The night begins with chicken wings in my bag from one of my favourite Vietnamese spots in Holborn, Viet Eat. After 2 or 3 visits into different gallery spaces, I decided that I no longer can go round polluting the VIP bougie air with the smell of wings and so, I desperately get rid of it. Back in now, wine and orangeade flowing, roars of laughter and conversations being sparked, and me pretending to be an art critic. I was very fortunate to have gotten a VIP ticket to be among the firsts to view the overwhelmingly spectacular pieces of art in abundance; a collector most certainly would be spoilt for choice. Ekow Eshun did a tremendous job in curating the theme Freefall which is suggested as a method of interrogating blackness.
If you’re unfamiliar with 1-54, it is an art fair that showcases contemporary African Art from Africa and the diaspora. It’s an art fair that has taken art by Africans on an international scale, putting them in one large space and allowing consumers/collectors of Art to witness ideas of liberation, blackness and, many times, home. It’s an opportunity to get to know new artists and meet artists you may have admired from afar.
Upon arrival at the Somerset House, where the 6th edition of 1-54 London is held, you are met by great sculptures inspired by the characteristics of the Haraz, a type of acacia tree found in Sudan. Created by Ibrahim El-Salahi, Meditation Tree is his first sculpture which was commissioned for the courtyard. The Somerset house is immense; it is incredibly easy to get lost if you’re similar to me and have little to no sense of direction. Luckily, there are great workers readily available to assist and guide you when necessary.
I am constantly blown away by how impressive Alexis Peskine’s work is. He is repeatedly my highlight whenever his works are being shown, and at 1-54 we get to see a number of unseen portraits as well as some photography. Represented by the October Gallery or as I like to call them, OG, Peskine’s popular creations of portraits using nails on wood and gold/silver leaf never fails to engross the audience.
Pictured above are sculptures by Gerard Quenum in the middle, pieces by LR Vandy further back and more portraits by Alexis Peskine. All represented by October Gallery.
Unknowingly and bizarrely, I had limited Zak Ové as someone who only created sculptures and I’m quite familiar with the Astronaut creation on the left but I was pleasantly surprised to see the golden beauty on the right. Ové is a man of many talents and also works in film, photography and painting.
Painter and printmaker, Atta Kwami (b. 1956) interrogates wider concepts such as migration and acceptance alongside looking at architecture and woven textiles from West Africa.
Born (1988) and living in Uganda, Ian Mwesiga explores black portraiture and memory using trends that were relevant in post-independence Uganda from colonial rule.
After their grand installation of virtual reality at the 2017 1-54, I was really looking forward to what Nandos would bring again. I frequent Nandos… a lot. And I’m always excited to see the artworks hanging at their various locations as they champion the works of South African artists. This year, I was not disappointed by their installation. They brought along a number of artists like Ricky Dyaloyi who is a painter and the artist behind the piece above. Alongside there was yet another virtual reality — as it was so popular last year — of Dyaloyi in his hometown, Cape Town, where we get to look around in his studio and see the surroundings that inspire him.
1-54 is open from tomorrow (Thursday 4th) till Sunday 7th to the public. Tickets are still available and can be purchased at the ticket desk at Somerset House or online by clicking here and selecting a day you’d like to attend. I shall be going back for more as I did not get to see the entirety of the fair because, as stated at the start of this post, the Somerset House is vast. If you’ll be attending, do let me know. Carve out at least an hour to appreciate each wing as we celebrate blackness during this black history month.