Celebrating 10 years of Contemporary African Art, 1-54 took to the stage at Somerset House last week to showcase their latest instalments from Africa and it's diaspora in celebration of Black History Month.
Hosting 50 international exhibitors across 17 countries, the distinction and multi-faceted quality of art within Africa is astounding. Featuring 3 different artists from 3 different countries, I hope to illustrate to our readers the profound variety of cultures, influences and creatives that have spawned from Africa and it's diaspora; spotlighting Hassan Hajjaj (a Moroccan artist), Kenrick McFarlane (a Chicago-born, Jamaican-American artist), and MoXC4 (a Brazilian artist).
Born in Morocco in the 1960s, Hassan Hajjaj's ebullient portraits juxtapose North African culture with Western iconography, expressing the cultural abundance that vitalises the streets of Morocco. Spanning a myriad of artistic expression, including fashion, performance, video & sculpture throughout his career, Hajjaj is famously known for his Andy Warhol-esque style. Placing the bright portrait photographs of his debonair subjects in front of patterned backgrounds, Hajjaj then places his works in custom-made frames of motor oil or tomato soup.
The purposeful mixing of high Moroccan art and sleazy pop culture elements are apparent throughout Hajjaj's work, subverting the Western oriental gaze by deconstructing the "tourist gaze that fetishes veiled women", instead situating them in a vivacious, slightly-satirised light. His work is multi-dimensional, so it is no surprise that he has featured in many accomplished exhibitions and cities aside from 1-54 in London, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, and the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden in Marrakesh.
To entirely juxtapose Hajjaj, I have selected Kenrick McFarlane, a Jamaican-American oil-painter from Chicago, Illinois. Taking inspiration from Renaissance painting, McFarlane colligates these visual techniques with a brazen colour palette, and the creative histories with which he paints through; an almost cartoon-like stylisation of the self, beauty and self-perception. Through his work, he artistically observes the objectification of Black people in visual culture, and the battle of the black identity in relation to the white gaze. His explicitly intimate works emanate a psychological magnitude, distorting the conventional black portraiture.
His paintings grapple with the complexities of the black identity in the modern world, and are "extrapolations marked by a sense of personal implication". In many ways, his works could be described as self-portraits, McFarlane exists within these reaches, working as a Black artist, conversing with art history and navigating the complexities of body politics.
And finally, I have selected MoXC4 (João Lucas Nascimento Santos), a Brazilian-born visual artist, who captures and manipulates images explored as social constructions imposed on the body of racialized people in Brazil. Often described as the world's melting pot, Brazil is a country with a wide range of diversity and history due to it's colonial history, and is actually the largest black nation outside Africa, with 54% of Brazilians being of Afro-descent. MoXC4 explores this contextually, dissecting sovereignty, individual consciousness and social hierarchies. He explores the subversion of societal values by building non-usable and non-exploitable humanoid machines, juxtaposing the historic exploitation of black people in Brazil and their colonial past.
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