Nataal’s highlights from
the second edition of 1:54 African
art fair in New York

1:54 enjoyed a second successful year of showcasing contemporary African art in New York at Pioneer Works in early May. (Read our preview here ). Here’s Nataal’s pick of artist highlights from the four-day fair.

Beatrice Wanjiku (ARTLabAfrica)
This Kenyan artist showed works from her most recent Straightjacket series of paintings and collages exploring the boundaries put upon individuals by society. Her haunted, abstract figures express the aching chasm between our thwarted desires and life’s realities. Beatrice Wanjiku graduated from Nairobi’s Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts in 2000 and has recently exhibited at Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Richard Taittinger Gallery in NYC and completed a residency at Iwalewa Haus in Bayreuth, Germany.

Joël Andrianomearisoa (Magnin-A / Sabrina Amrani Gallery)
Concurrently presenting a solo at Dak’art and 1:54 – and recently awarded the Audemars Piguet ARCOmadrid Prize 2016 - Joël Andrianomearisoa is in high demand. Based between Paris and his native Antananarivo, his practice is concerned with ambiguities of the urban environment expressed through shades of black and incorporating photography, video, sculpture, installation and performance. His piece Antananarivo Love Playfield Dead Tree of My New Life uses found objects and archival materials to take us on a “sensorial journey through the Malagasy capital that seductively oscillates between the ephemeral and the permanent.” Postcards, texts, maps and textiles layer together to create poetic illusions.

Phoebe Boswell (Taffeta)
Born in Nairobi, growing up in the Middle East and living in London (where she graduated from Slade School of Fine Art), Phoebe Boswell’s work unpicks notion of home and migration through drawing, animation and installation. Last year she completed a residency in Goteborg during which she created Stranger In The Village (GBG). It consists of small pencil portraits and handwritten texts reflecting her interactions with Swedish men on Tinder and experiences of being a “brown body” in a predominantly white city. “In these microaggressions, I found so many iterations of the many states of othering that James Baldwin described in his essay Stranger In The Village,” Boswell says. One man regales her with stories of going on safari, another calls her a ‘wild thing’.

Maïmouna Guerresi (Mariane Ibrahim Gallery)
Italian-born Maïmouna Guerresi lives and works between Verona and Dakar. Her photography and sculptures are dedicated to philosophies of Islamic Sufism as well as an expression of feminine spirituality and the world’s shared humanity. Large-scale images depict figures, often raised from the ground or in vast landscapes, each one exuding a calm grace. “It’s about elevation and meditation,” explains Mariane Ibrahim-Lenhardt of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery. “The artists at 1:54 reflect what’s happening now but also connect to ancient cultures in order to create a hybrid futurism.”

Aida Muluneh (David Krut Projects)
Founder of Addis Foto Fest, Aida Muluneh’s photographs belong in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Her images often reconceptualise Ethiopia’s histories, myths and people as a means of negotiating the politics of representation and translating her experiences as a reprat having lived much of her life away from her familial home. Using body paint, clothing and dense colour saturations, Muluneh’s stunning images reflect a pop perspective of Africa that is a hyper reality away from her days as a Washington Post photojournalist.

Lebohang Kganye (Afronova)
Young photographer Lebohang Kganye dissects fantasy and memory by altering existing images through performance to create new archives. In Ke Lefa Laka she dresses as her mother and superimposes herself into images from her family’s photo albums thereby altering histories. She has exhibited across South Africa as well as London, Amsterdam, Paris and New York and is currently studying at Fine Arts at the University of Johannesburg.

Yéanzi (Galerie Cécile Fakhoury)
Ivorian artist Yéanzi studied at Lycée d’Enseignement Artistique of Cocody and National School of Fine Arts in Abidjan and has participated in recent group shows at Jack Bell Gallery in London and Art Twenty One in Lagos as well as his own solo exhibition at Galerie Cécile Fakhoury in Abidjan last year. Currently living in rural Bingerville, he ‘paints’ portraits of local characters using unusual materials such as melted plastic. Instead of concerning himself with likeness, he captures his subject’s universal personalities with each circular stroke.

Ibrahim Mahama (Apalazzgallery)
Ghana’s Ibrahim Mahama creates “social interventions” by covering rooms, walls and public spaces in used burlap sacks patch-worked together by the market traders who commonly handle them. “I create political work that the audience has to get into, walk on, be implicated in it, which relates to today’s social structures,” says Mahama. 1:54 also has a political intention in his view. “Most big fairs exclude African galleries but this one gives them a platform to engage with all kinds of audiences. It’s not about validating African art but it is creating a dialogue.”