For the 2023 edition of the New York Fair, 1-54 was pleased to collaborate with ARTNOIR on a series of events as part of the VIP programme. ARTNOIR is a female-majority and black + brown owned, NYC based global collective and 501(c)(3) with a mission to celebrate and highlight the work of creatives of color while catalyzing cultural equity across the arts and culture industries.


ARTNOIR began as a group of friends organizing “field trips” to museums, galleries, and art fairs around the globe but has evolved over the years. What is the mission and the scope of the collective today?

Our mission is to close the racial equity gap in the art world specifically by supporting emerging artists, collectors, and curators of color, connecting them in community, and leveraging the power of our collective to create safe spaces for black and brown people to explore and expand the boundaries of creativity. Two of our signature programs are the Jar of Love Fund, unrestricted micro grants for artists, curators and cultural producers of color and a scholarship program with CUNY MFA Studio Art Programs. The ARTNOIR  ‘field trips’ have expanded in scope and reach as well. They remain a core part of how we achieve our mission and they reflect everything we love and bring to the culture.

Does today’s art world feel more accessible than it did when ARTNOIR first began?

This new state of the art world, where you see a somewhat strong presence of artists and cultural agents of color not only getting recognized and celebrated but occupying key roles at different institutions, has been brewing for a while. It’s fair to point out that when ARTNOIR started to take form 10 years ago, a handful of POC artists and curators/directors were already breaking “the ceiling.” Still, more recently, particular events, including the pandemic and the George Floyd case, it felt that long-due access was imminent, and the people demanded this to become the norm moving forward finally; therefore, we are hoping that this “access” isn’t performative and instead reassured and long-lasting.

Many of the collective’s founding members come from non-arts backgrounds. How did you all become interested in art?

 Although we do not necessarily all have traditional art backgrounds, we collectively share the tenets of being community leaders, attentive hosts, care deeply and have a passion for the arts. We found solidarity in entering what sometimes can be intimidating institutional spaces and invited others to join, hence engaging our communities with each other and thus the wider art world. We also all are driven by a unified purpose of upholding our people and breaking down barriers to create space and access points for black and brown creativity to be celebrated. 

Did you discover any emerging artists over New York art week, whose career you’re excited to follow over the coming years?

There were a number of artists that we discovered during New York Art week that  we are excited to follow, be engaged with, become a steward of their work,  and hopefully collaborate with in the future. Antonio Obá  is a Brazilian artist who investigates the construction of Black bodies in historical and political narratives. The second artist was Turiya Magadlela , a South African artist who sews and embroiders nylon pantyhose in addition to other fabrics with charged history in order to utilize them as a vehicle to spark a dialogue around related gender and society.  Edozie Anedu is a young artist exploring coming of age and identity through ancestry. The future looks real bright for many of these artists.

How will we see ARTNOIR growing and evolving in the next few years?

As we mentioned earlier, this year ARTNOIR turns 10! What an incredible ride it has been for us and this labor of love that we all feel is just the beginning of our 100 -Year Plan.  Props to Ouigi. We are excited to continue to expand the reach of ARTNOIR by deepening our relationships with artists of color globally, supporting curators & producers of color and our communities of art enthusiasts. We plan to grow our scholarship efforts, redistribute more fiscal resources to our art community and increase our art based programming focused on families – making our experiences more intergenerational.  Rumor also has it that our co-founders and incredible curators , Larry & Danny, will join forces to curate a group show to honor our 10 year milestone.  We look forward to supporting the next generation of artists who will bring their authentic stories and artistic practice to the world in new and exciting ways.


Learn more about ARTNOIR Here.

1-54 Presents
Q&A with Caryl Ivrisse Crochemar


What inspired the concept behind this exhibition?

The exhibition was inspired by conversations I had with Touria and Camille while I was taking part in previous editions of the fair with my gallery, espace d’art contemporain 14N 61W (Martinique). At that time, 14N 61W was the only gallery located in the Caribbean taking part in the fair. We discussed how the fair would benefit from integrating more artists or entities from every corner of Afro-descendant communities in its selection and programming since the fair aims to promote Contemporary Art from Africa and its diaspora. So when Touria and Camille contacted me to curate a pop-up exhibition featuring artists with Afro-Caribbean backgrounds, I immediately accepted the challenge. With this exhibition, we’re hoping to invite viewers to consider another view of the collective unconscious about the Caribbean beyond its long-lasting postcard imagery.

