1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair: the eye of modern Mali and more

photograph of young African boys
A la plage, by Malick Sidibé, 1974.
(Image credit: Malick Sidibé)

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair marked its fourth year with the first UK solo retrospective of the late Malian photographer Malick Sidibé, who died earlier this year. With rarely seen photographs such as A la plage (1974) and Les Retrouvailles au bord de fleuve Niger (1974) exhibited, the show was curated by André Magnin and Philippe Boutté, who focussed on themes that 1:54 founding director Touria El Glaoui believes best characterises Sidibé’s black and white photography: life on the Niger river, nightlife in Bamako and studio portraits.

photograph of African man with black and white theme

’A moi seul’, by Malick Sidibé, 1978. 

(Image credit: Malick Sidibé)

With 40 international contemporary African art galleries exhibiting at the fair – including ARTLabAfrica from Nairobi, Galerie Cécile Fakhoury from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and newly launched Gallery 1957 from Accra, Ghana – the work at this year’s edition of 1:54 possessed a similar crossover impact to Sidibé, with galleries and artists teetering on the cutting edge of African contemporary art. ‘We’re thrilled to have 16 Africa-based galleries this year,’ said El Glaoui preceding the show. ‘New among these are Village Unhu from Harare, Zimbabwe, Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art from Cairo, and L’Atelier 21 from Casablanca, Morocco.’

El Glaoui’s rare knowledge of the contemporary African art scene, garnered from a lifetime of travel across the continent, was evident in the wide range of practices on display. ‘This year’s site-specific installations are a highlight,’ she explained. Therein, Vigo Gallery’s Zak Ové took over Somerset House's historic Edmond J Safra Fountain Court, and El Glaoui also highlights ‘Ifeanyi Oganwu’s collaborative lounge design, and Bandjoun Station’s mobile cafeteria, in which Barthélémy Toguo, a nominee for the 2016 French Prix Marcel Duchamp, will be serving West Cameroonian coffee’. As contemporary African art gains traction in the west, 1:54 was an ideal chance to see an accurate representation of the scene, away from sales and market hyperbole.

African young couples

Les Retrouvailles au bord du fleuve Niger, by Malick Sidibé, 1974. 

(Image credit: Malick Sidibé)

photograph of African's dancing

Dansez le Twist, by Malick Sidibé, 1965. 

(Image credit: Galerie MAGNIN-A, Paris)

african boy posing with Thumbs Up

Thumbs Up, by Namsa Leuba, 2014, from the series ’Zulu Kids’. 

(Image credit: Art Twenty One)

African man portrait

Untitled, by Mustafa Maluka, 2015. 

(Image credit: Galerie Mikael Andersen)

'Please kill us' titled artwork

Please kill us, by Éric Hussenot, 2010

(Image credit: press)

African couple dancing with white

Nuit de Noël (Happy Club), by Malick Sidibé, 1963. 

(Image credit: Galerie MAGNIN-A, Paris)

photograph of man and woman combat

Combat des amis avec pierres, by Malick Sidibé, 1976. 

(Image credit: Galerie MAGNIN-A, Paris)


’Malick Sidibé: The Eye of Modern Mali’ runs until 15 January 2017. The 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair ran from 6–9 October. For more information, visit the website


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