popular
Photo courtesy of 1-54/SUTTON.

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Landing in Marrakech is 2018's Most Anticipated Art Event

The leading art fair dedicated to contemporary African art makes its mark on the continent for the first time this weekend.

This weekend, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, the leading art fair devoted to contemporary African art, will debut in Marrakech, Morocco. The announcement of the Fair's expansion to the continent last year has left aficionados of contemporary African art in eager anticipation of this "homecoming"—this author included.

1-54 debuted in London in 2013. Although an expansion to New York followed, a presence on the continent was always part of the long-term vision of the founder Touria El Glaoui. Finally, the time has now arrived.

Here are five reasons why we're looking forward to 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Marrakech.


1. 1-54 Marrakech delivers a fresh lineup.

This year the ever-evolving art fair will present a mix of 17 galleries from Europe and Africa specializing in contemporary African art. Further diversification of these exhibiting galleries yields more than 60 artists, both emerging and established, from over 20 countries. There are five newcomer galleries to the fair this year, including LouiSimone Guirandou Gallery, from Côte d'Ivoire, and Loft Art Gallery, which is located in Morocco.

Another returning feature of the 1-54 fairs is the "Special Projects" section, which presents exhibitions in unique partnership with the fair. Some highlights include a performance by Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, titled Black Noise. In the performance the artist "explores black as a lament, color and meditation. Using sound, movement, and simple interactivity, Sutherland, together with eight fellow performers, incorporates components of contemporary, modern, and traditional Ghanaian dance, with song and spoken word in English and Twi, an Akan dialect."

Another must-see is The Mahjouba Initiative by artist Eric van Hove. The initiative, which is also a partnership with several African think tanks, is a multi-year artistic and engineer endeavor that aims to conceive an electric moped to be built mainly by craftsmen for the local Moroccan market to achieve a significant percentage of its national consumption via solar energy and its prevalent crafts sector. The first prototype will be on display during 1-54. Much like the host city itself, this year's fair is a consciously executed mix of tradition and nouveau.

Joana Choumali. "Ca va aller," 2016. Courtesy of Loft Art Gallery.

2. 1-54 Marrakech incorporates the local arts community to create a tailored celebration of African art.

Concurrent to 1-54 will be the opening of Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL). MACAAL will launch with two exhibitions: Africa Is No Island, a group photography show including artists Sammy Baloji and Joanna Choumali, and a semi-permanent showcase of the museum's collection to feature works by Serge Attukwei Clottey, Abdoulaye Konaté, and Chéri Samba. Another simultaneous exhibition to 1-54 will be at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent, which will debut The Sculptural Dresses, an exhibition dedicated to the works of Moroccan couturier Noureddine Amir.

Partnership with local arts organizations is a regular theme of 1-54, as evidenced in its London and New York editions. El Glaoui tells OkayAfrica Marrakech will be a unique experience, stating, "Marrakech has its own rhythm, natural surrounds, culture and societal structures. We are always inspired by our environment and try to draw from it as much as possible. One way in which we do this is by designing the fair in conversation with the venues architectural nuances, including local institutions and galleries, intimate spaces such as artists' studios, and even historical sites."

"This is the first 1-54 edition to be held on the African continent so we hope it will be a celebratory experience for all involved," she concludes.

1-54 Founder Touria El Glaoui at 1-54 Marrakech. Photo courtesy of 1-54/SUTTON.

3. 1-54 Marrakech crowns the city as the African continent's newest art hub.

There's no place in the world like Marrakech. The confluence of African, Arabic and European traditions present a city with a nearly endless opportunity for new discoveries. From terracotta-hued streets to the unique harmony of the medina—brimming over with visual, audible and edible delights that tingle your senses—Marrakech was already one of Africa's most enticing cities.