How has the landscape of contemporary Caribbean art evolved over the last 10 years, and why do you think that is?

In the past decade though, many artists in the Caribbean and elsewhere have benefited from the global interest in “African, Afro Art”. A growing interest in cultural diversity and identity has drawn in audiences outside the region. For instance, the links between the Caribbean and North American artistic circles hold in particular the need for the first ones to multiply development opportunities and the desire of the second to defend a plural and extensive American culture. As such, the local cultural landscape has benefited from this increased interest in art in the region and the local ecosystems tend to be more and more interconnected with each other.

How do you think this exhibition about Caribbean artists fits into the wider mission of 1-54?

From my perspective, the conversation about art, culture, and more between the African continent and the Afro-diaspora in the Caribbean is already been established. It’s an ongoing discussion that started many decades ago with the concept of Negritude. African and Caribbean intellectuals continue to this day to feed the discussion with exchanges of experiences, support, and cooperation. In the Americas, the proximity of the Caribbean archipelago and the U.S. allows for more visibility and opportunities for the artists and also allows scholars, researchers, and art professionals to reach out and visit the region. This allows 1-54 to further its reach and to bridge with various art communities around the globe that comprise the African Diaspora, presenting the great wealth of their creative output.

How does it feel to spearhead the inaugural ‘1-54 Presents’ exhibition?

I consider it an honor to curate the inaugural 1-54 Presents project. It’s a huge responsibility and I hope the result will not disappoint.

What’s next for you?

There are a few things on the horizon, but it’s too early to talk about them. When I’m not curating or doing other art collaborations, I focus on maintaining espace d’art contemporain 14N 61W as a relevant (non-profit) platform for the arts in Martinique and abroad – and also developing a small cacao plantation with my brother…

How Healing and the Subconscious United the Four Artists of the Nando’s and Yellowwoods Art Collaboration

One of the special projects featured in the 2016 edition of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London was a group exhibition commissioned by Nando’s – an international restaurant chain famed for its Afro-Portuguese cuisine – in collaboration with Yellowwoods Art. Nando’s patronage of contemporary African art, through its close partnership with Cape Town based Yellowwoods Art, both enables the development of artists and the curation of Nando’s own art collection. Through Yellowwoods Art, Nando’s have amassed one of the biggest collections of contemporary Southern African art in the world with over 7,300 original works exhibited in their UK restaurants.

The four artists selected to participate in 1:54 echoed the ethos of the art fair, diversity. The artists – Lizette Chirrime, Regi Bardavid, Kagiso Patrick (Pat) Mautloa, and Maurice Mbikayi – showed diversity in geographical origin, concept, medium, and career development. Their exhibition was a mingling of collage (by Chirrime), abstract expressionism (Bardavid), an installation of found objects (Mautloa), and a photographic series of a Sapeur, who was adorned, most unusually, in scrap computer parts rather than luxurious fabrics (Mbikayi).

But hidden within this variety of mediums and seemingly disparate artistic theses lay shared philosophies on the creation of art as the product of a contemplative process and the capability of art as a transient force for healing. The artists disclosed these philosophies to Nadia Sesay in an interview on the opening day of 1:54.

“I worked in imagination,” Lizette Chirrime described of her process to create new artworks for the exhibit at 1:54. Known for incorporating a strong autobiographical presence in her work, it is Chirrime’s imagination which births a fluid narrative inspired from her upbringing on the Angoche Archipelago in Mozambique. In that subconscious space, at times, she even embodies a mermaid. When transferred to canvas these visions manifest as multi-media collages made of colorful beads, cut fabric and stitching that depict whimsy forms afloat in dream-like environments.

For Chirrime, stitching and assemblage are greater than simple mediums of art. She believes humankind has failed in its assignment to take care of Mother Earth – which the artist refers to as a “garden” – and that this failure has left mankind detached and broken. Stitching therefore is symbolic; it serves to reconnect humanity and heal mankind. She said, “It is up to us to re-plug and reconnect with ourselves in order to connect to all of us and clean up the garden. And to heal, that’s my thing. My idea of collaging different print fabrics from different cultures is about bringing things together – about reconnecting – stitching and healing the wounds and putting things together.”

