014 7:11PM

I like to be surprised by works that question what I see and what I know, when an artist imposes nothing on me and leaves me free to enter his work. The level of this second edition has evolved tremendously. I could have picked a couple more, but there is always a moment when we have to put the full stop.

My Selection:

François-Xavier Gbré, Pyramide, Saint Louis, Sénégal, 2012, at Galerie Cécile Fakhoury - Abidjan

Humor. Decontextualization. Distance. Gbré uses superb colors that give us the feeling of being in some distant planet, with that incredible pyramid standing there, waiting for no one, useless, and that, of course, we cannot help but compare with that of Pei standing in front of the Louvre.

Otobong Nkanga, Alterscape stories: Spilling Waste, 2006-2014, at In Situ - Fabienne Leclerc

The only female artist in my selection, it seems. I could have picked Dominique Zinkpe or Mechac Gaba, but Otobong Nkanga, besides being the only woman here, deconstructs our realities with a subtlety and grace that is still incredibly violent, so that I always feel a charge in what she does—a charge that mixes a very ancient wisdom and contemporary wit.

Mosekwa Langa, Radithangtang, 2006, at Magnin A

I am happy that this very talented artist is back among us. He has a genuine gift for drawing. There is a certain magic that he is able to convey with his brushes, one that I don't encounter that often.

Ernest Mancoba, Untitled, 1985, at Galerie Mikael Andersen

The missing link of the Cobra group. A painter who should be in all art museums, in Africa and abroad. A man whom I've met (I've met a lot of people) and whose charisma, made out of modesty and great talent should not be lost for generations to come.

Ransome StanleySMILE FOR MALICK, 2014, at ARTCO Gallery

The smile, the gaze, the playfulness of this composition make me smile too. Who is Malick? Who is this man who drives me back the the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz era? Is this fading young man the heir to the other man at the left, who reminds me of the two "Fats", Domino and Wallers? Art can be just a smile. 

Sammy Baloji, Untitled #25, 2006, at Galerie Imane Farés

The confrontation that never really takes place between the colonizer and the colonized is performed here in a very witty manner. The work, both visually and intellectually, plays with the notion of time. There are multiple layers brought together to create an uneasiness that is, according to me, the very matter of history.

Younès Rahmoun, Zahra Fidda 44/77, 2010, at Galerie Imane Farés

It is not Malevich, of course. But I like those silent works, to use a Barthes word, that force us to look carefully. There is always a mystery contained in those canvasses that seem empty but, in reality, tell so much more. There is a lightness here (in both senses) that attracts and catches the eye.

Mauro Pinto, A luta continua, 2012, at Afronova

This photograph plays ironically with different recurrent topics in Africa: sex (prostitution), style, body image, and history. The tag in the back, that we cannot completely read, refers to liberation struggles. The slogan could be interpreted here in so many ways...

John Liebenberg, Training jump by SADF outside Windhoek, Namibia, 1987, at Afronova

This image is intriguing. The fact that we know these are people training to jump with a parachute doesn't diminish the feeling that we are seeing strange birds lost in the immensity of the sky.

Joël AndrianomearisoaMali Mali, 2009, at Primo Marella Gallery

Black is a color that encompasses all colors. But black is never really black.

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

Simon Njami