But the presence of 1-54 in this North African hub has a greater significance for art: As its name implies, 1:54 aims to be a presentation of art from the 54 countries of the continent. Whereas for many the term "African art" conjures only arts from sub-Saharan Africa, the north and south are now a united Africa is in this art schema. In transcending geographical boundaries, and establishing an arts locus in Marrakech, 1-54 creates an inclusive discourse on African art (It's also worth noting that in addition to the tandem opening of MACAAL this year, new art events are already planned in the wake of 1-54 Marrakech, notably the Marrakech Biennale which will resume in 2020).

Still from Grada Kilomba's "ILLUSIONS, 2016." Photo courtesy of 1-54/SUTTON.

4. 1-54 Marrakech reminds us to "Always Decolonise!"

Each edition of 1-54 includes 'FORUM'—a series that engages key art world players, through talks, panel discussions, screenings and performances to explore a specified topic related to contemporary African art. This year's theme, "Always Decolonise!", will engage with the notion that decolonization is not a historical event that belongs to the past; decolonization is, in fact, ongoing. The curator of FORUM is Omar Berrada, co-director of Dar al-Ma'mûn, a library and residency center for artists, scholars and translators located in Marrakech.

In a press statement for the fair, Berrada expounded on the theme of this year's FORUM, stating:

"Our world may be post-colonial, yet it has not been decolonised. Colonial powers may have left, but their past presence casts a long shadow, stubbornly occupying our mental, aesthetic and epistemic spaces. Everywhere colonial wounds lie wide open. If decolonisation is another name for freedom, then it can only be unfinished business: a permanent horizon, never reached yet always longed for, as long as human life is structured by relations of race, class and gender domination. In the face of lingering coloniality, decolonisation is not a bygone historical event; it is an everyday task. Always decolonise!"

Dawit.L.Petros. "Untitled (Prologue), 2016." Photo courtesy of Tiwani Contemporary.

5. 1-54 Marrakech remains a key indicator of the global interest in African art.

The debut of an African art fair, which was founded in the west, on the African continent not only epitomizes a homecoming but also nods to a shift in the global appreciation of contemporary African art. El Glaoui tells us, "[The new edition on the African continent] is a sign of movement…I believe we are moving past the 'trend phase' into a more stable period focused on sustainability. Globally, institutions and scholars are prioritizing Africa-centered research in an effort to expand the canon. Because of this discourse on artistic and cultural practices of Africa and its diaspora have become more intricate, going beyond just conversations on visibility and clichés. Although there are noticeable shifts, we acknowledge that there is always room for deeper considerations and evolvements."

She credits "systematic changes" in some African countries, particularly in infrastructure and the development of support structures for artists, as well as interest among collectors as some factors that have supported the growth of the fair and enabled 1-54 to arrive at this point. Beyond the excitement of this 'homecoming' 1-54 Marrakech is surely an indicator of the sustainability of African art as a force in the global contemporary art market.

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Marrakech will take place on February 24-25 at La Maimouna Hotel. OkayAfrica is reporting live from Marrakech for 1-54. Keep up with us for artist interviews, recap, and more from this dazzling African city.

Nadia Sesay is a Sierra Leonean based in Washington, D.C., traveling the world to indulge in art. She is the Editor of BLANC Modern Africa, a magazine on contemporary art and culture inspired exclusively by Africa and its Diaspora.

popular
From Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2016. Photo by Ofoe Amegavie.

5 Ghanaian Creative Spaces Doing Afrofuturist Work You Need To Know

These Pan-African outfits are actively visualizing and creating realities for black people that are better than the ones we inhabit now—get to know them.

In her praise for Octavia's Brood (an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements), filmmaker dream hampton quotes these words of adrienne maree brown, a co-editor of the anthology: "All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice, a world that doesn't yet exist." A respectable appropriation of brown's statement would be: all pro-Black/African activism is afrofuturism in praxis.

In that frame of social justice activism being twined with the useful framework that afrofuturism is—envisioning and exploring viable realities for black people all over the world—here are five Pan-African outfits out of Ghana who're doing advocacy work, and variously tasking our imaginations to visualize an existence for black people other—and better—than the one we inhabit presently.

Accra [Dot] Alt

Photo courtesy of Accra [Dot] Alt.

