This Week in African Art and Culture: 1:54 Notes, Kapwani Kiwanga to Represent Canada at 2024 Venice Biennale and more

2/11/2023 – In This Week in African Art and Culture, we bring news of one of the most anticipated fairs on the continent, commencing this weekend with notable galleries and artists making a first-time feature. And although it’s scheduled to take place roughly a year from now, some countries have started announcing and commissioning artists to represent them at the next edition of the Venice Biennale. Finally, the 2023 Norval Sovereign African Art Prize has a winner …

1-54 Marrakech Commences 4th Edition in Marrakech

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair commences this weekend in Marrakech, Morocco from Feb 9-12, 2023 at Hotel La Mamounia.

The 2023 Marrakech edition welcomes 20 exhibitors, including eight galleries from the African continent (four of which are based in Morocco) and 12 galleries that will participate at 1-54 Marrakech for the first time. Newcomers to Marrakech include Foreign Agent (Lausanne, Switzerland), HOA Galeria (Sao Paulo, Brazil), La Galerie 38 (Casablanca, Morocco), Mmarthouse (Johannesburg), Superposition Gallery (Miami Beach, Florida), and TEMPLON (Paris).

Presenting an ambitious program of events in partnership with local institutions from Jajjah by Hassan Hajjaj, MACAAL (Musée d’Art Contemporain Africain Al Maaden), MAP Marrakech (Musée des Arts de la Parure), Malhoun 2.0 and Al Maqam (artists’ residence) among others.

Works by over 60 artists working across various media, from painting and sculpture to mixed media and installation are being shown at the fair. Artists making their debut at the Marrakech fair include Kehinde Wiley, Thandiwe Muriu, Johanna Mirabel, Marlon Amaro, Maya Inès Touam, Mariam Abouzid Souali, Ismail Zaidy Bathelemy Toguo and Omar Ba. Returning favorites include Abdoulaye Konaté, Nú Barreto, Youssef Nabil, Joanna Choumali, Ana Silva, Mous Lamrabat and Prince Gyasi, who also will be presenting new works.

Founding Director of 1-54,\ Touria El Glaoui, commented, “Finally, after three years away from our partners, friends and family in Marrakech, we are delighted to announce our return to the beautiful La Mamounia hotel for our fourth fair on the African continent. We recently celebrated the fair’s 10th year anniversary edition and what a perfect way to follow up from this than with the return to our intimate and much anticipated fair in Morocco. Our inspired program of events and wonderful galleries will provide visitors with an exciting experience with so much amazing art to discover! I cannot wait to welcome you all again to my homeland and look forward to celebrating with all our supporters soon.”

Now in its fourth consecutive year, 1-54’s continued partnership with Christie’s reflects the fair’s dynamic relationship with the global auction house. The collaboration also demonstrates Christie’s commitment to showcasing contemporary African art to its global client base and enhancing exposure for the fair internationally.

Visitors can explore, connect with, and collect from all the galleries and artists at the fair through the online platform, Artsy from Feb. 9-26, 2023 on

John Akomfrah RA to Represent the United Kingdom at 2024 Venice Biennale

Ghanaian-born artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah RA will represent Great Britain at the 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia in 2024.

Akomfrah, who was recently honored with a knighthood in the 2023 U.K. Honors list, is known for his art films and multi-screen video installations, which explore major issues, including racial injustice, colonial legacies, diasporic identities, migration and climate change.

The London-based artist initially came to prominence in the early 1980s as part of the Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC), a group of seven artists founded in 1982. The BAFC’s first film was Handsworth Songs (1986), which explored the events around the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London. In recent years, his multichannel video works have evolved into ambitious, multi-screen installations shown in galleries and museums around the world. In 2017, he won the Artes Mundi prize, the U.K.’s biggest award for international art. He has previously participated in the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia with his piece, Four Nocturnes, commissioned for the inaugural Ghana Pavilion in 2019.

On accepting the British Council commission, John Akomfrah said, “It is a huge privilege and an honor to be asked to represent the U.K. at the 60th Venice Biennale—it is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting opportunities that an artist can be presented with. I see this invitation as recognition of, and a platform for all those I have collaborated with over the decades, and who continue to make my work possible. I’m grateful to be given a moment to explore the complex history and significance of this institution and the nation it represents, as well as its architectural home in Venice—with all the stories it has told and will continue to.”

Skinder Hundal, global director of arts at the British Council and commissioner of the British Pavilion, said, “With a career spanning four decades, the judges felt that Akomfrah had made a very significant contribution to the U.K. and international contemporary arts scene. John’s inspiring style and narrative has continuously evolved, revealing key ideas and questions about the world we inhabit. The quality and contextual depth of his artistry never fails to inspire deep reflection and awe. For the British Council to have such a significant British Ghanaian artist in Venice is an exhilarating moment.”

Past British artists have included Golden Lion winner Sonia Boyce, Tracey Emin, Phyllida Barlow and Steve McQueen.

The British Council has been responsible for the British Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia since 1937, showcasing the best of the U.K.’s artists, architects, designers and curators. These International Exhibitions, and the British Council’s Venice Fellowships initiative, introduced in 2016, help make the British Pavilion a major platform for discussion about contemporary art and architecture.

