After too long neglecting the electrifying art scene across Africa, there has been a recent upsurge of international interest in the contemporary African art market.
In 2015, Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor was appointed the first African director of the Venice Biennale. Collectors and institutions worldwide are slowly starting to realize the extent of the untapped potential of the continent’s burgeoning art market.
Of the satellite fairs to visit during London’s Frieze week, “1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair” is a must. Now in its fourth year, the fair is over three times the size of its inaugural edition, an evolution that is a testament to African art’s growing cachet.
Showcasing more than 130 artists and 40 participating galleries—16 of which are based in the continent—1:54 presents a spate of offerings from newcomers and established artists alike. This year, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Egypt are all making appearances for the first time.
“It’s nice to see Africa being under a unified continent and everybody here representing their artists,” says founding director Touria El Glaoui. “This is what’s most exciting for me: this platform for collaboration, for people to meet institutions.”
The fair that used to fit inside one small wing of Somerset House is now staged throughout the building and extends into the courtyard, with a site-specific installation of 40 sculptural figures by London and Trinidad based sculptor Zak Ové.
Inside the fair there is a lot to take in. On Wednesday, Somerset House was bustling, despite the preview coinciding with Frieze, and the elbow rubbing going on in the vibrant lounge was accompanied by the musical styling of Gilles Peterson’s new radio station, Worldwide FM, broadcasting live from the Revue bookstore.
Prices at 1:54 habitually range from £1,000 – £90,000, but heading the fair this year is a £600,000 drawing by Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi, Reborn Sounds III (2015), presented by Vigo Gallery. Upstairs, El-Salahi’s The Arab Spring Notebook is also presented in a non-selling show as part of the special projects by Modern Forms.