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The Vision: 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair

What thoughts spring to mind when you think of African art? Is it the bold elaborate colours or the careful manipulation of raw materials? Maybe it’s a personal experience for you, representing decades of history or perhaps an unapologetic expression of Its bold culture?

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Somerset House. October 9th 2016. White cells bleed bold African textiles, fusing futuristic and historic Africa throughout the sale.The illustrations of culture bellowed identity, reverberating a unapologetic chord throughout the placid chambers. In each cubicle shrouded by Benin inspired masks, kaleidoscopic Subsaharan bodies and landscapes devastated by disaster, a art dealer resides. Hiding their wealth of knowledge behind a MacBook Pro, the dealer lifts their eyes only to a pair of delicate wire rimmed glasses or a Celine purse; eagerly waiting ,over the ivy-glow of a card machine, to ensnare a buyer. As I strayed through the labyrinth of treasures at the fair, I’d considered ‘accessible and affordable’ a obvious answer to the prior question, until I saw the heavy price-tags.

Though I was able to enjoy the art, the price marred the image on how I identified myself within the pieces. Huge concepts of religion, gender, sexuality and politics were being challenged; but the exclusivity of the audience objectified the subject and alienated me from a conversation that I could identify with. As someone who takes care to understand the importance of art and makes a conscious effort to attend theatre, exhibitions and concerts; I had to consider the people that these necessities aren’t accessible to: what outlets do they have in order to articulate their opinions on a safe and healthy platform? And Why has art become a privilege?

“Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it’s in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation and where there is no vision, the people perish”- Lyndon Johnson.

The contribution of social media has sped up the pace of society and with huge cuts to arts funds, the idea of nurturing talent has become exclusive to the privileged. Not to mention that what creatives put out is deeply personal, that now their value is based on who is purchasing (or viewing or liking) and if no-one “buys” their value decreases; Completely disregarding their artistic opinion. As a performer I have experienced how these stifling factors have forced a strategy for survival, creating a formula which targets a richer pool but consequently alienates the latter; leaving them unable share in artistic expression and In essence not experiencing “the vision”.

But who is to blame? Is it the dealer in the corner or the artist? Maybe people should take more responsibility to expose themselves to art?… However the government has made huge cuts to the arts funds, is it them who do not see the importance of art in our society? … perhaps they do?

The Fair was extremely inspiring and there were some really exciting pieces which challenged me greatly. It was also encouraging to see families with young children and other like minded visitors at the fair; I think it’s vital that a precedent is set for young people to follow. However, though I was heartened by the turn out, anxiousness from the lack of communication left me feeling ghosted and my visit short.

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