Firing up African Art at 1-54
Firing up African Art at 1-54

Firing up African Art at 1-54

Partnership and programmes

1-54 is the first leading international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora with annual editions in London, New York and Marrakech. Nando’s, in partnership with Spier Arts Trust, is a Silver Sponsor of the London event and once again helped to fire up the 2019 edition in early October this year.

The name 1-54 refers to the bringing together of art from the 54 countries that make up the African continent. Founded by Touria El Glaoui in 2013, it is a sustainable and dynamic platform that is engaged in contemporary dialogue and exchange.

In 2019, the London edition of the fair expanded, welcoming 45 carefully-selected international galleries, showcasing the works of 140 multidisciplinary artists of established and emerging profile. More than 18,000 visitors attended the fair.

Nando’s and Spier Arts Trust exhibited as a 1-54 special project, presenting work by four Southern African artists: Nelsa Guambe, Sepideh Mehraban, Qaqambile Bead Studio and Mxolisi Dolla Sapeta.

Nando’s patronage of contemporary Southern African art, through the close partnership with Spier Arts Trust, enables both opportunities for artists and curation of the Nando’s body of work.

The long-term partnership between Nando’s and Spier Arts Trust enables artists to focus full-time on their artistic careers and offers the potential to earn regular income. Nando’s believes this can make a difference in artists’ lives, and in turn grow their own collection of high quality Southern African contemporary art.

Spier Arts Trust administers programmes that facilitate career development opportunities for professional artists. Programmes include, among others: Spier Arts Academy, The Creative Block, Qaqambile Bead Studio and collaboration for site-specific, architectural-scale artworks.

Mxolisi Dolla Sapeta (b. 1967)

Dolla Sapeta is a painter and poet who trained both informally (under the likes of George Pemba) and formally at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. He completed his master’s degree in creative writing at Rhodes University in 2016 and has held numerous solo shows in South Africa and one in the USA and participated in residencies and group exhibitions across the globe; including the USA, the Netherlands, Sweden and Nigeria. He served as a co-curator in the PACA (Pan African Circle of Artists) biennale in Nigeria, as a judge in South Africa’s ABSA L’atelier National Arts Competition, and as an art lecturer. He published his first collection of poems, Skeptical Erections, in 2019.

His studio is situated in the heart of his personal history – the same township neighbourhood where he was born, where he watched soccer matches as a boy, and where he has lived and worked his whole life. Sapeta draws his inspiration from this local environment, employing colour, form and composition to portray an emotional environment rather than the physical one. His work speaks of the alienation and degradation of existence in the impoverished urban townships of South Africa – and the societal ills that congregate around such existence.

Nelsa Guambe (b. 1987)

Nelsa Guambe is a self-taught artist based in Maputo, Mozambique, where she lives and works across a range of multidisciplinary fields and collaborations. She has held several solo shows in Maputo, and has participated in group exhibitions in Mozambique and abroad; including Cape Town’s DK Contemporary Gallery and Pure Gold: Upcycled/Upgraded, a decade-long touring exhibition hosted by 20 international venues. She works predominantly in painting and photography and also collaborates in furniture and product design. She is also co-founder of DEAL Creative Space in Maputo.

For Guambe, the creative act is far broader, more fundamental than a particular artistic or design discipline. Her approach and thematic concerns speak of creativity as self-actualisation, centring on a question she asks in her recent work: “How have we become mere voters and passive participants instead of shaping our own destiny?” With this line of inquiry, she interrogates the troubled state of her beloved Mozambique – the political conflict and economic decline in particular – as well as the globally relevant subjection of women in a still male-dominated world.

As art materials are very difficult to come by in Mozambique, Guambe says you have to “try to work with what you have”. “Material is by chance,” she adds. “See what you can do with it, respond to what you find.”

Qaqambile Bead Studio

Qaqambile Bead Studio (previously Quebeka Bead Studio) is a creative enterprise run by three women – Nolubabalo Kanku, Neliswa Skiti and Mandisa Masina. They started out in 2004 under the direction of curator Jeanetta Blignaut, and in the ensuing 15 years collaborated with a number of high-profile artists and designers. Two of these collaborations were included in this year’s 1:54 selection: one by Marlise Keith, who has worked with Qaqambile from the start and participated at 1:54 in 2017; and the other a new partnership with Kagiso Pat Mautloa, a 1:54 participant in 2016.

Qaqambile’s artworks are held in prominent collections across the world – from the UK to France, the USA, Canada, UAE, Australia and New Zealand. They have also attracted acclaim within the design sphere, with their work on MashT Design Studio’s installation showcased at Milan Design Week 2019.

Qaqambile’s translation of artworks into beads is sensitive to each artist’s particular style and concepts, while adding extra layers of meaning to the original artworks.

This is exemplified in the two 1:54 collaborations with Marlise Keith and Kagiso Pat Mautloa. Tamlin Blake, Chief Curator for Spier Arts Trust, explains: “Keith’s fine detail and colourful surfaces translate well into beads, contrasting the playful quality of the beaded surfaces with the undercurrent of discomfort and deep questioning apparent in her work. Mautloa’s work, on the other hand, questions the expectation of seeing images from Africa in what is considered to be a traditional medium. This is particularly relevant, since the images are based on his personal interpretations of African masks – symbols he uses to review notions of identity and belonging.”

Sepideh Mehraban (b. 1986)

Sepidah Mehraban has held solo shows in Iran and South Africa and participated in group exhibitions throughout the world – from France to Slovakia, Italy to Kuwait, and across South Africa, the Zeitz MOCAA included. In 2018, she was invited to join a panel discussion at AKAA (Also Known as Africa) Art Fair in Paris, following an exhibition she curated as part of her PhD research: Cape to Tehran: Re-imaging and re-imagining personal history in Post-Apartheid South Africa and Post-Revolutionary Iran.

She has lived in South Africa for the past seven years, where she has chosen to complete her postgraduate studies, in parallel with teaching at the universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch, and mentoring young artists in Nando’s Creative Exchange programme.

Born in Tehran in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Sepideh Mehraban grew up amid a conflict of narratives. Her childhood experiences and family’s stories were at odds with the official state history, with the controlled and censored domestic news channels, and also with the increasingly reductive international media and its lifeless headlines and statistics. It’s this discord between the grand narrative and the chronicles of everyday people that she explores in her work, the multitude of personal histories behind – and absent from – the headlines and politics; stories of individual lives, of hopes for change stoked and disappointed, of the humanity behind the abstracted media coverage. It’s a subject with universal relevance, as she discovered on relocating to South Africa in 2012. She found parallels between the two countries: the complex histories marked by trauma and political turmoil, empty promises and disillusionment, and the abundant memories and lived histories of ordinary people. It’s a subject she explores in both her mixed media artworks and her PhD research at Stellenbosch University.

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