It’s pretty screwy that here, now, in the year 2016 many people still have a hard time grasping that Africa is an incredibly diverse continent home to vastly different cultures, languages, landscapes, and art traditions. Thankfully, we have things like the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair(held May 6 through 8 at Pioneer Works in Red Hook) at our fingertips to keep us in the know about the incredible (and, ahem, marketable) art work coming out of the 54 countries on the African continent.
It’s an art fair, so ultimately market forces were the deciding factor in what work made it into 1:54 and what didn’t. “Good business is the best art,” or something like that. But unlike at Frieze, I engaged in minimal eye-rolling at 1:54. Instead of meeting my expectations, some of what I saw challenged preconceptions that I didn’t even know I had, while other things impressed on me the new possibilities growing out of rich lineages of artistic and decorative practices. Still other works reaffirmed that artists from all over Africa, like artists all over the world, are engaging in global conversations, and are concerned with issues that map directly on to our North American experiences as well as issues that reflect completely different realities of the developing world and the lingering impact of oppressive systems like colonialism and apartheid.