To Be a Woman: Perspectives from 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair
October 14, 2022/Featured, Insights, Social Equity
Celebrating its tenth anniversary in London, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair returns to Somerset House this weekend. With 50 international exhibitors across 21 countries, there’s a wealth of great art to see. Our reporter, Sheila Mutua, has picked out five stand-out artists whose work explores notions of womanhood.
This weekend, Somerset House welcomes the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair for its 10th anniversary. Under the direction of its founder Touria El Glaoui, the fair has introduced us to some of the most sensational contemporary artists from both Africa and the diaspora. The 10th exhibition features several artists whose work examines, challenges, and reconstructs Black African womanhood. Here are five exhibitors you must catch:
1) Sola Olulode (Bed Series, 2022)
Emerging Black-British talent Sola Olulode showcases the Bed Series (2022), where she highlights the delicate intimacy of black queer relationships. The 26-year-old’s body of work centres on love and relationships but, in this collection, she uses the bed setting to portray what she considers to be “one of the most exciting places to be in a relationship”, the centre of intimacy.
Taking inspiration from personal experiences and the lives of her friends, her paintings and this stunning bed installation celebrate the tenderness of queer love between black womxn and non-binary folx. Some pieces take on a peaceful beauty – particularly her blue canvasses; while others she describes as ‘playful’ and ‘cheeky’.
Although this collection may be interpreted as quite youthful, Olulode emphasises that her subjects have no age. Her combination of traditional and contemporary techniques creates beautifully timeless scenes, portraying love in its rawest form.
2) Angèle Etoundi Essamba (Coulisses de la Féminité, 2019)
Renowned Cameroonian humanist photographer Angèle Etoundi Essamba displays her mastery of light and colour in Coulisses de la Féminité (2019) while reflecting on the identity of the African woman.
The lace accessories reference Dutch colonialism, placing African women at the fore of a history from which they are largely erased. These women no longer serve but instead possess a greater sense of agency, thus the African woman becomes defined by her strength.
3) Moufouli Bello (Kiki Is My Pet Friend & Night Birds, both 2022)
Kiki is My Pet Friend (2022), Night Birds (2022). Utilising blue hues was a common theme among featured artists, with the acrylic paintings of Beninese artist Moufouli Bello making an appearance.
She uses this deep blue hue in all of her work, not only because of its emotional potential but also to ensure that the dark colour of the women’s skin is not the focus. Black women exist beyond their blackness. Instead, our attention is drawn to the detailed Ankara that jumps off the linen, and the challenging gaze of the women.
To Bello, African women are defined by their strength: her subjects are aware of the observer and are daring enough to gaze back at them.
4) Charlene Komuntale (Not Fragile, 2022)
Ugandan artist Charlene Komuntale deconstructs the patriarchal view of women in her series of digital paintings, Not Fragile (2022). She is “inspired by the black women that surround [her], [she] is inspired by their strength, their mind, their grace, their vulnerabilities, their desires.”
The surreal combination of elements is provoking, demonstrating the imbalance between self-awareness and the patriarchal gaze of others. Endearment Dress (left), illuminates the value of vulnerability, intimacy and acts of love, communicating that these features of womanhood are a strength as opposed to a weakness.
5) Nkoali Nawa (Women’s Conversation, 2022)
Alternatively, Nkoali Nawa provides a more subtle, realist critique in Women’s Conversation (2022). His charcoal drawings are based on his own photographs, with the aim of ‘documenting social rituals’. This diverse group of women – some wearing trousers, and others in more traditional wear – exhibit the ‘erosion of traditional values’ about womanhood in South Africa. His female subjects possess a level of independence that challenges the norms in his hometown.
What else should you see?
On top of the excellent curation of artwork, the fair boasts other special projects to celebrate its tenth anniversary.
Grada Kilomba’s exciting courtyard installationO Barco/The Boat, composed of 140 blocks inscribed with poems written in six languages, configured in the shape of a European slave ship. Kilomba directs a captivating live performance with a dance ensemble and music written by Kalaf Epalanga, showcasing on the 14th October.
The VIP lounge hosts Akwasi Brenya-Mensa’s Chop Bar, bringing traditional roadside cuisine to London, where screens surrounding the communal dining space honour the African women who run such joints.
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