Regi Bardavid’s abstract paintings echoed the ethereal quality of Chirrime’s collages and were likewise derived from an altered state of mind. Working with the subconscious and meditation, Bardavid reaches into a personal unconscious that is needed, she said, to tap into the collective one, culminating in “a very strange, energetic level”. Bardavid elaborated further: “I don’t draw or paint the visions from that meditation, I just play with paint and marks and allow the image to appear.” In that way her paintings are mysterious. Her blue abstract which hung in the 1:54 exhibit was devised initially to be a reflection of her childhood desert environment in Egypt. In other words, she anticipated a warm palette. But the blue appeared. The artist, unbothered by this result, compared her painting to a rush of water: “Water is truth – the shape of a tree and water coming through. So I thought ok, that’s good enough for me.”

Bardavid’s affinity with abstract expressionism developed during her studies at the Johannesburg Art Foundation, where she studied under lecturer and fellow abstractionist Bill Ainslie. Bardavid attended the Foundation under the apartheid regime, but, as she recalled, art was liberating. She reflected, “It was the only institution where everybody was welcome. For me it was a novelty. Everyone felt nurtured.” Pat Mautloa, also familiar with the Foundation, added: “The nice thing was that there were no rules – we defied all the rules of separation that were levied by government. The communality was more about people coming together to do what they enjoyed most and what comes naturally to them, which is art.”

There were no art shops open in Johannesburg during apartheid, so artists like Mautloa resorted to found objects to create art. This act was the base of his art practice: “I’ve always taken things, put them together, and come up with something,” he said. As such, Mautloa’s contribution to the exhibit at 1:54 was an installation of abstract faces made from discarded plastic jugs.

The stasis brought forth from the art-making process extends to Maurice Mbikayi’s Sapeur. Sapeurs are male members of a sartorial social movement from Congo. They use exaggerated style as a silent but animated platform to express political disdain. “I come from a country where people use disguised ways to talk about oppression, [particularly] in the term of the dictator Mobutu. But now people use fashion. It’s entertaining but has a diplomatic element,” said the Congolese artist who now resides in Cape Town.

The garments of Mbikayi’s Sapeur match up those of the dandies in Brazzaville – a tailored suit, bowler and cane – but the artist swaps fluorescent wool for discarded parts of a computer. Mbikayi often uses the jazzy technology suits in performance: as he moves the keys fall in an act of liberation from human dependency on technology. Considering Africa specifically, the symbolism of detachment from the technological – and quickly moving – mainstream; the continent shedding the obsolete technologies shipped as aid.

As with his fellow exhibitor Chirrime, Mbikayi makes peace with a flawed humanity in his art-making: “When I strip down the computer parts I tend to sympathize with people in mining work in Africa, mostly the children who have been used.”

The artists from the Nando’s collection exhibited in a context deliberately stylized with a focus on Africa. 1:54 was also the first time the artists exhibited within the same space. When asked about how their artworks engaged with one another in the space, each artist’s response referred to their intrinsic connections as Africans, and art being an extension of that natural connection. Bardavid remarked, “You can see the artwork is very much South African. We are the product of where we come from. That’s the stem – there is commonality in this diversity.” Added Mautloa, “I’d say inherently South African but also just ‘African’. In a sense any of these works can be shown in any favorable setting in Africa or in Europe it would have the African genome in it. To showcase in this unique space, where there is an intense African presence, is continental alliteration. This is Afrocentric and happy.”

Click here for more information about Nando’s booth at 1:54, in collaboration with Yellowwoods Art.

Take a virtual tour of the booth here!

Nadia Sesay is a writer and Editor of the newly-launched BLANC Modern Africa, a magazine on contemporary African art and culture. She holds an undergraduate degree in International Business from George Washington University in Washington, DC, and has studied Contemporary Art and Art Business with Sotheby’s Institute of Art. Nadia was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The art of an art fair

This interview was originally published in the October 2016 issue of NewAfrican, pp. 86-88, to coincide with the fourth London edition of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair.

