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nº56 / 1:54 LONDON 2020 / PART-II

In PART-II we walk through the 8th edition of the Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House that founding director Touria El Glaoui opened in early October.

Review by Zoltan Alexander



Featured galleries and artists

Kyle Weeks at Galerie Number 8 (Brussels), Nonzuzo Gxekwa and Nyasha Marovatsanga at THK Gallery (Cape Town), Mbali Dhlamini at Sakhile&Me Gallery (Frankfurt), Robert Charlotte at the Escape d'Art Contemporain (Martinique), Benji Reid at October Gallery (London), Marielle Plaisir at Tafeta Gallery (London), Omar Gabr at Ubuntu Art Gallery (Cairo)

1:54 LONDON 2020 / © video by Zoltan Alexander ZOLTAN+MEDIA

Following PART-I of 1:54 London where I felt like a black guy from New York trapped in Peru, in PART-II I continued my walk at Somerset House highlighting the most significant art galleries and artists from Europe, Africa and its diaspora.

On the global art scene, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair has established itself as a leading, unique voice in contemporary African art. In 2020, the art fair was showcasing more than 110 established and emerging contemporary artists from Africa, working in a wide variety of mediums and from a range of geographical backgrounds.

The art fair was scaled down to 30 international galleries but scaled up in quality. Fewer presentations meant more options and time to establish a closer and more intimate relationship with galleries and artists.

Let’s see where we left off in PART-I.

"Aisha" by Kyle Weeks / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Number 8


Galerie Number 8 from Brussels represents a globally diverse roster of emerging artists in photography and mixed media. The installation Family Reunion” at Somerset House reflected a fresh approach and dynamic creativity of the gallery’s artists and an effort to encourage people to look at art and collect photography differently.

The gallery, established by Marie Gomis-Trezise, brought a new wave of photographers together from Africa and the African diaspora, all of whom have an unflinching gaze and a desire to dismantle cultural and sexual barriers and constructs.

At 1:54 London, Galerie Number 8 presented a group of photographers including Josue Comoe whom we have introduced in PART-I and Kyle Weeks from Amsterdam.

"Sethu" by Kyle Weeks

Originally from Namibia, Kyle Weeks attended the Stellenbosch Academy in South Africa, where he graduated in photography in 2013. While living in Cape Town, he co-founded Cape Collective Assist, a cooperative that facilities a range of development programs for aspiring photographers of the city.

Weeks’s oeuvre is characterized by his ability to overturn aesthetic stereotypes. By prioritizing the experience of a diverse group of individuals, Weeks fulfils his role as an artist and creative photographer. In his practice and challenges the traditional relationship between subjects and documentary image-makers, touching on the pervasive nature of colonial dynamics.

Selection of work (above) and "Rich, Jay and Collins" by Kyle Weeks / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Number 8

Weeks's most recent series “Palm Wine Collectors” presents the Makalani palm harvesters of northern Namibia’s Kunene region, offering a subversive alternative to voyeuristic documentary stylings. Between 2012 and 2014, Weeks produced the portrait series “Ovahimba Youth” self-portraits, a body of work that acts as a visual commentary on the longstanding colonial photographic methods used to depict Africans.

These personal pursuits seamlessly influence Weeks’s fashion and culture commissions, which are celebrated for their unflinching departure from mainstream, whitewashed fashion advertising by featuring unbothered presentations of diverse faces and personalities.

Weeks has shown his work at AKAA Paris, New York, Milan, Cape Town, 1:54 London.

"The General" (left) and "Yellow Jacket" (right) by Nonzuzo Gxekwa / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA


THK Gallery, founded by German photographer and collector Frank Schönau in 2018, is a dynamic contemporary art gallery based in Cape Town, South Africa. Working with established and emerging artists from Africa and its diaspora, as well as international artists, the gallery presents a diverse array of developing contemporary visual art forms.

Selection of the photographic work of Nonzuzo Gxekwa / Photo © Courtesy of THK Gallery

At 1:54 Somerset House, the gallery came with a group show including Johannesburg based female photographer Nonzuzo Gxekwa and Zimbabwean painter Nyasha Marovatsanga.

Whether it is through street photography or studio, Gxekwa’s work subtly explores the human condition. Her approach to photography favours the everyday life over the spectacular; sharing intimate moments through focusing the camera on what is around her as well as herself. Collaboration is a crucial part of her practice; she has worked with a number of photographers and artists in Johannesburg.

"Jeunes Filles Saussai" by Mbali Dhlamini / Photo © Courtesy of Sakhile&Me Gallery


Sakhile&Me, an international exhibition and research space housed in a cultural heritage building on 750sq ft, was founded by Sakhile Matlhare and Daniel Hagemeier.

