African Art in London

London / Art / Africa

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1:54 is here.


1:54 is the first international contemporary art fair from an African perspective. Named for the 54 countries on the continent its purpose is to act as a platform for those involved in the African art industry to promote work by established and emerging talents.

It begins tomorrow and runs until Sunday. 

Initiated by Touria El Glaoui, designed by RIBA award-winning architect David Adjaye and held at Somerset House the fair will host a geographically diverse range of African art galleries including Equatorial Guinea’s Museum of Modern Art, Kenya’s Art Lab USA’s M.I.A. and Italy’s Galleria Continua. (London galleries in attendance: Jack Bell, October and Aria.) 

Prepare to see work from the likes of Meschac Gaba, Malick Sidibe, Venice Biennale Golden-Lion-winner Edson Chagas, Sokari Doulgas-Camp and the ebullient Cheri Samba. 

Alongside the art work international curators, artists and art experts will take part in an educational and artistic Forum Programme curated by Koyo Kouoh. Lectures, film screenings and panel debates will promote discussions and understanding artistic practice, collections, criticism and publishing in contemporary African art.

1: 54

16-20 October 2013

Somerset House

West Wing Strand

London WC2R 1LA


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Meschac Gaba @ Tate Modern

Artist: Meschac Gaba

Draft Room

Draft Room

From: Cotonou, Benin
Medium: Painter. Sculptor. Museum Builder.
Key Themes: Developmental politics. Commercialism. The role of the Western museum. Public space.

About the artist:
– Gaba started out painting until he stumbled across a sack of decommissioned money that had been turned into a bag of confetti. To Gaba this found material of devalued West African CFA franc was ‘magic’ and he eventually used it to make collaged paintings.
– His two year residency at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam in 1996 led the Beninese artist to tussle with the question ‘Where do you show African contemporary art?’, as the only place he could find was an ethnographic museum. This spurred him on to create his most ambitious work, the anti-museum creation The Museum of Contemporary African Art 1997–2002
– Until Tate Modern acquired the Museum Gaba was its keeper, he and his family had been living in and conserving it in a large space in Rotterdam

Architecture Room

Architecture Room

About the exhibition:
– The Museum of Contemporary African Art is made up of 12 idiosyncratic rooms that in total took five years to plan.
– The key to Gaba’s exhibition is interaction, visitors are encouraged to get stuck in. There is a Game Room, where you can rearrange puzzles based on African flags to look like abstract paintings. An Art and Religion Room full of random knick-knacks and religious artefacts, occasionally a tarot reader visits.
– There’s also a Museum Restaurant that curators will use to will host dinners and a Museum Shop which contains objects contributed by other artists.
The most consistent elements across the rooms is decommissioned banknotes and the dots and pellets made from them, Gaba.

Art and Religion

Art and Religion Room

What critics say: “…Gaba’s vision tore through my expectations of what art is and how it relates to our ordinary, irreplaceable lives.” – Johnathan Jones, The Guardian

What AAIL says: Gaba is one of two African visionaries that the Tate Modern is making a big deal of this summer. His museum within a museum is an exhibition not to be missed, not least because its free. Gaba’s work is a must for anyone who enjoys interacting with art and key to those thinking about the ways in which African art work is viewed and shared. Also look out for a host of fun events – tours, dinners, talks – accompanying Gaba’s work.


3 July – 22 September

Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG

Opening Hours
Sunday – Thursday: 10.00–18.00
Friday – Saturday: 10.00–22.00

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Meschac Gaba in Conversation with Chris Dercon @ Tate Modern

Meschac Gaba ©  Kunsthalle-Fridericianum

Meschac Gaba © Kunsthalle-Fridericianum

Beninese artist Meschac Gaba talks to Chris Dercon, Director of the Tate Modern.

The occasion: To mark the Tate’s largest acquisition and display of Meschac Gaba’s work, Museum of Contemporary Africa Art 1997-2002.

The conversation:
An opportunity to hear Gaba speak about his work and its journey to the Tate Modern. The talk will also feature personal anecdotes of Dercon and Gaba’s friendship. They’ve been buddies since 1996/7. In 2000 Dercon interviewed Gaba as Director of the Museum Bojimans Van Benunigen, Rotterdam, and later that year acted as a witness at his wedding. Documentation of the wedding features in the Marriage room of Gaba’s exhibition.

