The Next Big Thing? Here Are 6 Breakout Artists to Watch From the 1-54 Art Fair in Marrakech
The boutique fair is on view through February 13.
The boutique fair is on view through February 13.
The Mamounia Hotel lobby, with its keyhole arches, ornately carved fixtures, and aromas of oud and sweet dates, doesn’t feel like the best setting to induce frenzied buying behavior, but never forget that this is Marrakech: a bustling medina where souks, warm and vibrant markets, are around every corner.
Across the courtyard, the fourth edition of 1-54 contemporary African art fair is in full swing. On Thursday, February 9, the hotel’s ritzy patrons lined up to have their portrait painted by artist Francesco Vidal (shelling out $320 a pop), and fair founder Touria El Glaoui was celebrating 1-54’s “big return” following two years of postponement due to Morocco’s stringent pandemic restrictions.
There was distinctive presence of young, glamorous African collectors on the fair floor as well as the established international buyers who are now 1-54 regulars. Spotted in the aisles were Hervé Mikaeloff, an advisor and curator from France, Senegalese collector Amadou Diaw, and Israeli Serge Tiroche.
The fair, which has editions in New York and Paris as well as its flagship in London, is boutique in format, with 20 galleries participating in the Marrakech chapter. This year, more than 60 artists from 13 different countries are being shown, and there are 12 first-time exhibitors. The latter is part of a strategy to give the selection of the fair fresh appeal for its loyal visitors. The turnover may also in part reflect the tricky nature of conducting business in Morocco due to sticky customs and a closed currency. Luckily, most galleries get around this by dealing in their national currencies, and benefit from El Glaoui’s good relationship with city officials.
Despite the difficult economic climate, sales were taking place around the fair on the first day, likely helped by the lower price points, but perhaps the unctuous setting also played a role in putting people in the right mood.
We parsed the fair to bring you six names of artists whose careers are primed to take off.
Who: The Ugandan painter’s compositions, which are derived from stock photographs, reveal how ubiquitous imagery continues to colonize the globe by privileging Western aesthetics and identity. Sekajugo’s work often calls into question the dominant culture, and its neo-colonial attitudes; his “Call Centre” series, which was exhibited in the Ugandan Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale last year, posited that a re-colonialism is underway through the outsourcing of labor to developing countries enabled by the emergence of new technologies—the artist dubbed call centers as “digital plantations.”
The work on view at the fair riffed on a stock image of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle from their wedding, and is part of his latest series of portraits of ambiguous figures of power and influence.
Based in: Kampala, Uganda
Showing at: Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris, Brussels)
Why you should pay attention: Sekajugo’s work was presented alongside Acaye Kerunenin the first-ever Ugandan pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Together with France, the pavilion earned a special mention from the biennale’s jury. The gallery started working with him after the opening of the Venice Biennale, and he recently signed on with Blum & Poe.
Prices: The painting on view at the fair was priced at €45,000 ($48,012).
Up next: His work is currently on view in a solo exhibition, “We Come in Peace,” at Nathalie Obadia’s Faubourg Saint Honoré location in Paris.
Who: Touam makes beguiling still lifes that, at a glance, recall the paintings of European art historical canon. Closer inspection reveals them to be photographs that have been staged with symbols referencing the African diaspora.
Born in France to Algerian parents, Touam’s work grapples with questions of identity, as she comes to terms with the intimate yet foreign culture she inherited from her parents. The works offer a post-colonial rewriting of art history, spurred by the notion that many celebrated painters took inspiration from the African continent in the first place, though it is rarely credited.
The works in her series, “Replica”, on view at the fair, reinterpret many of the great classics of art history, referencing works by Dalí and Matisse (the latter was greatly inspired himself by expressions in African art).
Based in: Paris, France
Showing at: This Is Not A White Cube (Luanda, Lisbon)
Why you should pay attention: Touam exhibited at the 53rd edition of the prestigious photography biennial, Rencontre d’Arles, in France, where this same series, “Replica,” won the discovery prize from the Fondation Louis Roederer. Though still early in her career, she has shown in group shows in museums including MACAAL, Marrakech, and the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris.
Prices: Works on view ranged from €4,480–€8,000 ($4,780–$8,537)
Up next: The gallery will show her work at Art Paris (March 30–April 2).
Who: A self-taught artist, Murray’s practice encompasses sewing, painting, material experimentation, film, and collaborative projects. Murray, who goes by she/they/he pronouns, received a BA in Black Studies from Yale College, and aims to visualize ideas from Black feminist writers and visionaries.
