It was an early start for me as I RSVP’d to be at the Press Preview breakfast and launch of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. The previous day it was raining heavily on and off and I was hoping that the weather would stay nice and calm. Luckily the sun came out to play and the morning air was crisp, but it was cold. And it is Black History Month!
This is the seventh edition of the fair which is held at Somerset House with 45 galleries from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and North America showcasing contemporary African art from all over the world with 15 of those galleries showcasing for the first time.
This year, the 1-54 Courtyard Sculpture Commission is The Fortress by Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda and for South African Mary Sibande, a first major solo UK exhibition of her photographic and sculptural works I Came Apart at the Seams which will continue on after the fair has ended until 5th January 2020. Another solo exhibition that will continue on after the fair until 20th October is an Afrofuturist tableaux Water Life by Ethiopian photographer and artist, Aïda Mulunehwith a further nine solo exhibitions by various artists being displayed during the fair.
For me, this year 1-54 was an amazing experience as it was a long day of looking at artwork, networking and taking pictures. I even managed to squeeze in a visit to a pop-up hosted by Mak Gallery of a photography exhibition Jamm Rek: Quotidien Senegal by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn which ends on the same day on Sunday 6th October as 1-54. So, if you are in the area, please go and check it out. The address is 62 Church Street, London, NW8 8ET – nearest station is Edgware Road.
I went back to Somerset House for the evening event of drinks and more networking then I decided to call it a night.
Please give yourself plenty of time to walk through the fair’s space if you do decide to go, as there is so much to see judging from the ‘few’ photographs I have shared. And there are also screenings and talks happening as well, which are free to ticket holders, but you will need to book as spaces can be limited.
If you are reading this before the 06th of October and are in London, please go and see it. I highly recommend it. Tickets are £25.00 for Day Ticket/ £10.00 concessions. Children under 12 go free. Friday is FREE for students with student ID.
I almost didn’t go to this exhibition. I had a pretty intense migraine for a few days and the last thing I needed was a ton of information being introduced to my already hurting head. If it wasn’t for my friends insisting, I would have easily stayed at home regretting my decision.
So, I gave myself a pep talk that morning and made my way to Somerset House where it was being held. I took a ten-minute stroll from Holborn Station convincing myself that I needed the fresh air and it was worth it. As I approached Somerset House from The Strand, on the facade was Multigraph 023 of artist Larry Achiampong that was shot by fellow artist and filmmakers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. Seeing this I knew I was in for a treat. Ok, truth be told, I didn’t know what to expect.
Side note: I loved what Larry said when he showed his mum his portrait on the facade of Somerset House.
“Waited a while to show mum this image (shot by @iainandjane 🙏🏿) which is at the front of @somersethouse via Strand.
We talked about the cleaning jobs we did in the area years ago
Mum talked about legacy, about the importance of (the kids and others) seeing black faces in this way….. about coming to this country with nothing, but now feeling like she’d gained something”
The skies were grey and the fountains at the courtyard were on. It was hard not to miss the entrance to the exhibition which was colourful against the grey exterior of the building. As soon as I made my way in, I purchased my ticket and had it scanned. The lady at the entrance handed it back to me and said start from the left side of the space and immediately I was hit by a very colourful corridor that made me stop in my tracks. Very Instagrammable and memorable. I could tell that the exhibition curator Zak Ové wanted the visitors to be left with a lasting impression from the get-go. How could you miss all that colour and pomp?
From poetry, photographs, sculptures, fabrics, music, video, film, etc., anything you can think of that can be exhibited in an art exhibition was there. Zak Ové did an amazing job curating this show. A glimpse on Black creativity spanning over 50 years. I have just a few shared photographs I managed to take whilst in the space and they don’t do the experience justice.
Also, I honestly thought the exhibition would be in the whole of Somerset House, but it was only on the West Wing of the building. I was low-key disappointed, but all that disappointment faded as there was plenty to see. Everywhere you looked you were drawn to what was being displayed. The experience was definitely multi-sensory. From the floors to the windows, even the skirting boards were carefully curated and thought out to bring the colourful nature of black art and creativity. The whole space was just a sculpture on its own. I loved it.
The poem ‘Wherever They Hang’ by Grace Nichols and ‘Before’ by Selena Nwulu are my favourites. This coming from a person who hardly reads poetry. As an immigrant, they just resonated with me.
Despite my migraine, I experienced Get Out, Stand Up Now for hours that I didn’t even notice the time pass by. I am glad that I did see it before it ended and that I bought the catalogue from the show.
If you are reading this before the 15th of September and are in London, please go and see it. I highly recommend it. Tickets are £12.50 for adults / £9.50 concessions. Children under 12 go free.