1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair: the female gaze
A special exhibition brings together six African artists foregrounding women’s perspectives in diverse ways.
Naked female bodies writhe and intertwine in Phoebe Boswell’s video installation “I Need To Believe the World is Still Beautiful”, a highlight of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, whose New York edition opens on May 4. The work comprises footage of women who were invited to strip off and move at the artist’s London studio — an act of protest inspired by the work of Audre Lorde, the self-described “black woman warrior poet” who urged women to turn silence into action. For Boswell, born in Nairobi and raised in the Middle East, reclaiming the power of female nudity from the male gaze is an urgent issue. The British-Kenyan artist is just one of the women putting forward a “female gaze” at 1-54. At the fair and its spin-off projects, African artists are attempting to redefine the way we look at women, countering the idea that the female gaze is a western-centric movement. “We have a lot of special projects focused on women,” says 1-54 director Touria El Glaoui. “It’s exciting to have this concentration and it’s relevant, too. But it’s something we have always been conscious of: if we don’t make an effort to have a balance, it won’t happen. This is a global issue.” Other notable works at the fair that foreground the female perspective include ethereal paper-cut portraits by Nathalie Boutté (presented by Magnin-A) and photographs by the young South African artists Phumzile Khanyile and Lebohang Kganye (at Afronova gallery), both of whom refer to their own family albums to explore the role of women. At 50 Golborne gallery, the Ivorian artist Joana Choumali presents ça va aller, a series of pictures she took on her phone of people she met on the street in the aftermath of the 2016 Grand-Bassam terror attack, which is embroidered with DMC cotton thread — reclaiming a traditionally feminine technique to express her feelings about the killings.