The prestigious Frieze International Fair has become a landmark on the London arts calendar, when every October legions of collectors, curators, museum directors and connoisseurs descend to enjoy objects at the cutting edge of present-day art.
Over the past seven years the main alternative to the Frieze, the 1-54 African Contemporary Arts Fair, has established itself as a leading voice in the global discussion on contemporary African art. In the grand surroundings of Somerset House it brings together a diverse set of perspectives from around the world, and has carefully selected 45 leading international galleries from 19 countries across the world.
It would take a lot of effort to beat the real sense of adventure and refined curatorial skills on display there. We started with the transformative journey of the human-scale sculptures of Mary Sibande, one of South Africa’s most prominent artists, exploring the power of imagination and constructive anger in shaping identities and personal narratives in a post-colonial world. The quality of her work is matched by more than 140 emerging and established artists from Africa and the UK diaspora, working in a wide variety of mediums and from a broad range of geographical backgrounds.
1-54 FORUM is the fair’s extensive talks and events programme, including artists’ talks, film screenings and panel discussions with international curators, artists and cultural producers. It was curated for the first time by Kerryn Greenberg, Head of International Collection Exhibitions at Tate, and dedicated to the formidable late Nigerian curator Bisi Silva (1962–2019), founder of the Centre of Contemporary Art (CCA) in Lagos, who championed women artists and experimental artistic practices, prioritised research, publishing and pedagogy, and nurtured the next generation of artists, curators, writers and art historians in Africa.
Across town in the marquees and sculpture installations in Regent’s Park that embody the Frieze and Frieze Masters’ brand, fair director Victoria Siddall was excited to welcome the most significant galleries from around the globe, which, along with exhibitions opening across the city, including Kara Walker’s in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern and Elizabeth Peyton’s at the National Portrait Gallery, make Frieze Week a vital and truly global cultural moment in London.
Julio Etchart is a documentary photographer, poet and artist.