The global artscape witnesses a momentous chapter as 1-54, the eminent art fair rooted in London, specializing in artworks from Africa and its expansive diaspora, announces its ambitious debut in Hong Kong in the coming March. Named after the 54 nations that constitute Africa, the fair’s eastward pivot reflects the mounting interest in African art among Asian art aficionados.
Set to grace the corridors of auction giant Christie’s office situated in Alexandra House, Central, this inaugural exhibition is scheduled for the last week of March 2024. Timed strategically, it coincides with the prestigious Art Basel Hong Kong fair. Touria El Glaoui, the visionary who birthed 1-54 in London in 2013, followed by successful editions in New York and Marrakech, revealed details about the Hong Kong venture. “We anticipate around 25 galleries to contribute, bringing a total of 25 to 30 masterpieces for this display. This endeavor is more of a curated presentation than a full-fledged fair. Our aim is to highlight the gems from the past 11 years of 1-54 and spotlight celebrated artists,” she stated.
El Glaoui, with roots in Casablanca, Morocco, envisions the potential of a comprehensive fair in Hong Kong in 2025 if the initial showcase garners favorable reviews. She hinted at Christie’s soon-to-be-unveiled headquarters in the Henderson — a modern architectural marvel sculpted by the celebrated Zaha Hadid Architects in Central — as a probable venue. The recent London fair in 2023, with its participation from 62 galleries from over 30 nations, stands as a testament to 1-54’s grandeur.
Contrasting with locales like London and New York, which boast sizable African diaspora communities and a strong cultural resonance with the continent, Asia’s connection with African art remains nascent. Asian collectors, historically, have primarily gravitated towards regional and Western artistic creations.
Yet, the global art narrative has been evolving. As Pearl Lam, the founder of the renowned Hong Kong-based Pearl Lam Galleries, highlights, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States marked a pivotal shift in artistic preferences. It paved the way for an amplified interest in artworks by black American artists, with iconic figures like Jean-Michel Basquiat gaining attention. “The contemporary art scene invariably mirrors political and societal shifts. The spotlight in the US has prominently been on diversity in recent times,” expressed Lam.
Lam’s tryst with African art traces back to the influential “Africa Remix” exhibition in Paris in 2005. She recalls being enthralled by the craftsmanship of artists like El Anatsui and Julie Mehretu.
Dolly Kola-Balogun, the force behind Retro Africa based in Nigeria, resonates with this sentiment. Her debut at Art Basel Hong Kong in 2022 unveiled an undeniable interest in African art from Asian collectors, even though sales could have been more robust. Kola-Balogun emphasizes the potential of the burgeoning African-Asian artistic nexus, proclaiming, “Asian patrons can independently discern and appreciate art, unshackled from the constraints of Western validation.”
This chapter underscores the dawning of a riveting era where the art market’s compass points East, fostering a richer African-Asian cultural exchange.