The 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair held annually in London since 2013 is back for its ninth and largest edition yet. Organized to improve the representation of contemporary African art in worldwide exhibitions, it is the foremost art fair dedicated to contemporary African art. This year, the Fair will present work from 48 leading international galleries from 23 countries. Circle Art Agency, one of our favorite Nairobi spots, will participate and showcase the work of Souad Abdelrassoul, Dickens Otieno, and Donald Wasswa.
Souad Abdelrassoul's artistic practice spans various media; drawing, painting, sculpture, and graphic design. Her metamorphosed figures attempt to reflect the connections between the human race and the natural elements of life; flora and fauna. Tree-like figures with branching veins and arteries merge on her canvases to remind the viewer of the vital bond between our inner lives and the exterior world we live in. She exalts the feminine, the emotional, and the natural world while telling stories, sometimes using myths and legends, to draw attention to how women are forced to evolve and grow in an oppressive environment. Abdelrassoul graduated with a BFA in 1998, completed a Master's History of Art in 2005, and in 2012 she completed her Ph.D. in Modern Art History. Since 1998 she has exhibited frequently in group and solo exhibitions in Cairo and shows in Nairobi, Beirut, and the USA.
Souad Abdelrassoul, The River, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 105 x 190 cm. Courtesy of Circle Art Gallery.
Dickens Otieno's tapestries draw attention to the potential beauty in objects that would otherwise be dismissed as useless and discarded. He shreds aluminum cans and weaves them in a process informed by weaving natural materials such as papyrus, raffia, or palm that he observed growing up. He spent many hours in his mother's tailor workshop amongst African fabrics, whose colors and patterns have since influenced his aesthetic. This engagement with fabrics grows from an interest in how pattern, color, and iconography imbue functional objects with meaning and identity. Otieno draws heavily on his immediate physical surroundings, particularly the urban environment of Nairobi, to create his compositions. Objects piled high in markets, the constantly shifting skyline, the pockets of nature in the concrete and steel haze of Nairobi – these are the sources of Otieno's inspiration for his richly hued, increasingly sculptural compositions. Otieno has shown his work at exhibitions and art fairs in Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, the UK, France, and the UAE.
Dickens Otieno, White with Patches, 2020, Shredded aluminum cans woven on galvanized steel mesh, 149 x 211 cm. Courtesy of Circle Art Gallery.
Donald Wasswa's work encourages conversations about the future of humankind, particularly looking at the influence of science and technology in modern societies. He studies the transformation process with his primary focus on humans versus a given environment, social interactions, and the nature of communication involved. Wasswa uses real-life events to influence his research which relies on spontaneous encounters with natural or found objects. These objects are carriers of memories of places that he claims as art materials. The objects later suffer various forms of interference by carving, assembling, and arranging, resulting in sculptures, 3D paintings, and installations. Wasswa studied Sculpture at Kyambogo University and currently runs ArtPunch Studio, Kampala. He was the 2016 recipient of the merit award in the Absa L'Atelier competition. He has participated in solo and group exhibitions in Uganda and abroad, including Zikunta, Under Gorund, Kampala (2016); To Live is to Become, Afriart Gallery, Kampala (2017); and, in 2019, he participated in the inaugural of the Biennale Internationale de Sculpture de Ouagadougou.
Donald Wasswa, Ndyanabanji, 2020, Albizia, ebony and copper, 46 x 37 x 33 cm. Courtesy of Circle Art Gallery.
You can see their work this weekend at Somerset House if you're in London. And lucky for the rest of us who won't be in London, 1-54 Online Powered by Christie's will provide a virtual experience where we can encounter additional works displayed by participating galleries as well as highlights from the Fair itself. Keep an eye on the 1:54 website and Instagram for all deets, and share your experiences with this hashtag #154artfair.
Photo © Katrina Sorrentino, Courtesy 1-54 Fair.