1-54 London 2022
Dr Omar Kholeif’s Top Ten

A Top Ten for Ten Years

by Omar Kholeif, Curator of 1-54's London 2022 Forum

The last decade has not always been easy. At times, it has felt as if we were entering an epoch of ceaseless struggle – economic, political, ecological – you name it! But within these periods, there have also been formative moments of joy – instances where communities have burgeoned or gained increased visibility. Proportionately, we have witnessed a more nuanced and responsive visual culture emerge.

One of the defining anchors of the last ten years, personally, has been the flourishing of 1-54 as a platform for cultural dialogue and exchange. It is both a significant and heart-warming privilege to be a part of this team.

When piecing together the constituent parts of this year’s Forum, I kept looking back to my notebooks, playlists, and watchlists for inspiration. As a serial list-maker, I thought to share a listicle of ten highlights from across the last decade!

1. Living Legend

Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, Blues for the Martyrs, 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Mohamed Noureldin Abdallah Ahmed. © Kamala Ibrahim Ishag.

Kamala Ibrahim Ishag first came into my orbit in 2016 when I was visiting Sharjah to explore an exhibition of the Khartoum School, curated by Hoor Al Qasmi and Professor Salah Hassan. Across the expanse was a magical world of Ishag’s entitled Women in Crystal Cubes. The survey exhibition unspooled from the artist’s imagination a painting practice that was lyrical, surreal, and enrapturing. I am delighted to bear witness to the growing attention around Kamala’s life and work on the eve of her first UK solo exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries, which also happens to coincide with 1-54.

2. Innovating in the Trails

Otobong Nkanga and Emeka Ogboh, Aging Ruins Dreaming Only to Recall the Hard Chisel from the Past, 2019. Multi-channel sound installation, sculpture and light installation, poetry, dimensions variable. Installation view: Sharjah Biennial 14: ‘Leaving the Echo Chamber’. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy of the artists. Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation.

One of the exceptional pleasures of the last decade has been getting to know and work with Otobong Nkanga. Together, we have sketched, mappedsang, swam, travelled, and dreamed. I cannot imagine a world without her presence and art.

3. Poet Laurette

Photograph by Ryan Cardoso for The New Yorker.

In 2008, I read Saidiya Hartman’s work for the first time. I did not realise that it would alter the way I wrote about art and history. The success of her bookWayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments released in 2019 gave widespread validation to our human desire to be critical and fabulous — narrating Black lives and histories through new forms of literary imagination — theory transformed into poetry.

4. Resuscitated, At Last

Bertina Lopes, Untitled, 1972, Oil on canvas, 100 x 110 cm. Courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery.

Bertina Lopes (1924-2012) and Roland Dorcely (1930-2017) are just two of the artists from Africa and its multiple diasporas that I am thrilled to see boosted. Both will be presented at this year’s London edition of 1-54 at Richard Saltoun and Loeve&Co, respectively.

5. An Exhibition that Haunts Me, Still

Autobiography: Air/CS560, 1988. Howardena Pindell, American, born 1943. Acrylic, tempera, oil stick, blood, paper, polymer-photo transfer and vinyl on canvas.

How Dare You Question’ — those words loomed at me from one of Howardena Pindell’s collage works in her touring U.S. museum retrospective, What Remains to be Seen curated by Naomi Beckwith and Valerie Cassel Oliver. The exhibition’s catalogue is one of those monographs that allows your mind to wander into new corridors after the exhibition’s doors close.

6. Proudest Acquisitions

Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE. Sharjah Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy the Estate of Etel Adnan.

I am humbled to have been able to support the acquisitions of noteworthy artworks into public collections by artists such as Lubaina Himid and David Koloane. Himid’s Bone in the China: Success to the Africa Trade (1985) and David Koloane’s Untitled (The Moon over Hillbrow Tower) (2010) are just two of the acquisitions that I will have the privilege of exhibition in the forthcoming exhibition In the Heart of Another Country, drawn from the Sharjah Art Foundation Collection – showing at Deichtorhallen, Hamburg from October 28th this year!

7. A TV Show for the Ages

Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) in “Atlanta” Season 4. Credit: Guy D’Alema/FX

Donald Glover who also goes by the stage name, Childish Gambino created Atlanta in 2016. Series 3 and 4 changed the TV game. This is no mere sitcom, but an Afro-surrealist dream that holds the mirror up to everyone who is watching — untangling hypocrisy and political correctness. Race in the USA has never been so well deconstructed or put back together with such magical flare on screen. A dream of mine = working with Donald Glover one day!

8. Playlisting

Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer.

Ye’s The Life of Pablo remains on heavy rotation, as does Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer.

9. Modern Revisionism

Ibrahim El-Salahi, Meditation Tree, 2018, Polish aluminium, 68 x 54 x 46 cm, Edition 8 of 8. Courtesy of Vigo Gallery.

Abdul Hady El GazzarAhmed MorsiIbrahim El-Salahi, and Issa Samb were unknown to most a mere decade ago. Encountering their art in conversation with global artistic movements has contoured our routes to contemporary art in Africa and its diasporas.

10. The Assemblies

Courtesy of Marie-Cécile Zinsou.

Restoration to restitution — giving back is a necessity! It’s a time to open restitution to Africa. Watching the re-birth of African art museums, and the work of figures such as Marie-Cécile Zinsou who opened the first museum of contemporary art in Benin, is but one of the efforts that continues to inspire.

1-54 Forum Curator

Dr. Omar Kholeif is an author, curator, historian, and broadcaster who currently serves as Curator of the 1-54 FORUM. They are the Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE. Working as Dr. O, they host the artPost21 Podcast on art, music, and the emotional experience of collective listening.

In 2022, Sternberg Press will publish a new book series developed by Kholeif, Imagine Otherwise, focusing on queer, non-binary, and female artists. The first in the sequence focuses on Sonia Balassanian and is released in October 2022. In Spring 2023, Phaidon will publish their book, Internet Art: From the Birth of the Web to the Rise of NFTs.

Check the Forum Programme here, and click here to register for 1-54 Forum.

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