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The 1-54 African Art Fair Is a Ripe Place for Talent-Spotting. Here Are 5 Rising Stars We Scouted at the New York Edition
The fair's first Harlem edition was full of buzz-worthy art.
In what felt like a long overdue move, the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair took place in Harlem this year with a line-up of 25 galleries, an impressive haul of contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora in tow.
“This is the first time in my memory that a major art show has come to Harlem,” Dindga McCannon, who was born in Harlem in 1947 and has a booth dedicated to her work with New York’s Fridman Gallery, told Artnet News at the VIP opening.
The fair’s setting at Harlem Parish—an events venue originally built in 1907 as St. Thomas the Apostle, a neo-Gothic Catholic church—made the trip uptown somewhat of a pilgrimage, the art beneath the soaring vaulted ceilings vibrating with the collective spiritual energy of an entire continent.
After several hours spent perusing the aisles and chatting with artists, dealers, and collectors, here are five names from this year’s fair whose careers seem poised to jump to the next level.
Who: The 74-year-old Harlem native waited until 2021 to get her first solo show, at New York’s Fridman Gallery. (A solo booth at Art Basel Miami Beach followed.) An alumna of New York’s Art Students League, McCannon is an accomplished painter and illustrator, but she’s best known for her richly textured and detailed textile based works, which she began making in part because fabric was easier to transport, especially without a car.
Much of the work is inspired by McCannon’s life in Harlem, where she lived until about eight years ago. “Doing art inspired by Harlem is just part of my DNA,” McCannon said.
Based in: Philadelphia
Showing at: Fridman Gallery, New York
Prices: New small-scale paintings from McCannon’s “Harlem Women” series start at $10,000, while the oil painting Couple #4 (1971), recently restored by the gallery, was priced at $150,000—it was acquired by a public collection. Large-scale textile works range from $50,000 to $75,000.
Why You Should Pay Attention: The art world dismissed McCannon’s textile work as craft for years, and she sustained herself by teaching and selling her quilts at street fairs. Gallery owner Iliya Fridman’s interest was piqued after McCannon’s oil painting The Last Farewell (1970), from the collection of the Johnson Publishing Company, fetched $161,000 on an estimate of just $40,000 in 2020.
A number of galleries came calling following the sale, but McCannon chose Fridman because the dealer was interested in promoting the full arc of her career, not just the ’70s-era oils—”There’s a very limited supply of those,” she said. “Plus, I’m still working!”
Notable Resume Line: Along with Kay Brown and Faith Ringgold, McCannon founded the artist collective “Where We At” Black Women Artists, Inc., in the 1970s, calling on museums to become more inclusive. The Brooklyn Museum acquired her painting Revolutionary Sister (1971) in 2012 and included it in the critically acclaimed 2017 show “We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965–85.”
Up Next: Fridman is partnering with Pippy Houldsworth in London, which will host McCannon’s first European solo show. And, in a fitting coda to her work with “Where We At,” one of McCannon’s paintings from 1975 has been acquired by the Whitney. “It’s becoming part of the canon as it deserves,” Fridman said.
Who: Born in 1990, Thandiwe Muriu first picked up a camera at the age of 14, courtesy of her dad. Because there was no formal photography training in her native Kenya at the time, Muriu is self-taught. Today, her home doubles as a photography studio, where she shoots bold, fashion-photography-influenced portraits of Kenyan women for her “Camo” series. Each piece starts with an African textile, which Muriu buys in bulk, creating the pattern for her models’ colorful clothing and the backdrops they blend into.
Based in: Nairobi, Kenya
Showing at: 193 Gallery, Paris and Venice
Prices: Large-format prints are €12,000 ($12,650) in an edition of three, while smaller prints come in an edition of seven for €6,000 ($6,325).
Why You Should Pay Attention: Top collector Beth Rudin DeWoody snapped up the first edition of Camo 23 early on during the fair’s VIP day. Within two hours, the other two had also sold, along with 10 other large-format works. The Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, also bought one of her prints.
Notable Resume Line: Muriu’s piece Camo 34 is installed as a public artwork for PHOTO 2022, a photography biennial in Melbourne, through May 22. She also has work in journalist Susanne von Meiss’s Allure Collection and the Uhoda Collection, both in Switzerland.