The gallery is intentionally prioritizing the African continent and its diasporas to draw attention to contextual specificity through art, artistic medium and genre. The gallery works with established contemporary artists, curators, art critics and researchers promoting their works by investing in solo and group exhibitions, art programmes, art fairs and partnerships with other art galleries and institutions.

At Somerset House, the Frankfurt-based gallery presented a selection of works by three female artists: British-Ghanaian artist Adelaide Damoah, Mbali Dhlamini from South Africa and multi-cultural Gabonese artist Owanto.

"Femme Maure" by Mbali Dhlamini / Photo © Courtesy of Sakhile&Me Gallery

SAKHILE&ME presents Mbali Dhlamini / Johannesburg

Mbali Dhlamini is a multidisciplinary South African artist and visual researcher whose work explores the decolonisation of contemporary African identity. Dhlamini performs visual, tactile and discursive investigations into current indigenous cultural practices and her work is in constant conversation with her past and present visual landscapes.

Dhlamini trained as a printmaker at Artist Proof Studio in Johannesburg between 2008 and 2009, and while working towards a Master of Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, she explored faith and spirituality through the use of colour.

"Femme Pourougne" (left) and "Femme Antaimoro" (right) by Mbali Dhlamini / Photo © Courtesy of Sakhile&Me Gallery

Her series "Figures" features digitally reworked colonial portraits of West-Africans wearing traditional clothing and stem from a research fellowship at the RAW Material Company in Dakar, investigating the cultural significance of traditional indigo dyeing and the symbolism of indigo fabric within indigenous Senegalese communities.

"Femme Sénégalaise" by Mbali Dhlamini

Standing in front of Dhlamini’s prints, however, I was not thinking of indigo, I was simply mesmerised by her faceless women. I was more drawn to them than if they would have reviled their faces. The void was like a black mirror, staring at us, reflecting us, realising that any of us could be them.

Mbali Dhlamini

Mbali Dhlamini has participated in art exhibitions in South Africa and abroad, including the Washington Printmakers Gallery (2014), Beijing Biennale (2015), Venice Biennale (2019).

"Sous Influence - Deep 2" by Robert Charlotte / Photo © Courtesy of the Escape d'Art Contemporain


During the art fair, the Martinique-based gallery presented artist/photographer Robert Charlotte. Charlotte became interested in family albums and it was during a trip that he made his first images, armed with an Instamatic. Between 1986 to 1989, he attended a photography school in Paris. For 10 years, he worked in an industrial shooting studio and learnt the stakes of reporting and commissioning to artistic proposals, team collaborations to the loneliness of the moment of triggering.

Earlier works from "Garifuna" by Robert Charlotte / Photo © Courtesy of the Escape d'Art Contemporain

Back in Martinique, he invested himself in painting, photography and started taking portraits of painters in their workshops, which eventually determined his photographic research.

The series “Sous Influence” is a reflection on the photographic act of portraiture. It is a form of systematic and automatic writing, which is based on faith in the Caribbean societies, playing subtle manipulations of the mind, to observe, photograph and make visible; readable the intense and intimate.

"Sous Influence - Conquistador or Christ" by Robert Charlotte / Photo © Courtesy of the Escape d'Art Contemporain

Inspired by the title of a song by Keziah Jones, “Unintended consequences” during the shooting, Charlotte systematically plays the same soundtrack in a loop. He then invites his models to coat their body without guidelines, with powder reduced coal. The aim is to make the subject to disappear, transform the idea of his own image, leaving to wake traces and marks of a real-life experience. The musical atmosphere influences and brings each model to have a particular behaviour, an attitude, from which the artist draws his images.

My photography, inscribed in the portrait, does not seek a documentary or reportage aspect but tries to extract the essence of a story. It takes place through a face, the body… through the human being, from a place.” Robert Charlotte

Currently, Robert Charlotte lives and works in Paris.

"Holding onto Daddy" by Benji Reid / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA


October Gallery, founded in 1979, has been instrumental in bringing to worldwide attention many leading international artists. The gallery promotes the Transavantgarde, the very best in contemporary art, as well as maintaining a cultural hub in central London.

Artist, photographer, award-winning performer and creative director Benji Reid consider himself a Choreo-Photolist; a term he coined himself to encapsulate his unique practice where theatricality, choreography and photography meet in the image.

"Drunken Matters" by Benji Reid / Photo © Courtesy of October Gallery
"Untitled - Laugh at Gravity" by Benji Reid / Photo © Courtesy of October Gallery
"Untitled - Laugh at Gravity" by Benji Reid / Photo © Courtesy of October Gallery

Reid's breathtaking photographic work composed primarily of self-portraits, in incredible poses with a medley of props, invites the viewer into a different dimension. The hyperreality he presents, explore challenging themes, such as life as an outsider, failed relationships and emotional turmoil.

