1:54 New York 2018 Honors the Decolonial Potential of Radical Intimacy

Having just closed the fourth edition of its New York installment, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair continues to be an expansive platform for perspectives from Africa and its diaspora. The fair is constantly bustling; it is a unique cultural space where art collectors, enthusiasts, and professionals alike excitedly explore exhibitions of over sixty artists’ works, half a dozen special projects, and a full weekend of panels. As I navigated the fair’s kaleidoscopic presentation, I was drawn at every turn to installations and conversations that leveraged feminine and feminist rituals and tools to intervene on contemporary understandings of diasporic culture.

Series Ke Lefa Laka by Lebohang Kganye - la Thobi-II, 2013

Series Ke Lefa Laka by Lebohang Kganye – la Thobi-II, 2013


Delicately installed in a corner of Afronova’s booth, the layered images from Ke Lefa Laka (2013), an ongoing series by South African photographer Lebohang Kganye, visualize what intimate bonds can look like across space and time. The photographs, which depict a ghost-like Kganye converging and diverging with the figure of an identically dressed and posed woman, are in fact documents of the artist’s meticulous recreation and manipulation of archival images of her late mother. In each nostalgically hued image Kganye uniquely blends photography, performance and sculpture to create a new ritual through which she reclaims her lineage in her mother’s absence. By marrying visual remnants of the past with present interpretations of the same moment she expertly draws attention to the pliability of shared histories and makes space for cross-generational healing.

Similarly, Phoebe Boswell’s specially commissioned project I Need to Believe The World is Still Beautiful (2018) combines traditional hand drawing techniques with technology to expand the relationship between subject, artist and later audience. For this particular installation, Boswell manually incorporated functional QR codes into the drawings of her subjects for which she asked each woman to choose a URL destination. In this way, while she provides an image of each figure, the context and message of each work is chosen by the subject. The Kenyan born draftswoman’s detailed, large scale illustrations of nude women honor embodied and emotional acts of protest while creating new, subversive dynamics between artist and subject.

Phoebe Boswell

I Need to Believe The World is Still Beautiful, 2018 by Phoebe Boswell (installation) – ©KatrinaSorrentino – 1:54

Both Kganye and Boswell’s work reflect their complex search for and redefinition of home often obfuscated by loss, generational erasure, migration and globalization. In speaking to curating this year’s 1:54 FORUM, Living Room, Omar Berrada writes, “home is a capacious place, and fighting the powers of war begins by nurturing communities of affect.” He continues, explaining that the multidisciplinary presentations and panels were directly inspired by June Jordan’s poem “Moving Towards Home” wherein she urgently writes of a self-determined, decolonized place of belonging. Drawing together exhibiting artists and New York based makers and thinkers each conversation focused on the political potential of rituals and practices of care.


1:54 FORUM’s coda, a panel discussion between visual artists Joiri Minaya and Nontsikelelo Mutiti moderated by art curator and writer Neelika Jayawardane, beautifully unpacked the complexities and possibilities of home, intimacy and communal spaces present all throughout the fair. Each artist’s exploration of culturally embedded rituals aimed to simultaneously heal and purge these traditions of the oppressions embedded within them.

Joiri Minaya

Satisfied (Satisfecha) by Joiri Minaya – Screenshot.

Minaya’s Satisficha (Satisfied)(2013), for example, is a personal meditation on identity construction and gender roles in Dominican culture. In the video she riffs on the familiar ritual of drinking a cup of morning coffee, repeatedly dipping each ambiguously shaped cloth object first in coffee, then in sugar, lastly individually placing each form in her mouth. She struggles to finish her task as the items accumulate making it visually harder for her to breathe. This loaded representation of an otherwise mundane task complicates idealistic notions around home by pushing viewers to reevaluate power and choice within a domestic context.

Nontsikelelo Mutiti, ulia Novitch, Julia Novitch

Braiding Braiding, 2015 – Designers: Nontsikelelo Mutiti with Julia Novitch, Programmer– Julia Novitch

The poignant critiques presented by Minaya’s work are echoed in Zimbabwe-born Mutiti’s continual exploration of hair braiding rituals. Specifically, as she recounted her struggle to properly maintain self-care rituals she had shared with her family upon first emigrating, notions of tradition as opposed to personal choice arose once again. Her experiences led her to continue to seek communal spaces for healing these rifts, experiences which Mutiti has innovatively documented in projects like her experimental publishing project braidingbraiding.com which contains a transcript of a hair braiding appointment in Johannesburg. In offering up such a personal and thorough depiction of sites of collective care, Mutiti demonstrates that community is created through layered readings of these fraught spaces.


Leaving this year’s 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair I was left with the impression that conversations around intimacy, ones that honor black feminine traditions, are essential to understanding contemporary African Art as well as our collective way forward.

17.05.2018 – Words by Rachell Morillo – Photos courtesy 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair and Katrina Sorrentino.

More about Rachell Morillo
Rachell Morillo is an artist, arts administrator and writer who has organized with communities, both domestic and international, to nurture innovative platforms for social change through visual art. She is currently associate in the Public Programs + Community Engagement Department at the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she develops and assesses the museum’s initiatives to effectively activate it as a community platform and resource.

Les billets IAM sont publiés dans leur langue d’origine | IAM blog posts are published in their original language.

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