Earlier this month, I attended the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London. Art fairs are pretty much always an exhilarating experience for me, but taking in new art from Africa and the diaspora was a particular delight. See for yourself — here are six of my favorite pieces from the fair.

“Esika na ngayi (My Place)” by EDDY KAMUANGA ILUNGA

Esika na ngayi (My Place) by Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga

This painting by Eddy Kamuanga Ilaya is one of the first pieces I saw. It’s huge and absolutely breathtaking. Ilaya is an artist from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His paintings have a richness and a vibrancy that clearly stem from mixing tradition and heritage with the energy of pop culture.


“Static Drift” by INGRID MWANGI

Static Drift by Ingrid Mwangi

This diptych by Ingrid Mwangi caught my eye because of its simplicity and originality. At the time, I did not know that the artist actually utilized her own body for her art. Ingrid is an artist from Nairobi, Kenya, and her work powerfully expresses her thoughts on racism and discrimination. The juxtaposition of her body with the African continent speaks to the way in which such issues are both personal and universal.


“Contemplation” by Paul Onditi

Contemplation by Paul Onditi

This piece by Paul Onditi appears simultaneously striking and haunting. Paul is an artist from Rachuonyo in Kenya, and in his work he explores “the dilemma of the human condition.” The use of mixed media is clearly effective in communicating the complexity and diversity of experience that lies at the heart of this dilemma.

“Dictatorship” by AYANA V. JACKSON

Dictatorship by Ayana V Jackson

The strength radiating from this piece by Ayana V. Jackson really needs to be experienced in real life. It’s as if the woman is simultaneously daring you to look and commanding you to look away. Ayana is from New Jersey, USA but lives and works in Johannesburg, Paris and New York. Her work explores Africa and the African diaspora through both reportage and studio photography as well as collage.

“Untitled (Musclemen series)” by Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou

Untitled (Musclemen series) by Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou

This photograph by Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou an incredibly layered piece of art. Leonce travelled around Benin with his father, the famous studio photographer Joseph Moise Agbodjelou, taking portrait photographs. The ‘musclemen’ in the picture are actual bodybuilders in Porto-Novo. The series has been interpreted in a number of ways, but I view it as a testament to the potential for masculinity to be beautiful. Whilst staged, the photograph is nonetheless full of truth.


“Rainbow Brigades V” by Ndidi Emefiele

Rainbow Brigades V by Ndidi Emefiele

This piece by Ndidi Emefiele is very close to being my favourite from the show. This mixed media painting is part of a series called Rainbow in which Ndidi uniquely depicts Nigerian women using compact disks and ankara fabric. Her use of recycled materials makes me think this painting, and the others in the series, strive to create a renewed image of Nigerian women.

Which piece strikes you the most? Tell us in the comments below.