The London 2020 edition of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair went ahead against all the odds imposed by the global pandemic that has had a deep impact on all the major art fairs around the world either being cancelled or reduced to the now ubiquitous digital viewing room format.

The fair taking place at all, is a tribute to the drive and determination of the 1-54’s formidable founder and director Touria El Glaoui and her team.

For this year’s art fair, 1-54 partnered with the international auction House CHRISTIES to present an online edition of the fair with a curated pop-up exhibition of works from all the Somerset House exhibitors on display at their St James, central London location.

1-54 London 2020 showcased the work of more than 110 emerging and established artists from Africa and its diaspora, working in a wide variety of mediums and from a range of geographical backgrounds.

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PolARTics Gallery Booth Ola with Oyinkan Dada gallery founder and director. Art work by Ekene Emeka Maduka. 

Amongst the outstanding solo exhibitions on show this year, were South African artist Dudubloom More showing with Breman Contemporary, American artist Stephen Thomas presented by Debuck Gallery, Ghanaian Welsh textile artist Anya Paintsil courtesy of Ed Cross Fine Art, and Canadian Nigerian artist Ekene Emeka Maduka hosted by Lagos based gallery Polartics founded by Oyinkan Dada.

Welsh Ghanaian artist Anya Paintsil, sitting in front of one of her textile art works, Ed Cross Fine Art. Photo: Ola Shobowale

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair London was accompanied by the 1-54 Forum, the fair’s excellent talks programme with international artists, curators, art historians and cultural producers.

This year, 1-54 Forum was curated by Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba (Contemporary And (C&) and Contemporary And América Latina (C&AL)) and took place under the title, “I felt like a Black guy from New York trapped in Peru.” 

The forum examined the impact of the visibility, or rather invisibility, has had on Afro-Latin American creatives and their work within their respective scenes and how the art scenes in the Caribbean positioned themselves within the growing “hype” around their historical and recent artistic production.

A number of galleries were making their 1-54 art fair debut including Boogie-Wall Gallery which showed works by British Ghanaian artist Adelaide Damoah, French Senegalese New York based photographer Delphine Diallo, and Switzerland based artist Namsa Leuba.

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Adelaide Damoah, If it comes it affects your relatives, Boogie-Wall Gallery. 

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Untitled by Cameroonian artist Jean David Knot, Jack Bell Gallery booth. 

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Sakhile Matlhare and Daniel Hagemeier, co-founders of Sakhile&Me standing in front of art work by Mbali Dhlamini. 

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Queen Amaka, Nina Simone mask, fragments of Libertas head and Big Ben by Ugandan artist Eria ‘Sane’ Nsubuga, Afriart Gallery booth.

Sakhile&Me a contemporary art gallery and research space based in Frankfurt founded by Sakhile Matlhare and Daniel Hagemeier. Presented an impressive cluster of works by celebrated Gabonese artist Owanto, Ghanaian artist Osei Audu, Adelaide Damoah and Johannesburg based artist Mbali Dhlamini. 

Uganda’s leading contemporary art gallery, Afriart, showed an impressive line up of Ugandan talent including Stacey Gillian Abe, Richard Atugonza, Eria ‘Sane’ Nsubuga, and Kampala based Tanzanian artist Sungi Mlengeya.

Ahueni & Unclench by Uganda based Tanzanian artist Sungi Mlengeya, Afriart Gallery booth. Photo: Ola Shobowale

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Accra based Gallery 1957 presented another blockbuster booth with works by leading Ghanaian Contemporary artists, Gideon Appah, Serge Attukwei Clottey, and Yaw Owusu alongside paintings by Dominican American Tiffany Alfonseca. Gallery 1957 director Victoria Cooke announced the gallery will be opening it’s London outpost at the end of the year. 

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Christian Sulger-Buel, Director Sulger-Buel Gallery. Artwork by Peju Alatise. 

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Sulger-Buel Gallery booth. Artwork by Adjani Okpu-Egbe and Peju Alatise. 

Returning fair regular Sulger-Buel Gallery presented a must-see line-up of works by Cameroonian artist Adjani Okpu-Egbe and multi-discipline Nigerian artist Peju Alatise alongside pieces by Soly Cissé and Ivorian artist Joachim Silué.

Sans Titre by Congolese artist Willys Kezi, Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Eric Dupont

My concluding comments are reserved for the artwork of Paris based French Congolese artist Willys Kezi. She showed at the fair with Galerie Eric Dupont a gallery notable for discovering exciting new talent.

I originally discovered Willys Kezi’s enchanting topical work three years ago at a group show curated by Galerie Nelly Wandji, while on a brief visit to Paris. I recall being captivated by the socio-political commentary embodied within her illustrative female figures painted on surfaces that included disposable paper bags.

The artist questions the female clichés conveyed on social media networks by women. The images of luxury brands, sexualised bodies, and hashtags collide as statements of consumerism.

1-54 art fair visitor standing in front Ahueni by Uganda based Tanzanian artist Sungi Mlengeya, Afriart Gallery booth.

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The Power of Black and White by Nigerian artist Dennis Osakue. Say My Name (Ava DuVernay), Signature African Art Gallery booth. 

Three-Thousand-Century Human by Ethiopian artist Ermias Kifleyesus, Addis Fine Art booth. Courtesy of the artist and Addis Fine Art

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The author with Sakhile Matlhare  co-founder of Sakhile&Me Gallery standing in front of artwork by Adelaide Damoah.

Art works by Ghanaian artist Larry Amponsah and British Nigerian Ceramist Ranti Bam, and Marie-Claire Messouma Manlanbien (France, Guadeloupe, Ivory Coast), 50 Golborne Gallery booth.


Ola Shobowale is a London based Creative Consultant.

The exhibition pictures were taken by Ola Shobowale.  

Title Image: Adjani Okpu-Egbe, Bearing Witness To Dystopia: Multigenerational Genocide, Fascism, And Rumours Of Civil War (Diptych), Sulger-Buel Gallery booth.

For further information about the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair and any of the aforementioned galleries and artists, please visit the website