Somerset House, London

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair occurs for three days during Frieze Week and is in it its fifth edition this year. Located in central London at the historic Somerset House, booths are housed across its East and West wings in an intimate but continuous labyrinth through corridors. Initially set up as to counter the lack of visibility and representation of a diverse showing of African and diasporic artists at global art fairs, 1:54 has now established itself as a critical and engaging platform for contemporary African art. Central to this is a core emphasis on the diversity of voices both within and outside of the continent, alongside this is a desire to shift the focus from a select few who are on the international art world’s radar.

42 galleries from 17 countries showed more than 130 artists with this year’s Special Projects programme included a major solo exhibition of British-Moroccan artist, Hassan Hajjaj, a site-specific installation programme with new commissions by Pascale Marthine Tayou and Emeka Ogboh, a new performance programme with Hana Tefrati and Adejoke Tugbiyele, and the 1:54 Lounge, designed by design kid-on-the-block, Yinka Ilori who is one of the most exciting young designers in London now. Hajjajs’ first solo show in London in seven years, La Caravane brings together his signatory portraiture style that ‘seduce the viewer, whilst confronting culture-specific beliefs and values.’ A new body of work is included here, My Rock Stars: Volume 2, a nine-screen installation of musicians occupying individual screens who take turns playing their instruments, whilst other performers turned to watch them.

Ilori was invited to design the fairs’ lounge and does not shy away from using colour in his work. He draws on his Nigerian heritage, its folklore, oral and textile histories as inspiration for his unique up-cycled vintage furniture and here, he transformed the space into an installation titled A United Family eats from the same plate, an invitation for visitors to come together in a celebratory manner to eat, drink, laugh and exchange.

Finally, Goodman Gallery presented a curated film programme entitled History is Not Mine that considered overlooked and suppressed histories. A highlight of this was American artist Hank Willis Thomas’s Overtime, 2011, a conceptual and poignant video depicting a lone black male basketball player pitting himself against the perimeters of the court with the hoop serving as part of the sport/sportsmanship, and also as a metaphor for a noose, and its problematic place in African-American history.

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair took place between 5-8 October and you can read more about the fair here

Featured image: Safaa Erruas, Invisibles, 2011, Installation with metal structures, cotton yarns and images of the eyes, 700 x 400 cm, Courtesy of L’Atelier 21.