Up Next: 193 Gallery, which first discovered Muriu Instagram, will host her next solo show in Venice in the fall. The artist is now considering expanding her practice to create her own textiles to use in her photoshoots. “That’s something that I may evolve into, because it’s all about the print—the story is in the print, the color is in the print, and the magic is in the print,” Muriu said.
Who: The artist, who was born in 1991 in Guyana, caught the eye of gallerist Véronique Rieffel while she was studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The dealer has since staged a solo presentation of the artist’s large-scale figurative paintings at Galerie des Femmes in Paris.
Based in: Paris
Showing at: Galerie Véronique Rieffel, Côte d’Ivoire
Prices: $13,500 to $18,000
Why You Should Pay Attention: The Museum of African Art in Marrakech and Fondation H in Madagascar (which is opening a space in Paris) have both acquired examples of Mirabel’s work.
Notable Resume Line: Mirabel is the winner of 1-54’s 2022 Ritzau Art Prize. She is also trained as an architect, “so she is very into the depiction of spaces and perspectives,” Véronique Rieffel said.
Up Next: As the prize winner, Mirabel will spend three months in residence at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in Brooklyn, which will likely culminate in an exhibition.
Who: Roméo Mivekannin, 35, is the great-great-grandson of King Behanzin, the last ruler of the kingdom of Dahomey, in what is now Benin. His work is deeply influenced both by that royal lineage and the legacy of colonialism in Africa. Mivekannin often depicts African political leaders on old bed sheets that have been ritualistically washed in herbal elixir baths, traditionally used in voodoo ceremonies. After working for years in acrylic, he has recently started painting with indigo, chosen because it was used in the trade of enslaved people.
Based in: Toulouse, France
Showing at: Galerie Eric Dupont, Paris
Prices: $12,000 to $52,000
Why You Should Pay Attention: Mivekannin is in the Dakar Biennale through June 21, and the group show “Picasso Remix,” on view at Galerie Le Manège at the French Institut of Dakar until June 30. “Every day we see solicitations from curators, from collectors…” his dealer Eric Dupont said. “He will be very very famous—it’s just a matter of time.”
Notable Resume Line: Mivekannin’s work was included in “Magies-Sorcelleries” at Muséum de Toulouse in 2020 and 2021 and in “Human Zoo: The Age of Colonial Exhibitions” at the Africa Museum in Tervuren, Belgium, in 2021 and 2022.
Up Next: An architect by training, Mivekannin is currently busy pursuing a PhD in Montpellier, France. But he will have a 2023 appearance at the Sharjah Biennial, which has already bought a piece from his “Strange Fruit” series.
Who: The Austrian Nigerian artist began taking photographs at the tender age of 10. Dealer Marie Gomis-Trezise discovered Uzochukwu—now 23—online back in 2015, when she was first thinking about starting her gallery. The photographs, shot in Senegal, draw on the language of both art and fashion, with Black men and women who appear to be hybrid creatures, at home in both land and sea, as if denizens of some new Atlantis. “It’s exploring the relationship between the diaspora and the ocean,” Gomis-Trezise said.
Based in: Berlin
Showing at: Galerie No 8, Brussels
Prices: $3,200 to $8,450
Why You Should Pay Attention: Uzochukwu was a finalist for the prestigious Prix Pictet 2021 for his self-portrait Ghoul, alongside such heavy hitters as Sally Mann and Christian Marclay. This body of work is his first proper series.
Notable Resume Line: Uzochukwu is in the collection of the Saint-Louis Photography Museum in Saint-Louis, Senegal. His work has appeared in the traveling exhibition “The New Black Vanguard” and the African Biennale of Photography in Bamako, Mali.
Up Next: Gomis-Trezise has plans to open the gallery’s first physical space, in Brussels, and host a solo show for the artist. She’ll also present Uzochukwu’s work at the upcoming edition of Paris Photo—all while he continues his studies in philosophy at Berlin’s Humboldt University.
1-54 New York is on view at Harlem Parish, 258 West 118th Street, New York, May 19–22, 2022.
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