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Right on beat: Celebrating the best contemporary African art

4 years ago

Today London's Somerset House opens its doors to the public for the seventh edition of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Founding Director of the fair Touria El Glaoui joins the jury for the 2020 Sony World Photography Awards – see the full juries here. From October 3 to 6, 45 galleries from around the world – including 16 from Africa – will exhibit the work of more than 140 emerging and established artists. Working in a wide variety of mediums, the showcased artists highlight contemporary African art at its finest. Photography has a particularly strong presence at this year's fair, with a broad range of imagery for visitors to enjoy. Below you'll find our pick of works and talks we feel will expand and enlighten your understanding of the photographic medium. 


Mary Sibande
I Came Apart at the Seams is the first major UK solo exhibition of South African artist Mary Sibande's work. Presenting photographic and sculptural works which explore the power of the imagination and righteous anger in shaping post-colonial identity in South African, Sibande's thought-provoking project centers around the artist's own body, using it as a vessel to pay homage to generations of women in her family who worked as domestic laborers in an apartheid generation.     

Water Life 
An impressive tableau created by Ethiopian artist and photographer Aïda Muluneh, the piece is in partnership with WaterAid and Somerset House. Shot against the extreme backdrop of one of the driest places on earth – Ethiopia's Dallol – Muluneh reflects on the number of women who travel on foot across the country carrying heavy containers of water. Each photograph responds to the challenges of water access, exploring it as a social issue directly impacting rural regions and the development of whole communities. 

Studio Kameni 
Placing a spotlight on the photographic archives of Michel Papami Kameni, who documented the rapid evolution of postcolonial Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, from 1963 onwards. on public display for the first time, the photographs highlight Kameni's intimate study of the relationship between the photographers and his subjects from all social circles and varied cultured backgrounds. Through these images we see the dreams and aspirations of a nation in transition.



Reflecting on the role played by women in the arts
October 3, 15:00
Director of art gallery The Showroom, Elvira Dyangani Ose discussed the impetus for and legacy of the international project Women on Aeroplanes with curator Nontobeko-Ntombela and artist Everlyn Nicodemus. Particular questions to be explored include 'What makes it possible for certain individuals' stories to prevail, while others remain invisible, or disappear into oblivion?' and 'How does the unveiling of silenced narratives contribute to collective thinking'?  

The value of developing and maintaining archives 
October 4, 15:30
Private collections of printed and digital matter can provide crucial insights into histories, particularly in places where official records are inadequately compiled or maintained, deliberately skewed or widely inaccessible. Curator at the Centre for Contemporary art, Lagos Iheanyi Onwuegbucha and independent researcher and Founder of the Agency Gallery Bea Gassmann De Sousam share their experiences of working with archives in Lagos. 

Championing photography 
October 6, 13.30
Managing Editor of Aperture magazine and 2019 Sony World Photography Awards judge Brendan Embser will lead a panel discussion discussing key platforms - spanning biennales, festivals, workshops and publications – which support the professional development of photographers in Africa.     


Born and raised in Morocco, Touria El Glaoui completed her education in New York before beginning a career in the banking industry as a wealth management consultant. After 10 years in the field, she relocated to London, where she initiated the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in 2013. She has since launched the fair in New York in 2015 and in Marrakech in 2018. 1-54 is now a world-leading platform dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.

Parallel to her career, Touria has organized and co-curated exhibitions of her father’s work, Moroccan artist Hassan El Glaoui, in London and Morocco. She has spoken widely and chaired numerous discussions on contemporary African art and women in leadership at leading institutions and events globally. Touria is also on the advisory board of Christie’s Education in London.

Touria El Glaoui was listed amongst the 100 most powerful women in Africa by Forbes; amongst the 50 most powerful women in Africa by Jeune Afrique in 2015 and in 2018; and the 100 most influential Africans in business by NewAfrican in 2013. 

Read more about the 2020 judges here