The "Alt" in Accra [Dot] Alt stands for alternative, which should say much about this organization's orientation: an invested interest in facilitating the alternative. To that end, A[D]A creates programs which provide spacial and other forms of support for the expression of alternative thought, and also for spawning boundary-breaking art. A[D]A's most popular initiative, the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival, since its inception in 2011, has been thematically preoccupied with imagining and creating existences that are more humane and fulfilling—particularly for black people.

The African Electronics Trilogy exemplifies this. Between 2015 and 2017, the Chale Wote Festival's themes, African Electronics, Spirit Robot and Wata Mata—have altogether exhorted festival participants to "tap into a super power grid [and] create a new encounter with reality that is entirely of our choosing and construction." The theme for this year's festival, Para-Other, does not stray from this visionary mission. A[D]A partly describes Para-Other as an order "embracing of a black labyrinth and establishment of an aesthetic that captures our cessation of flight and transit into a non-contested existence."

Last time the statistics were checked, in 2016, over 30,000 people were at Chale Wote; which is a more than 6,000 percent increase from the number that attended the first edition of the festival. Talk about possibilities.

African Women's Development Fund (AWDF)

Photo courtesy of the AWDF.

This grant-making foundation, Africa's first pan-African women's fund, was co-founded in 2000 by three African women: Hilda Tadria, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and Joana Foster, who passed in 2016.

Since setting up, the African Women's Development Fund has funded and supported close to 1,500 women's rights organizations and women-led initiatives in countries all over the continent.

In April 2017, the institution launched their ground-breaking AWDF Futures Project. The initiative is basically composed of projections on the future of the continent as seen through an African feminist lens. These projections are based on a mix of data/trends analysis and sheer imagination.

The AWDF Scenario Stories is one aspect of the project. It comprises of four short stories imagining four different kinds of futures—desirable, undesirable, wild card, transitional—for African women, in Africa. The protagonist in each of these scenarios (set in August 2030) is Mariam; a queer, intelligent and free-spirited young woman in a wheelchair.

The full narratives of Mariam navigating each of these four futures can be accessed, in both text and animated audio-visual formats, on AWDF's website, together with the Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 report.

What will Africa be like in 2030? What would we see if we looked through the eyes of a woman? The AWDF Futures page holds a number of possible answers to these questions.

AfroCyberPunk Interactive

Photo courtesy of AfroCyberPunk Interactive.

Sci-fi writer and self-proclaimed afrofuturist, Jonathan Dotse, created AfroCyberPunk in 2010. Then, it was a blog whose focus was on "exploring the creative potential of African science fiction and speculative narratives."

Almost a decade after running as a blog, AfroCyberPunk morphed into AfroCyberPunk Interactive—a digital hypermedia content developer and publishing house—in 2017. Still, the preoccupation with "exploring the future of Africa" (as went the blog's tagline) remains prime. A part of what could be referred to as their mission statement reads thus: "Our roots in afrofuturism continue to inspire the recurrent themes, motifs and aesthetics of our publications. We aspire to [...] address the global imbalance in the representation of marginalised peoples and perspectives."

Founder Jonathan Dotse is himself at work on his debut novel, a cyberpunk mystery/ psychological thriller set in Accra, Ghana circa 2060 AD.

All of the above certainly do echo these words offered by Jonathan in a blog post titled Why Africa Needs Science Fiction: "As Africa marches onward into the future it is important that we as Africans begin to critically visualize the development that will take place on our own soil, and our vision must be based on our own unique reality, cut from the cloth of our own societies and tailored to our specific needs."

Drama Queens

Photo courtesy of Drama Queens.

This feminist and Pan-Africanist theatre organisation optimally embodies the idea of Sankofa: an examination of heritage to select and use, presently, the positive and helpful values, in the ultimate service of creating the future.

Drama Queens is founded on the ancient Egyptian philosophy of Ma'at—which adjures for justice, balance and harmony as ways of being. The world being as it is now—generally unjust, imbalanced and disharmonious, against black people specifically, and more specifically against marginalized black communities—renders Drama Queens' work futuristic.