In advance of the fair, 1:54 brought together three people deeply engaged in the art world to discuss the fair and the growing market for contemporary African art: Hussam Otaibi, Managing Partner of Floreat Group, the main sponsor of the fair and the Founder of Modern Forms, a collection and platform supporting contemporary art, Laetitia Catoir, Director at Blain|Southern and part of the Artistic Committee at 1:54, and Nick Hackworth, Director of Modern Forms.

NH: Laetitia, perhaps you could start by telling us about how 1:54 got going? You helped found it I understand?

LC: Yes, I became heavily involved with the inaugural year after Touria El Glaoui approached me to find out what I thought about the idea creating of a contemporary African art fair. Touria is connected to art through her family (her father is a renowned artist), but she didn’t have a background in the art business, so she had this great, fresh perspective on everything that was going on in the art world. I thought it was a great idea and we both felt the time was right given the lack of visibility around African art. That first year Koyo Kouoh and I helped as much as we could to get the fair off the ground but there was very little other support or understanding of what we were trying to do. We were running things on a shoestring. That first year we had 17 participating galleries, this year there are 40 galleries spread across three wings of Somerset House and the fair is now a fixture on Frieze week art calendar.

NH: And so when was this?

LC: 2012… What most people don’t know is that it took a year and a mammoth amount of research to get it going, looking at potential participating artists and galleries, and to see if the market was ready for the fair…

NH: And what was the response of the market when you were testing the waters?

LC: Well its interesting because there was when we started there were mixed reactions, some support but others were saying things like, ‘it’s a crazy idea… the market is not there yet… you’re ahead of the curve, not just by a few years, but by a lot!’ and some people even thought that it was a bad idea centre a fair on African art at all…

NH: Because of the danger of pigeonholing artists as ‘African’ rather than just been artists?

LC: Yes, precisely, the continent is so diverse even discussing ‘African’ art can seem nonsensical, but what came out of our research at the time was the fact that in the main fairs the proportion of African art on view was just 0.05%! So as far as we were concerned there was need for the focus the fair provides. Also given the continent is made up of 54 countries – hence the title of the fair – there’s a huge diversity and variety of artistic practice to draw which wasn’t getting the recognition it deserves.

NH: Hussam, as a collector and, through Floreat, the sponsor, what’s your take on this issue of having a fair defined by an identity like African?

HO: Well personally, I’m interested in great artists, wherever they’re from… at the same time we all have many identities and so I don’t have a problem with it. As a sponsor, I think there is something particularly interesting about 1:54. An art fair, by definition is about circulating art and creating new markets and, Laetitia, what you said about the low levels of representation of African artists in other fairs is, for me, a winning argument for establishing 1:54, even given the problematic nature of identity, or labels… and to put it simply we collected some spectacular artists at 1:54 last year, and all artists were new to me… so…

NH: Obviously I agree. Equally, it’s interesting to watch the art market’s effect on content, and to see the kind of content that ends up being amplified by the market. I’ve been going to the Dubai Art Fair for a long time, since just after it started and I think a kind of market friendly Middle Eastern art aesthetic emerged, which often revolved around a sort of pop-art treatment of calligraphic forms…
contemporary art that was explicitly ‘Middle Eastern’… so I guess there’s a danger that by identifying a market as ‘Middle Eastern’, ‘African’ or ‘Chinese’, you might start encouraging collectors to look for work that ‘looks’ like whatever any of those identities is deemed to ‘look like’ in the market…

LC: Yes…that could be a danger but the fair is extremely lucky to have Koyo Kouoh on board who works across Africa, Europe and the US. Her work has seen her serve as advisor to the artistic director for dOCUMENTA and serve as a member of the Golden Lion Jury at the Venice Biennale, she has a rigorous approach. This means that the way we look at selection is to simply look for outstanding artists, not for any particular practice, message, or view.

HO: That’s true, because if I think back to last year, I mean, yes, there were some artists whose identity seemed to be ‘African’, in their concerns at least, but most of the artists, just seemed to me to be good, contemporary, artists.

