Arts + Culture

Our 5 Favorite Highlights of 1:54 Contemporary African Fair London 2016

If you're in London, you need to check out these must-see 5 highlights at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair.

The fourth edition of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair brings together over 40 exhibitors from 18 countries to showcase a diverse range of contemporary work by leading artists from the continent and diaspora. Named after the 54 countries of Africa, the ambitious fair will shine a spotlight on African art at Somerset House, the majestic Tudor palace overlooking the Thames.

Following a well-attended symposium at New York’s Armory Show earlier this year, 1:54 is poised for strong sales. With over a third of the galleries at this year’s fair exhibiting for the first time, collectors and art enthusiasts at 1:54 will enjoy a three-day celebration of African artists at the vanguard of their disciplines.

FORUM, the fair’s extensive series of talks and events, will once again run alongside the fair, and will bring together artists, exhibitors, and cultural critics to explore convergences across artistic and cultural production.

Below, we share our favorite highlights of this weekend’s 1:54 London:

1. “Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness,” Zak Ové

As you enter Somerset House’s stately courtyard, you’ll find Irish-Trinidadian artist Zak Ové’s army of 40 two meter high black graphite statues standing guard amongst the foundations. The son of acclaimed filmmaker Horace Ové, Zak Ové originally trained in film and photography, before branching into sculpture following a residency at Caribbean Contemporary Art in 2007.

The “invisible men” standing guard both recall Ralph Ellison’s classic and harken back to the famed Yoruba masks that mark the aesthetic of the cool. The installation, also a commentary on power, beauty, and identity, references a play written by Ben Jonson and enacted by Anne of Denmark and her court ladies, painted in blackface, in the courtyard of Whitehall Palace in 1605. The play reflected a shift from earlier appreciation of black beauty to a preference for lighter skin in the 17th century. In reclaiming the name of the play and situating his army in the neoclassical palace, Ové affirms that black lives matter.

2. The First UK solo exhibition of Malian photographer Malick Sidibe (1936 – 2016)

The fair’s crown jewel, although not for sale, is “Malick Sidibé: The Eye of Modern Mali,” an exhibition presented by 1:54 in collaboration with MAGNIN-A. Located in the main hall, the stunning 45 black-and-white photographs celebrate the jubilance of post-independence Mali. Known as the “eye of Bamako,” the late artist gained a formidable international following as one of the fathers of African photography, subverting narratives through spontaneous images of Bamakois dancing and modernist studio portraits of the city’s youth.

3. Nando’s Exhibition in Collaboration with Yellowwoods Art

As you enjoy your delicious peri-peri chicken on your next trip to Nando’s, stop to look at the art. The South African chain, which owns over 1,000 restaurants in 30 countries, is also home of the world’s largest private collection of Southern African art. Founded in 1987, Nando’s has been working with artists since 2002 through a close partnership with Cape Town-based Yellowwoods Art, a firm specializing in creating opportunities for budding South African talent. At 1:54, Nando’s and Yellowwoods present a few of the artists that feature in their UK collection. Stop by to see works by Regi Bardavid, Lizette Chirrime, Pat Mautloa, and Maurice Mbikayi.

4. “PASSAGE,” Alexandra Karakashian

At this year’s fair, Alexandra Karakashian will create a site-specific installation entitled “PASSAGE.” The piece, much like much of Karakashian’s practice, draws from her family’s experience escaping the Armenian genocide and migrating through Africa before settling in Johannesburg. Through oil and paper designs, Karakashian reflects on issues at the forefront of exile, migration, and the environment, issues at the heart of today’s Euro-African relations.

5. 1:54 Lounge

The 1:54 Lounge and Bookshop are not only an opportunity to relax and reflect, but to see how designers are pushing the boundaries of functional art. This year, designer Ifeanyi Oganwu (Expand Design Ltd.), visual artist Phoebe Boswell, and textile design firm Toghal have collaborated to create forty unique stools and cushions. A modernist take on the traditional stools common across West Africa, the contemporary work, entitled “Pedestal + Duniake,” also celebrates East African culture by drawing inspiration from the traditional Swahili kanga. In addition to the interior spaces of the 1:54 lounge, Toghal has also collaborated with designer Lulu Kitololo to create a collection of cushions that will be positioned on a number of Somerset House’s terraces. Draw some inspiration from the bold designs of the collection, which is up for sale during and following the event.

1:54 Contemporary African Fair takes place Thursday, October 6 through Sunday, October 9, at Somerset House in London. Tickets are available for purchase online via Eventbrite. Keep up with 1:54 on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and their official website.

Photo: courtesy of Natsai Audrey Chieza

100 Women: Natsai Audrey Chieza is Changing the World One Petri Dish at a Time

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textile manufacturing.

The bold jewel tones of OkayAfrica 100 Women honoree Natsai Audrey Chieza's silk scarves aren't the product of hazardous chemicals or silkscreen printing. Instead, they are the product of bacteria. Specifically coelicolor, a strain of bacteria found in soil that happens to excellently synthesize organic chemical compounds. Working in the trade for six years, the Zimbabwean materials designer quickly came to understand why the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Knowing that the most harm occurs during the process of dyeing fabrics, she decided to take action.