To ground this, they are avowedly working towards "a just, balanced and harmonious world where highest respect is given to nature and all nature creates."

This year, for instance, is Drama Queens' year of "contributing to an end to homophobia towards the African LGBTQ+ community" through various activities such as theatre productions, facilitating queer film production workshops, social media discussions and talk events.

Nana Akosua Hanson, founder and director of Drama Queens has said in an interview that her organization aims, ultimately, "to end oppression by changing mindsets through the use of cultural tools, to revolutionalize thinking and bring forth the existence of an Africa without heteropatriarchy, and a continent free from the exploitation and destruction of racist nations." Sounds about Afrofuturist.

Squid Magazine

Photo courtesy of Squid Magazine.

Comics, games and animation are probably the most popular media through which creators indulge in futuristic thinking. Add to this the truism that critical, intellectual engagement and documentation are of lifeblood importance to the efflorescence of a culture. Put together, it adds up to the fact that Squid Magazine (simply, Squid Mag) is doing essential afrofuturist work.

Started in 2015 by Kadi Yao Tay and Kofi Asare, Squid Mag is dedicated to the "exploration, critique, promotion and archiving of African creativity manifested within comics, games, animation..." As it happens, Squid Mag is one of the very few, if not only, platforms on the continent that wholesomely covers African output in the above mentioned media.

There's a rather poetic resonance as to why this outfit is named 'Squid.' Here's the import of the name, as explained on their website:

The name is inspired by squids, sea invertebrates that release ink as a defense mechanism. We find it poetic how such a mechanism can be a metaphor for painting a people's realities and dreams fluidly in an ocean of canvases. An ocean that is threatened to be overrun with narratives that exclude us.

So now you know, if you didn't know before, where to go in search of a sea of narratives—of realities and dreams—that include us.

*

There is a great deal more than can be said for the imagination—and exercising it. It begets creation, after all. Thus, what these and other entities are doing—engendering alternative socio-political imaginaries for all peoples of African descent—is such a needful venture. But after all is said and visualized, the ultimate challenge, most probably, is to act, to create. Blitz the Ambassador puts it succinctly on his afrofuturist song, "Africa Is The Future" (long since renamed "Africa Is Now"): There ain't no future unless we build it now.

moshood lives in Accra, from where he writes across genres. He has recently taken on painting. He tweets here: @thehamzay

popular
Still from Emmeron's "Good Do"

Following Government Suppression, Sierra Leone's 'People's Popstar' Is Finally Allowed to Perform

Emmerson's music has influenced past elections in Sierra Leone. Here's why his performance at the National Stadium is a win for artistic freedom.

Early December 2017, a flyer was circulating on Whatsapp in Freetown announcing one of the most exciting concerts of the year. Sierra Leonean superstar Emmerson Bockarie, stage name Emmerson, was going to perform live alongside two other popular artists. The concert was to be held at the National Stadium, Freetown's foremost and largest concert venue where the likes of Timaya and Wizkid have performed in the past.

One week later, with no further explanation, the concert was cancelled.

Rumours went wild. The then ruling party, All People's Congress (APC), was seen by many as the culprit. Elections were just around the corner and Emmerson, with government-critiquing lyrics, was not to perform to an audience that could reach 36,000 people. It was a recurring story; Emmerson has not been able to perform at the National Stadium since 2012, all during the APC reign.

Now, a month after the change of government, Emmerson held his concert, called Finally, on the April 28.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

The Prince and Princess of Lesotho Were the Only Foreign Royals At Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Wedding

The Basotho and British royals have a long-standing bond.

While Prince Harry and Meghan Markle avoided inviting politicians and foreign royals to their wedding on SaturdayBarack and Michelle Obama were noticeably absent—the couple made an exception for one pair of royals: Prince Seeiso of Lesotho and his wife Princess Mabereng.

The two were amongst the 600 guests present for Saturday's festivities at Windsor Castle. Princess Mabereng donned colorful traditional attire for the ceremony, and stood out in the best way possible.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.