Meschac Gaba in Conversation with Chris Dercon

Starr Auditorium
Wednesday 3 July 2013,
Time: 18.30 – 21.00
£12, concessions available
Ticket holders’ private view of the display after the talk from 20.00–21.00

Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG

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Samuel Fosso @ Purdy Hicks Gallery

Run, don’t walk down to Bankside for Samuel Fosso’s solo exhibition at Purdy Hicks Gallery, as it’s on only until this Saturday (6th) and is not to be missed. The Cameroonian photographer, celebrated for more than 30 years, was the inaugural winner of Africa’s most prestigious photo festival prize (Prize Rencontres de la Photographie, Bamako, Mali, 1994) and is often compared to Diane Arbus for his self-reflexive portraits.

The Liberated American Woman of the 70's, 1997

The Liberated American Woman of the 70’s, 1997

The exhibition consists of work from three series-
The 70s series, which is all black and white auto portraits taken for his mother from his photographic studio in Bangui, Central African Republic.
African Spirits, a collection of self portraits where Fosso has photographed himself as a variety of African icons, including leading political thinkers and sporting legends.
Tati, commissioned by the French clothing-store Tati, in which he plays with characters that are Western cliches.

Samuel Fosso (until July 6)

Purdy Hicks Gallery
65 Hopton Street
London SE1 9GZ

Tel: (020) 7401 9229

Opening Hours
Monday-Friday: 10am-6pm
Saturday: 11am-6pm

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Wosene Worke Kosrof @ Gallery of African Art

Wosene Worke Kosrof comes to London town this week. Wordplay, his first major show in the UK in over 10 years opens at the Gallery of African Art today. It features 16 new and recent large-scale paintings.

Mind of the Healer, 2008

Mind of the Healer, 2008

Wordplay XIV, 2011

Wordplay XIV, 2011

Hailing from Addis Ababa, Wosene is internationally known for using fiedel, the script forms of his native Amharic as a key element in his creations. His paintings are conversations, visual vocabulary, speaking of the mapping of cultures. Says Wosense: “I create a visible, interactive surface. My paintings invite viewers to dialogue with them, to take them into their memory.”

On Saturday afternoon the Ethiopian artist will be in house talking about his work. The conversation will be moderated by the exhibition’s curators Mesai Haileleul and Raku Sile.

Wosene Worke Kosrof: In Conversation
29th June
From 1pm-3pm
Artist talk 2pm-3pm

27 June – 26 July

9 Cork Street,
London, W1S 3LL.

Opening Hours
Monday – Friday: 10am-6pm
Saturday: 10am-4pm

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Introducing: Gallery of African Art

Exciting news! A new space dedicated to showcasing African art has opened in London.

Gallery of African Art

Gallery of African Art

The Gallery of African Art (GAFRA) which soft launched last month is located on Cork Street, W1, home to a cluster of contemporary galleries and one of the city’s most prolific art hubs. FYI: Its the street that via the The Mayor Gallery saw the first  London exhibitions of creative titans such as Joan Miró, Max Ernst and Francis Bacon.

GAFRA is spread over two floors and is currently exhibiting the work of a giant of African modernism – Bruce Onobrakpeya. You’ll have to hurry if you want to catch Art and Literature, a collection of his innovative sculptures, etchings and illustrations (based on the literary works of important African writers including J.P. CLark, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka), as the show finishes this Friday.

Man and Two Wives, 2012

Man and Two Wives, 2012

Ethiopian painter and mixed-media artist Wosene Worke Kosrof is up next and AAIL  will have more details on his exhibition closer to it opening.

As the crow flies the nearest tube station to the gallery is Green Park but Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street are roughly 10 minutes walk away.

9 Cork Street,
London, W1S 3LL.


El Anatsui @ The Royal Academy of Arts

Feeling defeated by the lack of London sun? Craving light, colour, ebullience?

Then make your way down to the Royal Academy of Arts’ Burlington House which is draped in the glimmering meshwork of El Anatsui’s TSIATSIA – Searching for Connection (2013).

TSIATSIA - Searching for Connection, 2013

TSIATSIA – Searching for Connection, 2013

The courtyard installation – which at the beginning of this month won the Charles Wollaston Award – is the stunning opener to the Royal Academy of Arts 245th Summer Exhibition. Measuring at 15.6m x 25m it is the largest wall-hanging sculpture that Nigerian artist Anatsui has ever created and is formed using his unique technique and combination of materials including bottle-tops, printing plates and roofing sheets.

The artist explains: When you collect them from the streets – and it is important to me that all these caps have been used, touched and so loaded with what I think of as a human charge – they give you a sense of the sociology and the history of a place.

Anatsui is a Ghana born, internationally acclaimed artist with a forty year career as both sculptor and teacher. He was Professor of Sculpture and Departmental Head at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His work often addresses a wide range of social, political and historical concerns.