LC: After going round the fair, in any year, you realise that there may be some common threads but they’re not what you’d expect them to be. What’s also interesting is seeing how the art scene has evolved in Africa over the last few years. I’ve just came back from Accra, Ghana where the lack of state funding means the scene is driven by private galleries, collectives and self-funded street art festivals. It’s a great example of how artists themselves are forging ahead. Elsewhere new galleries and museums are opening and private collectors are looking to open institutions in Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa, to name a few. There has been increase in artistic infrastructure on the continent at all levels. Internationally, the focus on contemporary African art has grown massively. Sotheby’s have recently launched an African Art department and African artists have big solo shows in leading contemporary galleries and museums across the globe; for example, next year contemporary African art will take centre stage at Fondation Louis Vuitton with an exhibition dedicated to 15 emerging artists from South Africa and exhibition of works from the Jean Pigozzi collection. African artists both at home and throughout the diaspora have increasing prominence and I think 1.54, along with general rise in interest in contemporary African art, both in Africa and outside has helped make that happen. It’s a very exciting time for contemporary African art.

5 highlights from the Modern Forms collection

Ibrahim Mahama, Dsiya, 2015, Wax print and coal sacks on dyed sacks and coal sacks with screen prints and markings, 250  × 350  cm, Courtesy the artist and Modern Forms
Ibrahim Mahama, Dsiya, 2015, Wax print and coal sacks on dyed sacks and coal sacks with screen prints and markings, 250 × 350 cm, Courtesy the artist and Modern Forms

“Maybe the most common theme within my work, the physicality and also the process of the work is… the idea of labour and capital”. Young, Ghanaian artist, (b. 1987), Ibrahim Mahama, captured the attention of the art world with a series of astonishing, epic public art works he staged initially in Ghana and subsequently seen internationally including at the last Venice Biennale, where he covered buildings and public spaces with vast blankets of jute sacks and cloth bags sewn together. Manama found something poetic and structurally revealing in the typical life cycle of jute bags in his city. Originally manufactured to carry cocoa once, the bags would often be reused to carry food and finally coal. As the sacks circulated they would often become marked with names and numbers and sometimes embroidered or ornamented. Mahama explains that, “the coal sacks began as an extension of how the body could be looked at”. The physicality of the works, the marks, their history, make visible, tangentially, the world of material exchange and the many flows within it.

Omar Ba, Time Out 1, 2016, Oil, crayon, acrylic, gouache on cotton, 190  × 140  cm, Courtesy of Art Bärtschi & Cie and Omar Ba
Omar Ba, Time Out 1, 2016, Oil, crayon, acrylic, gouache on cotton, 190 × 140 cm, Courtesy of Art Bärtschi & Cie and Omar Ba

Geneva based, Senegalese artist Omar Bar (b.1977) creates, dense, both visually and materially, painterly, works using a rich mix of oil, gouache and acrylic, typically onto corrugated cardboard. His visual universe is a confusing, often threatening and dark scramble of images; flags, fighters, logos, strange animals, thick vegetation and boldly and often singly depicted figures all compete on paintings’ crowded surfaces for attention.

Abdoulaye Konaté, Generation Biométrique no. 5, 2008-2013, Textile, 317  × 227  cm, Courtesy of the artist and Modern Forms
Abdoulaye Konaté, Generation Biométrique no. 5, 2008-2013, Textile, 317 × 227 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Modern Forms

“I wouldn’t say I am an activist but I am interested in social issues. I see human suffering. People usually portray it under a political angle; I prefer to do so under a social angle.” Abdoulaye Konaté (b. 1953, Mali) has, since the 1990’s, when he stopped easel painting, used dyed, painted and embroidered textiles as his medium. It was a development that drew on Konate’s deep engagement with Malian history and tradition, having worked at the National Museum of Mali for two decades – namely the importance of textiles as a medium of communication within West African culture. Critics have also referenced the Mandé – the Malian hunting tunic – as a symbolic influence on the form of his work. Whilst one strand of Konate’s work is abstract, another, of which Generation Biometrique no. 5 is a prime example, is figurative and directly political work. Finished in 2013 the work addresses the politics and power dynamics around the issue of immigration into Europe and the now standard biometric testing of all immigrants and the cataloguing of each person according to a standard set of metrics.

