This weekend, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair returns to La Mamounia in Marrakech for its third consecutive year. Touria El Glaoui founded 1:54 in London in 2013, before expanding to New York two years later; in 2018 the third arm of the fair was established in Marrakech. El Glaoui has spoken about the importance of the fair having a physical presence in Africa, reconnecting the art to its continental homeland. The fair will showcase the work of over sixty-five artists from twenty galleries around the world. The rise of modern and contemporary African art over the last decade has been hard to miss. At Unit London, we have been keeping abreast of these developments, most recently following the meteoric rise of Amoako Boafo post Art Basel Miami. In the spirit of artistic discovery and promoting exciting artists, here are four people to watch out for at 1:54 Marrakech.
Kassou Seydou (b.1971, Senegal) – Galerie Cecile Fakhoury
Kassou Seydou’s work sees detailed abstract patterning form a backdrop for languid figures. He uses a warm palette that effectively reflects his character’s energy, they’re lively, animated and defiant amidst the symbolic turmoil of their surroundings. They float in space next to swirling lines and objects, as if buffered around by visualised zephyrs. Seydou’s scenes are also highly allegorical: responding to the pressing issues of resource depletion and growing structural inequalities.
“For me, painting is an essential means of expression, a way of communicating with the rest of the world; my immediate neighbors, as well as potential distant spectators. So it seemed quite natural to me to use forms, motifs, and figures that everyone can identify and appropriate, whatever the context in which my painting is seen.”
Jean David Nkot (b.1989, Cameroon) – Afikaris Gallery
Jean David Nkot employs a similar method to Kassou Seydou: layering figuration over symbolic backdrops. His backgrounds are comprised of detailed cartographic information, while the foregrounds are populated with young workers attempting trans-African migration. Nkot’s work pays homage to the unrecordable, forgotten fatalities of mass migration and subsequently highlights the deleterious effect of rapid colonial nation-building. Nkot not only maps the landscapes of human displacement, he critiques systematic societal cruelty.
“Art offers us the possibility and the means, both ideological and aesthetic, to say things that speak to everyone, and it is at this specific moment that my artistic practice takes place. I’m just using these tools to draw attention to this time of changes. As an artist, I would like to immortalize these changes so that no one is ignorant of what happened during this period.”
Prince Gyasi (b.1995, Ghana) – Nil gallery
Prince Gyasi is a Ghanaian photographer who creates bold, joyous work that aims to bring suppressed narratives to the fore. Gyasi is inspired by the stories of marginalised groups, those pushed to the fringes of society; the Accra cityscape and its inhabitants are the framework in which these experiments take place. Gyasi deliberately stays away from professional photographic equipment, choosing instead to use an iPhone when capturing silhouettes that give off a particular feeling of strength and resilience. These silhouettes are contrasted against brightly altered landscapes and vivid backgrounds.
“I shoot because I want the imagery and the art pieces to serve as a therapy to human emotions, that’s why I usually play with colours a lot.”
Omar Gabr (b.1999, Egypt) – Ubuntu Art Gallery
Omar Gabr often uses a monochromatic palette that allows him to depict figures with real emotional weight. Gabr is a self-taught artist who has flagged a lack of wide-spread academic opportunity in his native Egypt. His characters are poignant, doleful embodiments of the murky depth of human feeling and experience; paying particular attention to facial expressions, Gabr’s characters convey a sense of defeat in the face of their quotidian struggle.
Gabr has participated in many group exhibitions, including the Youth Salon, both in 2016 and 2018 as well as Cairo Salon, among others. His first solo exhibition, The Phase, was held at Easel & Camera Contemporary Gallery, Giza (2018).