Anatsui’s work is hanging from the balustrade of Burlington House for the duration of the Summer Exhibition (until 18 August).

Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House, Piccadilly
London W1J 0BD

020 7300 8000

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Ellen Gallagher @ Tate Modern

Deluxe, 2004-5

Deluxe, 2004-5

Ellen Gallagher’s first major UK retrospective is currently being held at the Tate Modern until 1 September. The title of the exhibition, AxME, is a play on words: to resemble the cartoon corporation Acme, known for its outlandish products that fail catastrophically, also a reference to the African-American vernacular for “Ask me”.

Gallagher’s work is gorgeously intricate, bringing together myth, nature, art and social history in painting, drawing, relief collage, print, sculpture, film and animation. In 2007 a series of her Watery Ecstatic paintings, inspired by the myth of the Black Atlantis – an underwater city populated by the descendents of Africans thrown off slave ships – was shown at the Tate Liverpool.  To know more about her work and how she creates be sure to read this Guardian interview with her from a few weeks ago. Also: Jackie Kay’s review of her Tate Liverpool show, Coral Cities.

A standout piece from AxME, a piece that gives a good feel for the focus of Gallagher’s creativity, is a series of wig-map grid collages appropriated and incorporated from old African-American magazine advertisements. Gallagher transforms these hair and beauty product faces from the 1930s-1970s into new world beings, some look like startled astronauts, others like startling aliens. Much of what Gallagher creates has the sheen and feel of a too distant future, unsurprisingly she cops to being particularly inspired by groundbreaking African-American science-fiction novelist Octavia Butler. Accordingly the Tate Modern have arranged a talk to discuss Afrofuturism in the context of Gallagher’s work. Speakers Amna Malik, Hazel V. Carby, Zoe Whitley and Lilli Reynaud-Deward will ‘explore and complicate readings of Afrofuturism and its influence on contemporary artists’ practices, creating an intricate understanding of the genre and its evolutions’.

Coined by Mary Dery, Afrofuturism is an emergent literary and cultural aesthetic that relies heavily on elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and non-Western magic realism to talk about the African Diaspora. Afrofuturism is my jam because it distills a belief beyond belief, a reckless optimism in the future. One of the most important things about being a diaspora African alive and trying, especially creatively.

Until 1 September
Adult £11.00 (without donation £10.00)
Concession £9.50 (without donation £8.60)

Afrofuturism’s Others
Starr Auditorium
Saturday 15 June
Time: 14.00-16.00
£15, concessions available

Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG

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Opening Tomorrow @ Tiwani Contemporary and Jack Bell Gallery

Tomorrow two new exhibitions begin at London’s most prolific African art galleries.

Gideon Mendel: Drowning World @ Tiwani Contemporary

The Outskirts of Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria, 2012

The Outskirts of Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria, 2012

At Tiwani Contemporary a collection of Gideon Mendel’s photographs go on show. Curated by Christine Eyene Drowning World is a selection of photographs, including 15 images that have never been exhibited, documenting flooding around the globe. It also includes a two-part video of people living amongst floodwaters in Bangkok and video portraits of Nigerian inhabitants returning to their flooded homes. The strength of Mendel’s exhibition – which forms part of his long term project on climate change, 5 of the images on featured in Drowning World were seen last year at Somerset House – is in capturing the stillness in once lively environments. Mendel’s who hails from South Africa has taken photographs all over the world including in England, India, Haiti and Australia seen together they demonstrate a shared human experience that erases geographical and cultural divides.

7 June – 27 July

Tiwani Contemporary
16 Little Portland Street,
London W1W 8BP

Gallery Hours:
Tuesday to Friday, 11:00am – 6:00pm
Saturday, 12:00 – 5:00pm

Stefan Krynauw @ Jack Bell Gallery

Untitled 9, 2013

Another South African, a thespian turned artist Stefan Krynauw will be presenting a solo exhibition of new paintings at Jack Bell Gallery. Krynauw works in abstract space, his paintings are both Baroque and expressionist, of the natural and architectural. His canvases are twisted and blurred splashed with dark, scratches made of light. Drawing on his experience as an actor – he holds a degree in Drama from the University of Stellenbosch – Krynauw is keen on showing performance in his painting. He is self-taught and builds his works up over time by layering, washing, drawing and writing on them.

This will be Krynauw’s first exhibition in the UK.

7 – 29 June

Jack Bell Gallery
13 Mason’s Yard, St James’s,
London SW1Y 6BU

Gallery Hours: