BY Fredrick Ngugi, 3:56pm May 22, 2016,

African Artists Dominate New York’s Contemporary African Art Fair

One of Olatunji's portraits. Photo (

It was such an amazing spectacle to see young, creative African artists showcasing their stunning artistry at the just concluded 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York.

It was the second edition of the art fair at New York’s Pioneer Works where 60 artists were able to exhibit their art, which was mainly based on the contemporary African scene. The event took place between 6th and 8th May.

According to the founding director Touria El Glaoui, the title 1:54 refers to the 54 African countries that make up the African continent.

Tourian, who was born and raised in Morocco, wrote on 1:54’s website:

“The title of 1:54 establishes the parameters of the Fair’s ethos: as a platform that strives to represent multiplicity and showcase the diversity of contemporary African art and cultural production on an international stage.”

She added that this year’s 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair would be accompanied by an educational and artistic programme curated by Koyo Kouoh and would involve lectures, film screenings and panel debates, bringing on board internationally celebrated curators, artists and art experts.

One of the top African artists showcasing their work was Babajide Olatunji– a Nigerian self-taught visual artist and professional botanist.

His love for the African culture and history in general, drove him to create some of the most outstanding hyper-realist portraits informed by the traditional African practice of facial scarification.

Olatunji Portraits

One of Olatunji’s portraits. Photo (

Olatunji was quoted by 1:54 as saying:

The rendering process starts with the creative imaginings of the subject, considering personality, character, skin type, and even factoring in medical history in some cases.

Another great African artist at the fair was Kura Shomali- a 37-year-old Congolese- who, according to 1:54, interrupted his medical studies to join the Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa, DRC.

He also participated in the establishment of Eza Possibles- a rising generation of talented artists working with and for the community in DRC Congo.

His work is purely done on paper, putting together charcoal, gouache ink, marker, collage, and ballpoint pen to create unique texture and appearance as evidenced in his works. Most of his art is based on the hustle and bustle of Kinshasa.

Kura Shomali Art

Kura Shomali’s artwork. Photo (

Film producers were also present, including Jim Chuchu– a Kenyan filmmaker and photographer- whose short film debuted as part of ‘African Metropolis’ during 2013’s Durban International Film Festival.

At the just concluded Contemporary African Art Fair, Jim was showcasing his latest series titled ‘Pagans’, which puts together the life of forgotten African ‘gods’. The film helps to piece together the past, present and future experiences with regard to traditional religious beliefs in Africa.

Last Edited by:Sandra Appiah Updated: May 22, 2016


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