Billie Zangewa, Angel, 2016, Silk tapestry, 138 x 128 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Afronova Gallery
Billie Zangewa, Angel, 2016, Silk tapestry, 138 x 128 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Afronova Gallery

“My work explores the theme of identity and what that means for me. It is concerned with the female experience both personal and universal.” Born in 1973 in Blantyre, Malawi, raised in Botswana and now based in Johannesburg, Billie Zangewa creates beautiful, figurative tapestries and collages, typically in cut silk. A self-confessed ‘fashion fanatic’ from the age of 10, Zangewa studied printmaking and graphic design and, upon graduation, started making elaborately decorated handbags, that, over the time, became increasingly deconstructed till they emerged as tapestries. Zangewa explains the process of how each work begins: “I start off with an experience that elicits an emotion. The emotion then inspires an image that examines and narrates the experience.’ Describing her work as often autobiographical, her work centres around a powerful depiction of her identity, without being circumscribed by that as a subject.

Pascale Martine Tayou, Chalk Fresco, 2015, Chalk, mixed media, 311 × 818  cm, Courtesy the artist and Modern Forms
Pascale Martine Tayou, Chalk Fresco, 2015, Chalk, mixed media, 311 × 818 cm, Courtesy the artist and Modern Forms

As anyone who saw Boomerang, his solo show at at the Serpentine own London last year, can testify, Pascale Martine Tayou’s art is bewildering, playful, frenetic, sprawling, absurd and serious by turns and uninterested in being easily defined. A lawyer by training Tayou (b. 1970 Cameroon), began making art in the 1990’s. He marked this transition in a very public and indicative act of self-redefinition, by feminizing his name, adding an ‘e’ to the end of Pascal and Martin. This ironic scrambling of received notions of identity embodied Tayou’s method of teasing out serious points from a playful and very personal perspective. Chalk Fresco is one of the largest of Tayou’s Chlak series, in which he fill frames with pieces of coloured chalk, creating vast, energetic, tactile, abstract surfaces. Tayou describes the series as an “act of revenge on a certain kind of education” in the sense that coloured chalks represented play, as against the white chalk of education and functionality, “it’s also a way of showing the origin of what I have become today”.

Taking the everyday, a meeting with Ifeanyi Oganwu

Returning once again to Somerset House for its 2016 London edition, this year the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair is thrilled to be showcasing 10 special projects in addition to its 130+ exhibiting artists. With projects ranging from site-specific installations and radio broadcasts to a major show of the work of Malick Sidibé, 1:54’s special projects offer a rich programme of non-profit artistic endeavours.

As always at the fair, the 1:54 Lounge and Bookshop will provide visitors with spaces in which to relax and reflect. This year, as part of the Special Projects programme, Ifeanyi Oganwu has collaborated with Galerie Armel Soyer, textile firm Toghal and artist Phoebe Boswell to create a collection of pieces that will fill the lounge and bookshop.

Ifeanyi Oganwu is an artist and designer of Nigerian origin whose inspiration is gathered from across the globe. His beautifully minimalist, futurist creations explore modernist notions of design in relation to the body, whilst working fluidly between the fields of architecture, art and design. In 2008, Oganwu founded Expand Design Ltd, a London-based studio that explores the boundaries of art, culture and technology. Oganwu has recently exhibited Splice with the touring exhibition Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design, which will move onto the Kunsthal Rotterdam this Autumn. Splice’s artfully constructed aluminium panels epitomise the designer’s play with materials and exploration of high-tech manufacturing techniques.

Working in collaboration with Oganwu, Pheobe Boswell is a Nairobi born, London-based artist with a Kikuyu mother and fourth generation British Kenyan father. Drawing from this incredibly multicultural upbringing, as well as her own passage of migration, Boswell works in drawing, animation and installation to comment on wider social questions.

As the fair draws nearer and the creation of the works is well underway, we managed to have a chat to Oganwu about the how the project has come together.

For 1:54’s lounge, Oganwu has created forty unique stools that will hold cushions produced by Toghal textile firm, and bearing distinctive prints designed by Phoebe Boswell. The name of the stool – Pedestal – beautifully expresses the intentions of the collaborative team, and the origins from which the piece grew from. Oganwu explains that the project started after Toghal approached him. The textile firm asked the designer to create a stool that would ‘present’ their work, and so Oganwu began to explore forms that could display and elevate beautiful furnishings, whilst ‘taking a back seat’ and not creating distraction.