Chieza has worked with leading brands such as Microsoft, Nissan, and Unilever to usher in a new approach to science and design. Through her creative R&D; studio Faber Futures, the design innovator uses the process of creating with bacteria to assist in moving mankind away from our fossil fuel dependency. As the biopigment expert put it [last year during her TED talk "Fashion has a pollution problem—can biology fix it?"], in the future we must make sure that we are not "mirroring the destructive legacies of the oil age."

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked spirited conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textiles. Here, Chieza expounds on her start, the pros and cons of creating something new and the urgency of change.

The following has been edited for length and clarity

Akinyi Ochieng for OkayAfrica: STEM and the arts are often conceptualized as separate worlds. However, in your career, you've managed to find the overlap. How did you, a materials designer, end up dabbling in biotechnology?

Natsai Audrey Chieza: I've always really wanted to work within the creative field. I used to work in architecture where I really enjoyed my education in a systems approach to designs and designing for multiple contexts. But I wanted to explore a different side of the design world, so I began exploring the skill and context of material flows, and how technology and futures fits within this framework of how we design.

For my own work and my practice, not having a scientific background made me try things based on what I understood about materials and what I understood about the interactions in which those materials existed in society. I'm interested in a political lens, an economic lens, and how textiles perform in reality. That's not necessarily the approach that a scientist would have taken. Now that's not to say that science isn't important—it's vital. But innovation can occur in that intersection.

Did you go into this thinking, "Oh, I'll figure it out. There must be a path to make this work"?

To be honest, when I started off, the field was not defined. I think I found something really interesting, which was about how biology was becoming a realm of design, and I just explored that as best as I knew how as a designer and non-scientist. It just so happened that around me there was a context that was imagined but enabled me six years later to say, "That's the industry where this work belongs" and stakeholders who give me a space to further my work in a creative and experimental. The path was never anything clear at all. I learned as I grew.

There's a phrase that is often repeated today: "You can't be what you can't see." But you have really created a niche for yourself. What are the benefits of entering an emerging space?

I think what's amazing is not having anyone or anything telling you that what you think is impossible. If you're carving a new territory then you must trust in your instinct and vision to effectively push where the work can be and where it exists. You're not asking permission to do anything. Of course the flip side of that is you have to bring people with you, and so part of you being able to do the work is convincing people that your vision has legitimacy and it's worth exploring, worth taking a risk to look outside of that box.

It's often quite challenging to figure out how to find the strength to push something that hasn't been done before. There's no precedent or rulebook to my work, but sometimes it's really nice to have a rulebook. [Laughs] However, I think it's made me a person who doesn't see challenges as obstacles that are in the way, but more as problems that can be solved. And I think that's the good thing.

Much of your work is about biopigments. What color excites you?

It's not really the colors that excite me. It's color as a cultural context that really fascinates me. I'm really interested in if a microbe is almost like this living factory that produces this pigment, and the technology can be shared and deployed with people as to how you work with it across the world, then what are the cultural interventions that can happen in South Africa versus in Argentina versus in the United Kingdom, based on this common microbe. I think that's always been what interests me the most, the context in which our materials exist. I think a really good example is indigo, and how from Japan to West Africa, indigo is just this really, really rich material, and the process and the craftsmanship that goes into it. I'm interested to see how the future ecology of making arises in response to biotechnologies across the world.

Where do you see yourself and your work evolving in the near or long term?

I'm sort of going through that growth moment where you've been working toward something and then you've arrived at that and you're like, "Right, what's next?" I think I'm fundamentally somebody that wants to use design as a discursive tool to understand how our technologies proliferate. My focus is really on the imagined life sciences and how they're going to become very much a part of all of our lived experiences, and particularly in the context of really urgent changes that are happening from a local level to a global level. From global warming and climate change to resource scarcity across regions, our response to what I think being able to design with living systems, can afford us in the future. So my work really is about understanding how to engage stakeholders across different sectors to grow a consensus around how we're going to leverage these sorts of technologies so that they can be technologies for good. That's really where this is going.

This article appears as part of OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2018—a project highlighting the impactful work done by African women across the globe. Throughout March, we will be publishing a series of profiles, videos, interviews and feature stories on these inspirational women.

Click here to see the entire list of 2018 honorees.

Maia & The Big Sky LP cover.

Start Your Week Off Right With This Soulful Kenyan Collaboration

Maia & the Big Sky connect with Blinky Bill for "Pawa."

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The Nairobi-based artist is now sharing the new music video for "Pawa," the album's leading track, which we're premiering here today. Directed by Chris King, the beautiful new clip sees Maia & the Big Sky taking over the TV airwaves and minds of all of those watching, freeing them from the "power" that controls them.

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Photo: Mídia NINJA

The Assassination of Marielle Franco and the Dawn of Brazil's New Civil Rights Movement

Marielle Franco was one of a new generation of black activists trying to overturn Brazil's entrenched and violent racism

The violence in Rio de Janeiro right now is akin to a war zone, with per capita death tolls resembling those from Afghanistan and Syria. Two weeks ago I traveled there for business and stayed in the relatively safe and trendy neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Each night of my stay, was abruptly awaken by long streams of gunshots and also fireworks from the nearby favela of Falett. The fireworks—as I learned from my local friends—were not a result of any celebration, rather a signal that either drugs, guns, or the police have arrived. This is the norm for many of the 763 favelas in Rio which houses nearly 25 percent of the city's population.

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