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"Sailing Back to Africa as a Dutch Woman," 2017, from the series "Fortia." Photo by Keyezua, courtesy of Nataal.

8 African Art Events You Need To See In NYC This May

OkayAfrica's guide to African art in New York City this month.

The month of May is another prime moment of the year with art fairs around the world, especially with Frieze New York launching this week. The Big Apple will be graced with substantial satellite fairs for African art, including this year's New York addition of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair.

Take a look at eight African art events you can't miss this month below.


1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair || Pioneer Works

"Untitled," Sanlé Sory. Photo courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery.

1-54 NY is the leading international art fair dedicated to promoting contemporary art from diverse African perspectives. Just coming off a successful launch on the continent in Marrakech, Morocco, its fourth edition is set to display works from 21 galleries from artists including Phoebe Boswell, Derrick Adams, Malick Sidibe, Gideon Appah, Ralph Ziman and more.

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair runs from Friday, May 4 through Sunday, May 6 at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn.

Without Qualities || Addis Fine Art + Private View New York

Luam Melake, "Black," 2017. Photo courtesy of Addis Fine Art.

Addis Fine Art (AFA) and Private View New York, a new private loft showroom in Soho, holds its first exhibition of Without Qualities, featuring AFA artists Tariku Shiferaw and Luam Melake. This collaboration brings together two phenomenal Ethiopian-American artists who fuse the cultural influences of their backgrounds and their lives in New York. Although their origins are similar, their artistic approaches and processes are what differ. Both artists do create abstract compositions using carefully selected multi-layered materials that represent the interconnectivity of art and industry, as well as portray abstract narratives that evoke the viewer's emotions and memory.

Without Qualities is open through Sunday, May 6, and can be viewed by appointment from Tuesday, May 8 to Thursday, May 31 at Private View in Soho.

PAPER Plains || Sotheby's Institute of Art

Sotheby's Institute of Art presents PAPER Plains, a solo exhibition of Kenyan artist Tahir Carl Karmali, curated by Klaudia Draber. Karmali's photographs, sculptures and a sound installation will be on view, exploring his longstanding interest in migrant identities and the sense of belonging in two recent bodies of work. One of which is PAPER:work, where Karmali tackles the complexities of identity of African migrants as shaped by nationality, authenticity, documentation and borders.

PAPER Plains is on view until Tuesday, May 8 at Sotheby's Institute of Art in Manhattan.

The Other Art Fair || Brooklyn Expo Center

"Holiday Duties" from Dennis Osadebe's "A Stranger In My Home" series. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The Other Art Fair, presented by Saatchi Art, is a fair for a new generation of art buyers, as well as a place to discover and buy art direct from the very best of emerging talent. One of which is Nigerian artist Dennis Osadebe, the only artist representing the continent at the fair. Osadebe will be presenting a new series, entitled A Stranger In My Home, where he takes the elements of a home setting and infuses aesthetics inspired by his Nigerian heritage with neon masks as his reoccurring focus. Through the 10 works in this series, Osadebe takes on the idea of globalization and how cultures intersect today, reinforcing the idea of urban living hybrids.

The Other Art Fair runs from Thursday, May 3, through Sunday, May 6 at the Brooklyn Expo Center.

Nataal: New African Photography III || Red Hook Labs

"Ruth, Amina and the three Aisha's play 'In and Out'," 2017, Tatsuniya. Photo by Rahima Gambo, courtesy of Nataal.

Nataal presents New African Photography III, the third edition of its co-curated group exhibition with an all-female, star studded lineup, at Red Hook Labs. The media brand also announced the publication of their first print magazine. Featuring work from Fatoumata Diabaté (Mali), Rahima Gambo (Nigeria), Keyezua (Angola), Alice Mann (South Africa), Ronan Mckenzie (UK) and Ruth Ossai (Nigeria), the show will display a range of fresh perspectives from contemporary photography that address a diverse set of concers relating to representation, gender and identity. New African Photography III celebrates the launch of Nataal's debut print issue, where the large format, 336-page magazine showcases and collaborated with artists who are building diverse narratives in and about the spirit of Africa.

Nataal: New African Photography III runs from Friday, May 4 through Sunday, May 13 at Red Hook Labs.

Refraction: New Photography From Africa and Its Diaspora || Steven Kasher Gallery

"King Kane" by Stan Squirewell. Image courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery.

Refraction: New Photography of Africa and Its Diaspora is a photo exhibition presenting a generation of photographic artists of African descent born in the 1970s through the 1990s at Steven Kasher Gallery. These 12 artists, who reside from all over the world, portray black bodies in acts of cultural meditation, revive the traditional African rites of masking, costuming, quilting, body ornamentation and invocation of spirits, through their work. The works curated for Refraction are meant to bridge the gap between black stereotypes and black reality. The photos maneuver the complex relationship between innate identities and identities that have grown from social, political and cultural influences.

Refraction is on view until Saturday, June 2 at Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea.

E-Moves 2018 || Harlem Stage

Omar Mizrahi. Photo by Robert Bader.

Harlem Stage presents its signature dance series, E-Moves, featuring works from three contemporary African choreographers in four nights this year. Each night will also feature a pop-up performance by up-and-coming young choreographers. Choreographers Lacina Coulibaly (Burkina Faso), Ousmane Wiles (Senegal) and Nora Chipaumire (Zimbabwe) were commissioned by Harlem Stage to develop new works or reimagine existing pieces from their choreographic canons; wrestling with questions that push the boundaries of what it means to be African in America now.

E-Moves 2018 runs from Wednesday, May 2 through Saturday, May 5. For tickets, check out Harlem Stage's website.