Using the concept of the pedestal as a starting point, Oganwu then began to develop the design, taking an exploration of arches as inspiration. ‘We used the arch because it is something that is present in our urban fabric, but that has also completely disappeared. We use arches for the infrastructure of the city, and yet no one pays attention – arches are there but in a way they are also not. And so I became interested in this everyday language, but also in the sorts of things that disappear.’

The resulting plywood stools consist of two curved bolsters within which Toghal and Phoebe Boswell’s collaborative cushions – titled Duniake – rest. Oganwu explains that he is pleased with the multiple associations that the stools generate, and this interpretative freedom offered to the viewer is characteristic of Oganwu’s work.

With the forty Pedestal stools arranged across the lounge displaying the vibrant cushions, Oganwu envisages a somewhat graphic quality within the space. Created in a variety of colours, the bespoke prints of Duniake display Boswell’s skills of draughtsmanship, whilst taking the traditional Swahili Kanga as a point of departure – an everyday garment consisting of a piece of colourful fabric with a decorated border and central motif. Boswell’s resulting patterns appear abstract from a distance, whilst in reality consisting of beautiful figurative forms.

Ifeanyi Oganwu, 'Pedestal', 2016, Moulded Birch Ply, Edition of 200, Photo Andy Sutton, Courtesy Expand Design Ltd and Toghal
Ifeanyi Oganwu, ‘Pedestal’, 2016, Moulded Birch Ply, Edition of 200, Photo Andy Sutton, Courtesy Expand Design Ltd and Toghal

In addition to the interior spaces of the 1:54 lounge, Toghal has also created a collection of cushions in collaboration with artist and designer Lulu Kitololo that will be positioned on a number of Somerset House’s terraces. These spaces will transform the lounge into an outside experience, providing ‘soft spaces’ that explore the porosity between the exterior and interior.

Oganwu explains: ‘Working in a collaborative group has been an extremely exciting process for me. It’s really interesting how even though maybe we began by all working separately, we came together using the everyday as a collective tool… In the end you have the everyday producing a new way of seating. That’s the essence of what it is we’ve created.’

Oganwu’s 1:54 bookshop design will continue to explore ideas of multiple dimensions and flexible space, whilst focussing on the room’s circularity and horizontality. Occupying the centre of the bookshop will be a towering bookshelf, this fascinating piece will divide the room into various areas including the live radio station Worldwide FM, which will broadcast throughout the fair as an additional part of 1:54’s special projects. Reaching high into the room with a slight taper, the bookshelf warps the viewer’s ability to see the object itself or even the room, in its entirety.

‘This horizontality and specific visual language is something I have been working with for a while now and I have certainly continued that,’ Oganwu tells us. ‘But my concepts have also come from the materials and the exciting space that is Somerset House. So I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with various configurations.’

Victorious Invisible Men: Visiting Zak Ové’s studio

On 6th October, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair will return to Somerset House for its fourth London edition, this year presenting its largest programme of special projects yet with 10 contributors. 1:54 is particularly excited to be taking over the Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court for the first time ever with an installation by Vigo Gallery’s Zak Ové. Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness will consist of forty, two metre high black graphite sculptures and will occupy the totality of the fountain space from the 6th – 15th October.

The installation will be a site-specific project, created especially for the fair. Last week, the 1:54 team was fortunate enough to visit Ové’s studio and witness the artist’s creative process. Meanwhile, we had a chance to talk about his sculptural practice, influences and his intentions behind his installation at Somerset House.

Zak Ové, 'Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness', 2016, Studio visit, Courtesy the artist and Vigo Gallery
Zak Ové, ‘Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness’, 2016, Studio visit, Courtesy the artist and Vigo Gallery

Upon seeing the army of beautiful graphite sculptures that will make up Ové’s installation, it is hard to believe that their creator is a self-taught sculptor. The son of the award-winning filmmaker Horace Ové, it is unsurprising that Ové’s training and background was initially in filmmaking. However, following a residency at Caribbean Contemporary Art in 2007, Ové discovered the possibilities of sculpture. “It’s interesting” the artist told us, “I have gradually learned that there is far more of a personal narrative process involved in sculpture than in filmmaking. As a practitioner you have far more creative ownership than with filmmaking. In the latter, you are given a commission with a script and someone else’s concept in place, but with sculpture you don’t have these limitations. You’re on your own.”