Later this year, the British Council will appoint an associate curator to work alongside John Akomfrah and the British Council team to develop the exhibition. John Akomfrah’s British Council Commission for the British Pavilion at the Biennale Arte Venice will run from April 20-Nov. 24, 2024.

Famakan Magassa Wins 2023 Norval Sovereign African Art Prize

Norval Foundation and The Sovereign Art Foundation have declared Famakan Magassa the Grand Prize Winner of the 2023 Norval Sovereign African Art Prize (NSAAP).

The Malian painter won for his work, La Ballade Noctambule, an acrylic on canvas work that NSAAP describes as using “morbid humor to discuss difficult themes such as addiction, desperation and conflict.”

Magassa’s work grapples with notions of morality, vice, power and desire, often with a characteristic humor embedded in both the style of his painting and the overall tone of his work. In La Ballade Noctambule, for example, a drunk and deflated figure is rolled away in a wheelbarrow. The figure pushing the wheelbarrow is equally disheveled and wears only one shoe—a common symbol in the artist’s work, used to signal undesirability.

“It’s an honor and source of pride for me and for the Malian people,” Magassa said. “I would like to say thank you to Ronan Grossiat as it is thanks to him that I became aware of the Prize.” Magassa is represented by the New York gallery Albertz Benda. He is the second winner of the NSAAP, which focuses on contemporary artists from Africa and its diaspora. South African artist Bonolo Kavula was the winner of the inaugural prize. Magassa receives R500 000 (U.S. $27,913) and the opportunity to hold a solo exhibition at Norval Foundation.

Kapwani Kiwanga to Represent Canada at 2024 Venice Biennale

The National Gallery of Canada (NGC) has revealed that Kapwani Kiwanga will represent Canada at the 60th International Venice Biennale from April 20 to Nov. 24, 2024. Kiwanga is recognized as one of the country’s most acclaimed contemporary artists whose research-driven work is instigated by marginalized or forgotten histories and articulated across a range of mediums, including sculpture, installation, video and performance. Her presentation in Venice will be curated by Gaëtane Verna, executive director, Wexner Center for the Arts.

Angela Cassie, interim director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada and commissioner of the Canada Pavilion in Venice, said, “Widely recognized for her singular approach, Kiwanga’s work presents rigorous research in imaginative ways to enable historically excluded narratives to flourish. I would like to congratulate our national jury members in choosing such a timely and provocative voice to represent the vital role and place of Canada in international contemporary art.”

The artist was selected by experts in contemporary Canadian art comprised of Daisy Desrosiers, director and chief curator, Gund Gallery at Kenyon College; Heather Igloliorte, Concordia University research chair and co-director, Indigenous Futures Research Centre; Michelle Jacques, head of exhibitions and collections/chief curator, Remai Modern; Adelina Vlas, head of curatorial affairs, The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery; and Tania Willard, assistant professor of creative studies and visual arts, University of British Columbia, Okanagan.

The co-chairs for this year’s artist selection committee—NGC’s Michelle LaVallee, director, Indigenous Ways and Decolonization, and Jonathan Shaughnessy, director, curatorial initiatives said, “Kiwanga’s interdisciplinary approach to art making has received international attention for its eye-opening investigations into the structures, systems and narratives underlying today’s power asymmetries. The treatment of space for Kiwanga is an artistic gesture. Working across sculpture, mixed-media installation and performance, her projects often pay close attention to the sites in and on which they are exhibited.”

Canada Pavilion Curator Gaëtane Verna, executive director, Wexner Center for the Arts, added, “Kapwani Kiwanga delves into the archives of the world and conducts in-depth research that is weaved elegantly throughout her artworks. She is interested in the role of art as a catalyst for revealing and addressing alternative and often silenced, marginalized socio-political narratives that are part of our shared histories. It is an honor for me to have been invited to curate the Canadian Pavilion, in continuous conversation with Kiwanga, and I look forward to supporting her in every aspect of this momentous project in which she will undoubtedly transcend the materials that she will choose to use to transform our own understandings of the world.”

The Venice Biennale is the world’s largest and most prestigious contemporary art exhibition, with more than 80 participating countries. The exhibitions on view at the Canada Pavilion are commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada and produced in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts. The Canadian representation in 2024 is made possible through the National Gallery of Canada Foundation.

Kapwani Kiwanga (born 1978, Canada) is a Canadian and French artist based in Paris. Kiwanga studied anthropology and comparative religion at McGill University in Montreal, art at l’école des Beaux-Arts de Paris and at Le Fresnoy—Studio national des arts contemporains in Tourcoing, France. In 2022, Kiwanga received the Zurich Art Prize. She was also the winner of the Marcel Duchamp Prize (France) in 2020, Frieze Artist Award (U.S. and the Sobey Art Award (Canada) in 2018. 

Solo exhibitions include Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich; New Museum, New York; State of Concept, Athens (Greece); Moody Center for the Arts, Houston; Haus der Kunst, Munich; Kunsthaus Pasquart, Biel/Bienne (Switzerland); MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Esker Foundation, Calgary (Canada); Power Plant, Toronto; Logan Center for the Arts, Chicago; South London Gallery, London and Jeu de Paume, Paris, among others.

Compiled by Roli O’tsemaye

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