"M. Ali - Mother, why is everything white?" by Marielle Plaisir / Photo © Courtesy of Tafeta Gallery


Tafeta Gallery, established in 2013 and located in Fitzrovia with a project space in Lagos, is specialising in 20th century and Contemporary African Art. The gallery remains the leading purveyors of some of the most important artists of African extraction.

At 1:54 the gallery exhibited the work of French-Caribbean multi-media artist Marielle Plaisir who currently lives in the United States. Plaisir combines paintings, drawings, installations and performances to present intense visual work. The series of paintings, installations, and performances explore the concepts of Meta-Count Narratives about domination and the construction of identity.

"M. Angelou" by Marielle Plaisir / Photo © Courtesy of Tafeta Gallery

Her most recent works dwell at the borderline of philosophy and sociology, history and memory to produce mnemonic devices and incorporates what the French philosopher, Pierre Bourdieu, calls "symbolic violence," which consists of forcing the acceptance by an entire community of any act of power as legitimate.

"Funny Effects" Triptyque (right) and "My room door" (left) by Omar Gabr / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA


Ubuntu Art Gallery, opened in 2014, specialises in modern and contemporary Egyptian art. The gallery’s mission is to promote both emerging and established artists both regionally and internationally. The gallery derives its name from the Swahili word ubuntu which means I am because we all are, to connote a holistic concept of being.

At 1:54 Ubuntu Art Gallery exhibited the work of one of the most extraordinary Egyptian artists Omar Gabr. Gabr’s work mirrors his environment and his portraits of disinherited people looking distressed are among the most outstanding I’ve seen.

"Untitled" by Omar Gabr

I do not do sketch; I prefer to experiment on the surface of the canvas.

I believe I belong to a school of black comedy. I like to induce laughter out of tragic situations.” Omar Gabr

Gabr experiments with various techniques and materials. He is inspired by his everyday life, experiences and his political beliefs. Downcast and in despair, though not literally communicated, they are common motifs that seem to be ongoing within his body of work, mainly through the facial expressions he conveys.

His colour palette ranges from solid and vibrant background colours to a more tranquil choice of colour and oftentimes just monochrome, all of which add to the emotional state, subjects and ideas behind his works that visualise true and humane stimulations of drama that relates to a young demographic.

Gabr was afflicted with cancer as a child, and art helped him to overcome the pain. “Although I suffered a lot, I consider myself a lucky person. Cancer allowed the artist in me to breathe. I did not study art academically, which allowed me to experiment and work freely

"Untitled" by Omar Gabr / Photo © Courtesy of Ubuntu Gallery

At 1:54 Somerset House, the gallery installed a large-scale triptych painting “Funny Effects”, which echoes an old Hag in myths and folk tales. The witch is usually depicted as an old, ugly woman with a long nose, wart covered face and a hunchback, riddled with evil and mysterious intentions and has the ability to morph herself into any form she wishes. Old hag, in vernacular dictionaries, can refer to a middle-aged woman, ugly and unattractive. It is used as a derogatory term and contradicts political correctness. I am not set on one specific message behind these works. There is no right or wrong.

How do you see this young man with a wide smile? Does he seem nice? Or deceitful? Does he look connected to the above label of an old hag? What does this label even mean?”

Omar Gabr

"Alive" (left) and "A Glimpse of Society II." (right) by Nyasha Marovatsanga / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA


During our tour, we returned to THK for paintings. Earlier, we introduced Johannesburg-based female photographer Nonzuzo Gxekwa; at this time, we cover Zimbabwean painter Nyasha Marovatsanga.

Nyasha Marovatsanga is a talented young painter based in Harare, Zimbabwe. Under the mentorship of Misheck Masamvu, he has developed a powerful painterly language, using gestural brushstrokes and bold colouration.

"Jacob" by Nyasha Marovatsanga / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA

Sometimes, I go blank, then the portraits revive my everyday struggle. Sometimes I dream, then I reveal the dreams in my portraits. Sometimes I laugh, and the teeth show all the cracks. Sometimes, the sun shines too hot.” Nyasha Marovatsanga

Choices have consequences. Make yours right.




Photo-montage by Zoltan Alexander

Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA

Photos © Courtesy of Josue Comoe by Galerie 8 and Nonzuno Gxekwa by THK Gallery


Photo-montage by Zoltan Alexander

Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA

Photos © Courtesy of Josue Comoe by Galerie 8 and Nonzuno Gxekwa by THK Gallery

1:54 LONDON 2020

/ Somerset House / The Strand, London WC2R 1LA, UK

8 - 10 October 2020

Tickets: invitation only with strict safety rules/reserve a time-slot


/ The Strand, London WC2R 1LA, UK

Rite of Passage” by Leila Alaoui

11 October 2020 - 28 February 2021 Tickets: £10 or pay what you can / reserve a time-slot



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