20 Nov 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair 2017, 2018 Somerset House, The Strand
A leading African art fair held at Somerset House where several galleries showcase artists they represent works. Somerset House is a grand venue in central London on the Strand on one side and facing the Thames river on the other. The first time I attended the art fair (although I had been previously for other exhibitions such as Malick Sidibe – The Eye of Bamako) in 2017 was in the hope of making my very first non-print art buy. Hope being the operative word as it turns out my budget was filled with it.
Even works within my price range by smaller galleries were not my heart’s desire and the ones that were, were so out of my league I begun to contemplate if it was worth continuing viewing. But there was so much amazing work to see. Some names in African art are easily recognisable such as Yinka Shonibare, Chris Ofili, Zak Ove, and the great El-Salahi.
It was in 2017, I discovered Alexis Peskine’s work (October Gallery), apart from being striking portraits using gold nails on dark wood they reminded of home in Central Africa. I ventured into the Gallery of African Art room to see Nelson Makamo’s – Be Humble as I had seen the work and others on social media and in published articles and it was on my hopeful list (until I was told the price). But had I been willing to forfeit paying rent that year I would most definetely would have purchased one of Addis Gezehagn (Addis Fine Art) Floating Cities landscapes, they were beautiful. Mauro Pinto (Arte de Gama) had great photographs and I had the chance to meet and talk to him as he was present I liked “Crenças do mau cheiro” – the picture of Christ with shoes on his face.
I returned to Somerset House in 2018 having giving up all hope of being able to purchase anything other than the ticket and the catalogue. The same galleries were present but the smaller ones were gone, a shame. This was an ominous sign that this art fair would be catering not for hopefuls like me but for the wealthier amongst us. I say this due to the amount of better known artists works on display such as a room filled with works by Yinka Shonibare (James Cohan), Chris Ofili, Zak Ove, Hassan Hajjaj, Lakwena Maciver (Vigo Gallery) and in the courtyard there were three tree sculptures by El-Salahi.
Got past my disappointment enough to discover up and coming works by the likes of Marion Boehm whose use of mixed media was striking, Evans Mbuaga – extremely colourful and active works, Kelani Abass – whose works explored connectedness and identity and met Modupoela (Gallery 1957) the artist behind the graceful work of the Synchronised Swimmers who was kind enough to give me a catalogue of her work. After losing hope of ever owning a work by Alexis Peskine, I actually had the pleasure of meeting him in person there explaining his technique for each of his works. Also present was Siwa Mgoboza (known for use textiles in his work – look for Reaching the Dream).
Its a shame art collection is encouraged but yet remains the practice of the wealthy. Overall for the sheer amount of stimulation and creativity on display I would recommend spending the day having something to eat and visiting the art fair. Then like me save or pray for a windfall.