A Ugandan Spring || Triangle Arts Association

Photo courtesy of The Salooni Project.

32° East | Ugandan Arts Trust presents A Ugandan Spring, its first fundraiser at the Triangle Arts Association. In an evening of cocktails, silent auctions and games to fundraise for 32° East's programs, the event is an opportunity for aspiring and seasoned collectors of contemporary African art to view unique perspectives from an underrepresented market.

A Ugandan Spring takes place on Friday, May 4. For tickets and more information, click here.

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Collage by Ta'Ron Joyner

I Would Rather Breathe Than Think Outside the Box

South African artists were already working for little to no pay, but the pandemic has unleashed a flood of exploitative work requests right when we need money the most.

This essay is part of OkayAfrica's SA Reframed series, featuring personal writing from some of South Africa's best young writers edited by Verashni Pillay.

On the radio the other day, I heard a small business owner of a costume design company being interviewed and asked how they have managed to:

a. Reinvent themselves during this period, and

b. Think outside the box while doing so.

Their conversation made me think about how I have not managed to wrap my head around any sort of future, or reinvention outside any kind of box—beyond the one that wraps itself around my immediate reality. When the lockdown was announced, three friends and I withdrew to a remote area where internet access was dubious and, most times, simply not available. I would need to walk a bit of a distance to locate a spot under a tree or up a mountain to be connected for thirty minutes, or so.

Then I would do a basic comb through my emails and respond to work or requests that were already underway pre-lockdown. I only responded to new requests that either afforded me the opportunity to earn an income or those that allowed me to be productive on my own terms.

I was tired, lowkey grateful for the global pause, and no longer interested in the overly productive, overloaded nature of my previous normal. Something about the forced halt made me realise that I was on the edge of everything—myself included. I turned down anything that required me to join the endless online festivals, zoom panel discussions, Instagram takeovers and live readings. I refused all opportunities that needed me to grapple with any sort of forced normalcy. The ones that offered data or airtime or solidarity as compensation or assumed that I had gone pro bono. I needed a moment. I needed the space and time to re-bargain with the point of it all.

The pause was both useful and scary. It brought to the surface fears and revelations about the shortfalls of our industry and how creatives are positioned within the productivity machinery and economy of South Africa, or rather all the ways we fall outside of it.

As Minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi mentioned in a briefing two months ago, "On the issue of freelance workers—unfortunately with the current legislation they fall outside. Maybe what we are going to do is that after this we will have to re-look at it in terms of our legislative amendments and start a debate about that." Why are there laws that have gone unchallenged? Who should be challenging them? Why are artists hearing, out loud for the first time, of convenient loopholes that render us outside of an economy that taxes us like everyone else, and consumes us and our work. Yet, in times of crisis, this same economy engages with our art and our productivity and our products, but still deems us on the margin, outside, and non-essential. If we are not assisted financially, how can we be productive, how can we acquire the resources to produce? How can we apply our minds to anything else outside of survival and scrambling to stay afloat.

Pandemics do not mean that artists have gone pro bono

When you approach an artist with the assumption that they have gone pro bono during this time, when you draft an email to request a collaboration, a commission, a participation, a productivity of any kind, please bear in mind that artists are up against an unconcerned and corrupt government that has failed to provide aid and assistance to their sector during this time.

Theatre critic Sara Holdren says "Art is hard and most of it fails—either in small ways or catastrophic ones." In South Africa, the process of making art is hard, sure, but more than that, the conditions and the context in which we make work fails us in catastrophic ways that will require more than a debate and amended legislation. It will need, for starters, a minister who cares about the arts and understands its soul and mechanisms. This pause has brought about more questions and concerns for me than inspiration to reinvent or think outside the box. I have questions about the box itself and why I feel asphyxiated and trapped by its design.

I would rather breathe than think outside of the box

This pandemic has made me question what my career, livelihood and stability have been built on; what has been propping them up all this time, and what has been allowing me to appear valued and valuable in this economy? What does and will the spectrum of value look like in a normal that has been disrupted and now sits in a near distant future that may or may not be near?

Then I find myself vacillating between hope and concern. My hope is that when the pandemic is no longer with us, artists can have a come-to-jesus conversation about what has contributed and exacerbated this attitude and disrespect toward our practice and industry, I hope we can challenge the legislations that we have been dared to challenge, I hope we can be productive in ways that serve us and make sense for our well-being, that we will be paid our worth and that our society will realize that without the artist producing, there will be no art, or music, or films, or books and things that have kept people entertained and creatively nourished during this time.

My concern is that the "free"content artists are currently creating and the free access to art or performances, will not make this realisation possible, and that this kind of access, that was already undervalued and exploited, will be irreversible. The exploitation dialogue is tiring. Being treated as non-essential is tiring and terrifying too, and while most of the world can slowly start going back to work, most artists will probably have to hang tight until 2021, maybe even 2022.

While artists deal with a hoax of an arts and culture department that is dead to us and a minister who tweets more than he does his job, in an ideal world, I wish that artists could afford to indulge uncertainty, and fear, and pause, in ways that allow them to heed the call made by Nicholas Berger in his piece The Forgotten Art of Assembly [Or, Why Theatre Makers Should Stop Making] "We must lean into this pain. We must feel the grief. We must mourn. Mourn the loss of work, the loss of jobs, the loss of money, the loss of life. Mourn the temporary loss of an art form that demands assembly. Lean into the grief. Lean in. Lean in. Lean in. We must remind ourselves that mourning is a human act, not a digital one."

Koleka Putuma is an award-winning poet, playwright and theatre director. Her bestselling debut collection of poems Collective Amnesia is in its 10th print run and her play No Easter Sunday for Queers Sunday for Queers won several awards.

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