1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York, a new venue in Harlem, and Novella Ford as Curator for 1-54 Forum

David Uzochukwu, Stake Out, 2019, Pigment inkjet print on fine art paper, 100 x 80 cm, Edition of 3. Courtesy of Galerie Number 8.

By DARYL RASHAAN KING, December 2022

Africa is back on the map, and no it is not due to the recent Chanel Metiers D’art Collection in Dakar. That form of homage was long overdue considering the powerful influence of Nollywood films and the huge amount of investment that China has directed toward the continent. Earlier this year, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair held its first in-person return to New York City. Exhibitors were welcomed to a new venue in Harlem, and Novella Ford, Associate Director for Public Programs and Exhibitions at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, as Curator for 1-54 Forum. The fair was founded by Touria El Glaoui in 2013. 1-54 has become the first international art fair to focus on contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. The fair is also hosted in London and Marrakesh (since 2018). With fifty-four countries inside of the African continent, 1-54 aims to be the leading example of “a sustainable and dynamic platform that is engaged in contemporary dialogue and exchange.”

"There was once a time when I was invested in creative industries. Before I even knew about the difficulties that a female of color must face before she becomes a professional creator, I faced my paramount challenges to achieve my own goals. These difficulties almost made it impossible for a project like 1-54 to be realized," El Glaoui said.

Installation view. Photograph by Eva Sakellarides.

People of color must work hard to the extent that they automatically become unrecognized masters. With the oncoming wave of Right-Wing Extremism, there were many people, especially female artists, architects, and designers, who others made the choice not to recognize. However, their primary influence on architecture is impossible to hide. To be a professional in architecture, you must be seasoned in the art of being competitive. The field used to be limited to main buildings, but the inability of many new, emerging architects to compete with real estate development companies, created the demand for adaptability.

Now new architectural concepts are appearing not only in the field itself but across all the creative fields. 1-54 has maintained a somewhat essential partnership with Christie’s. It symbolizes both the future and ideas that Christie’s global client base is concerned about. The fair launched a special NFT project with Christie’s & Code Green. A few NFTs were presented at the Trespassing auction in July. The sale was held online by Christie’s to highlight graffiti’s presence in contemporary art. Proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the Great Green Wall initiative to create arable land in the Sahel, the region bordering Africa's Sahara Desert. This is the perfect example of how architecture became a new domain to transpose your influence on life and human history in a direct way. 

Dindga McCannon, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth-Warriors.

Minority artists, architects, and designers face the question of either ignoring blatant racism or dedicating one’s life to an end that seems to be empty martyrdom. For those who chose to directly respond, they do so more because of their reasons. None of the content made by the recent American Right Wing Resurrection should be taken lightly because it demonstrates how critical creative content made by people of color, essential artwork, and masterpieces, remain inaccessible to Americans.

While a lot of people honestly believe that people of color have no intelligence, creative skills, or the right to artistic self-expression, without any conditions, 1-54 built a partnership with Artsy to allow visitors to communicate with all the galleries and artists. Artsy “connects its 4,000+ international partners—including galleries, auction houses, art fairs, and institutions— spanning 100+ countries with its 1.9 million global art collectors and art lovers across 190+ countries.”

Due to the high risk of misinterpretation, many people of color are afraid of being creative or performing the act of self-reinvention, which is why El Glaoui, the founding Director, was delighted to return to a physical fair in New York. To add more to the celebration, 1-54 presented work by Micha Serraf, the recipient of the Ritzau Art Prize 2021. The Ritzau Art Prize is part of a new vision to grant the network and resources that are needed for an artist to become a global professional. 

Ibrahim El Dessouki, Doors and false doors 1, 2021, Oil and oil bars on clear primed canvas, 185 x 100 cm. Courtesy of Hafez Gallery.

Both the ISCP and the Tauck Ritzau Innovative Philanthropy organizations made it possible for viewers to see the Zimbabwean artist Micha Serraf's “uncanny photographs and handsewn tapestries are motivated by drifting nostalgia for personal and ancestral experiences.” Serraf's work juxtaposes construction with deconstruction. Identity and belonging are intertwined with Blackness. Masculinity is questioned. Micha Serraf was born and raised in Zimbabwe until they had to flee to South Africa.

Thus, mobility has had a significant effect on their work. A lack of South African nationality allows Serraf to navigate through a fluid presentation of self, ranging from extreme to the vaguest. The main question is are fluid gender norms, enactments, and ideologies part of Contemporary Blackness, which is just as Post Modern as our new abilities to tackle the increasing gap between the realization of ideas made by women, people of color, members of LGBTQIA+, etc. However, the United States is in a current situation where some White people think that the success of these minorities is overreaching what the former deserves. 

King Houndekpinkou, Bubble Tea Doll II, 2022, Blend of black and white stoneware, yellow and black glazes, white and pink fluor acrylic paint, and gold, 30.5 x 23 x 23 cm. Courtesy of 50 Golborne.

1-54 also partnered with ARTNOIR to curate and host a 1-54 will host VIP program including studio visits, collection visits, curator-led exhibition tours, cocktail receptions, and more. ARTNOIR is a female majority and minority-owned, NYC-based global collective and 501(c)(3). Their mission is to celebrate and highlight the work of creatives of color. At the same time, they are dedicated to spreading cultural equity across the arts and culture industries. Novella Ford stated that “This year’s 1-54 Forum take their inquiry from Harlem Renaissance writer Countee Cullen and his poem “From the Dark Tower” where he writes: We shall not always plant while others reap.

Cullen acknowledges a legacy of Black labor that has not always benefited communities directly connected to and impacted by that labor. We will root current ideas and creative production by artists of African descent within a lineage of Black political, cultural, and intellectual engagement that has cultivated a present-day Black cultural renaissance. This exploration situates Harlem’s historical relevance to the interlocking histories of people of African descent, with the spirit of famed Harlem Renaissance salons that offered a cross-pollination of ideas between artists, academic and independent scholars, entertainers, and critics.” WM

Daryl Rashaan King

Daryl Rashaan King currently works as a Teaching Artist with Leap NYC; a Chef de Partie at CUT by Wolfgang Puck, The Four Seasons Tribeca; and the Vice President of the Asian American Film Lab. He is the founder/ principal of kokuoroi, a multidisciplinary creative studio. The studio focuses on problems derived from urban living, viewed through the perspective of King, a Brooklyn native. A graduate of Columbia University, who originally specialized in painting, some of King’s goals include obtaining both an M. Arch and an Expert Diploma in Culinary Arts. He would also like to pursue various art and design programs and to live abroad. King has already earned certificates from Parsons in Streetwear; completed part of the Sustainable Design Foundation at Pratt Institute; and volunteered in Cusco, Peru at the construction site of a new Lower School. His work has greatly evolved since taking an Information Architecture course focused on Future Cities, hosted by the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich. A former varsity wrestler, King has hopes of learning and practicing new martial arts. When he isn’t working, enjoying music, or playing video games, King’s focus is on the future.

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