This freedom to explore narrative and interpretations forms the basis of all of Ové’s work. The artist is fascinated by the reinterpretation of culture and mythology and uses his practice as a way to explore these reinterpretations through new materials and cultural contexts.

In the year of the 50th anniversary of the Notting Hill Carnival and following on from his installation of Moko Jumbies in the Grand Court of the British Museum last year, Zak Ové has created a courtyard installation at Somerset House that positions a (time travelling) army of masked Invisible men within this historic environment, their symmetry echoing that of the surroundings.

Zak Ové, Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness, Digital proposal, 2016, Courtesy the artist and Vigo Gallery
Zak Ové, Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness, Digital proposal, 2016, Courtesy the artist and Vigo Gallery

The installation comments on the relationship between power, beauty, identity and skin colour, referencing the Masque of Blackness, a masked play/extravaganza written by Ben Jonson and enacted by Anne of Denmark and her court ladies, painted in ‘blackface’ in the courtyard of Somerset House in 1605. The Masque, was reflective of the societal shift away from notions of black beauty towards a preference for lighter skin in the early 17th Century.

Ové’s Invisible men, inspired by his mixed heritage and by Ralph Ellison’s classic, are surrounded and engulfed within the fountains of the courtyard, a time travelling envoy reclaiming ground for diasporic beauty. Rescaled from an ebony wood sculpture given to Zak in the 70’s by his father, (renowned film maker Horace Ové CBE, Director of the first black British feature film “Pressure” in 1976) into a totemic two meter clay figure then re-cast in graphite (think shading), these figures re-enter a contemporary space, waterproof manifestations of a diasporic scope of infinite variation.

Zak Ové, 'Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness', 2016, Studio visit, Courtesy the artist and Vigo Gallery
Zak Ové, ‘Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness’, 2016, Studio visit, Courtesy the artist and Vigo Gallery

Ové works in sculpture, film, painting and photography and is interested in reinterpreting lost culture and mythology through the repurposing or reimagining of modern and antique found materials. He pays tribute to African and Trinidadian identities which have been given new meanings through the cross-cultural dispersion of ideas and believes strongly in the power of the emancipation of self through the culture of Carnival and Masquerade. Ové translates such cultural productions into new contexts and meanings. In this way, the artist consistently looks to explore questions of the diaspora – of how Africa and its cultural practices may regenerate outside of the Continent.

“One thing I want to emphasise is that a sense of victory is essential to my work. I want people who engage with these works and walk away feeling victorious. The sculptures are not meant to be frightening or intimidating, they are calm and peaceful and noble… and also beautiful!”

Zak Ové’s installation promises to be a striking addition to 1:54. As the fountains flow, this army of figures will stand strong, asserting their presence in the centre of Somerset House’s historic heritage.

Zak Ové, 'Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness', 2016, Studio visit, Courtesy the artist and Vigo Gallery
Zak Ové, ‘Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness’, 2016, Studio visit, Courtesy the artist and Vigo Gallery

Interview with Phoebe Boswell

A short interview with artist Phoebe Boswell on the occasion of 1:54 New York 2016 – where she presented her work with the London-based TAFETA.

For 1:54 London 2016 (6-9 October, Somerset House), she has been collaborating with designer Ifeanyi Oganwu (Expand Design Ltd), Galerie Armel Soyer and textile design firm Toghal on a group of works for the 1:54 Lounge.

Phoebe Boswell (b. 1982) draws on her own passage of migration and multicultural identity as an entry point into wider social explorations, producing drawings, animations, and installations.


Interview with Phoebe Boswell

A short interview with artist Phoebe Boswell on the occasion of 1:54 New York 2016 – where she presented her work with the London-based TAFETA.

For 1:54 London 2016 (6-9 October, Somerset House), she has been collaborating with designer Ifeanyi Oganwu (Expand Design Ltd), Galerie Armel Soyer and textile design firm Toghal on a group of works for the 1:54 Lounge.

Phoebe Boswell (b. 1982) draws on her own passage of migration and multicultural identity as an entry point into wider social explorations, producing drawings, animations, and installations.