On view at the fair were two large-scale textile collages, including a sultry silk piece affixed with glass beads. At first alluring, leaning in to look at the inky cyanotype prints on the fabric offers a different narrative; through archival photographic depictions of the Black female form, as well as images borrowed from personal family albums, Murray contends with the sexual violence that has been enacted on women throughout history.
Based in: Asheville, North Carolina
Showing at: Superposition Gallery (Itinerant, with recent projects in Los Angeles, New York, and Miami)
Why you should pay attention: Murray is part of a growing number of contemporary artists working with textile—many of whom utilize a visual vernacular that dialogues with the contributions of the Gee’s Bend Alabama quilters. Asked whether she saw herself as part of this “New Bend” context, Murray said: “Gee’s Bend was very important, but there are so many communities in the South, in Alabama, Missisippi, that are working within this tradition. North Carolina has a rich history of fiber and textile craft; I’m working to expand the narrative beyond that one area.” The Studio Museum in Harlem just acquired a piece by the artist, and the works attracted a lot of attention on the opening day of the fair.
Prices: The two works on view at the fair were priced between $20,000 and $25,000.
Up next: Murray is preparing a textile chandelier for an upcoming performance in May at the Fischer Center at Bard, New York, by Kenyon Victor Adams, who is artist and director of public programs at the Blanton Museum.
Who: Serri is a feminist photographer who grew up in a conservative area of Northern Morocco, and her work deals with some of the conflicts that arise as a woman living in Arabic culture. Despite Morocco being one of the more progressive countries for women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa, women still struggle as second-class citizens in several ways, often suffering economic hardship, patriarchal laws, and social taboos controlling their bodies and sexuality.
She positions her female subjects in places of power, often including “provocative” elements. On view at the fair are two photographs: one depicts a woman lifting her abaya to reveal a leg bedecked in fishnet stockings; another triumphant image of a veiled woman in the desert focused on her long train, which appears to have subjugated a male figure.
Based in: Nador, Morocco
Showing at: Maat Gallery (Paris)
Why you should pay attention: Serri’s empowering work has earned an Instagram following of more than 29,000 users. She is part of the collective Norseen, 14 emerging Moroccan image-makers whose work challenges traditional narratives.
Prices: The works on view at the fair were priced at €2,000–€3,000 ($2,134–$3,201).
Up next: The gallery is also presenting her work at Zona Maco through February 13 in Mexico City.
Who: Awofeso is a Nigerian artist based in Birmingham. On view at the fair is a series of sculptural portraits of figures the artist encountered on two streets of the same name, Broad Street. One is a hub of nightlife in Birmingham, the other a commercial center in Lagos. The sculptures are made using pallet boards—a material used to transport objects that references migration.
Also on view is series of smaller, brightly painted and fashionably dressed figures carved in wood. These reference the South African subculture of skhothane, a type of flex culture in which individuals and groups compete against each other in front of a crowd to determine which party is wealthier. These battles usually culminate in a ritualized destruction of expensive items and clothing, as an ostentatious display of wealth. Awofeso encountered the practice when he was traveling in South Africa.
Based in: Birmingham, U.K.
Showing at: Ed Cross (London)
Why you should pay attention: Awofeso had a solo exhibition at Birmingham’s IKON gallery last year. This is his first presentation with Ed Cross, which started representing him last November. Towards the beginning of day two they had sold four works by the artist.
Prices: The larger wooden portraits were priced at £6,000–£8,000 ($7,231–$9,641); smaller figures were £2,000 ($2,410).
Up next: Awofeso will be included in an upcoming group show at South London Gallery slated to open in July.
Who: Coleman, part of a new generation of artists working with portraiture, mostly creates self-portraits, which are a way of experimenting with his own image. He grew up in the American South in a Black and Swiss family, and so from a young age built his own identity through self-invention.
The work on view at the fair was a series of figurative paintings generated after Coleman spent time traveling in Morocco last year. He was seduced by the visual culture, and the devotion to beauty evident in every aspect of life. The paintings pay homage to the rich tradition of design while also being introspective.
Based in: New York, USA
Showing at: Foreign Agent (Lausanne)
Why you should pay attention: The gallery reported that the booth sold out on the first day of the fair.
Prices: €1,000–€6,000 ($1,066–$6,400)
Up Next: The gallery is in the midst of planning a solo show of the artist later this year.
1-54 Marrakech is on view through February 13 at La Mamounia, Marrakech.
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