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1-54’s African Artists to Watch and Their Hybrid Approaches to Textiles in 2024

1-54’s African Artists to Watch and Their Hybrid Approaches to Textiles in 2024

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1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair
Collector viewing The African Art Hub’s booth featuring textile-inspired paintings by Nigerian artist Ibrahim Bamidele and South African artist Reggie Khumalo. Photo: © Parker Calvert / CKA, courtesy of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair New York, 2024.

When most people think of textiles or fiber art they may think of crocheting, embroidering, or tufting, which are all utilized by expert technicians of each medium within the 10th edition of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Chelsea’s Starrett-Lehigh Building. However what makes the fair so exciting is that the majority of artists pushed beyond the bounds of traditional techniques to create hybrid objects or to engage regional materials to communicate potent meanings centered on sustainability, labor, and diaspora identities expanding the discourse within this field of materiality.

Here is a brief selection of noteworthy contemporary African and African diasporic artists working in the textile arts at 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair and what their exhibited works contribute to the genre.

Ross-Sutton Gallery
Ross-Sutton Gallery’s booth features fiber artworks by Nigerian artist Joshua Michael Adokuru. Photo: © Casey Kelbaugh / CKA, courtesy of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair New York, 2024.

Stand-Out Booth

A stand-out booth was Ross-Sutton Gallery’s presentation of Nigerian artist Joshua Michael Adokuru, whose practice builds up a central image by coiling wool threads around arrangements of nail heads hammered into wooden panels. These bold graphic portraits of youth are immensely expressive of nostalgic emotions like contentment, camaraderie, skepticism, and even the swagger of intimidation. Yet this technical approach to image-making is most closely aligned with the pinning process that underscores lace-making traditions. This remixing of easily accessible materials with an innovative twist (pun intended) deconstructs historical craft techniques to develop the artist’s unique signature methodology and perhaps is also loosely inspired by Pop Art’s fascination with the vintage Ben-Day color dot printing process. These works flew out the door as the entire inventory sold out before the close of the fair, definitely making Adokuru a top artist to watch.

Kates-Ferri Project
Kates-Ferri Project’s booth featuring fiber artworks (order left to right) by Caribbean-based American artist Theda Sandiford, South African artist Turiya Magadlela, and Nigerian artist Samuel Nnorom. Photo: © Casey Kelbaugh / CKA, courtesy of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair New York, 2024.

Fiber Art Sculpture

Fiber art sculptures took center stage at Kates-Ferri Projects’ booth presenting three distinct approaches to the medium today. Theda Sandiford’s practice is rooted in ecological advocacy participating in weekly beach cleanups to remove plastic detritus from the shores of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to then intuitively transform these found objects into looping, tendril-like wall-mounted sculptures. These enigmatic yet playful constructions serve as beacons for promoting greater ocean health awareness, and proposing an optimistic outlook for an individual’s impact on remedying our global plight of plastics pollution. Samuel Nnorom also upcycles fabrics to create dense sculptural topographies that crest and sweep across the wall as vivacious abstract accumulations of knotted bundles of patterned textiles. These spherical protuberances both disrupt and amplify the motifs within the original fabrics’ dyed or printed patterns, obscuring their meaning within the vernacular cultural symbolism of traditional African textiles. Building up these surfaces with cloth scrap categorized as waste from factory floors as filling, Nnorom also simultaneously dismantles hierarchies of value within artisanal practices versus design production through his reuse practice. Elevating scrap to the realm of fine art sculpture, while shrouding recognizably celebrated batik textiles in service to the work’s unified textural whole, each sculpture acts as a sophisticated critique on the making of meaning ascribed to a full range of fiber production occurring within our current cultural milieu. Turiya Magadlela on the other hand takes a very sleek approach to the perennial frustration of ripped pantyhose, transforming these scarred sartorial carcasses into abstract-expressionist-inflected painterly compositions. Magadlela’s practice of repurposing discarded fabrics centers an alluring aesthetic experience to draw the viewer into a subtle discussion surrounding gender-based identity politics and the colonization of black bodies. The work also distorts the field’s terminology of categorization as a surface too mimetic of painting to be a sculptural fiber art practice, yet a found object collage process akin to quilting (in its directly sewn layering of transparent textiles), but evades that label as well due to routinely fooling the viewer’s eye from a distance seeming to be an entirely painted surface.

1-54 African Art Fair
Left to right: 1) Nabir Yo. “The Cleaner,” 2024. Textile, barkcloth, and acrylics on denim. 124 x 117 cm. Courtesy Amasaka Gallery. 2) LR Vandy. “Jig,” 2023. Sisal rope, wood, copper, brass. 74 x 22 cm (base 15 cm diameter). Courtesy of the Artist and October Gallery, London. 3) Xanthe Somers. “Sisters Toil III,” 2024. Glazed stoneware, hand-built. 92 x 40 x 40 cm. Courtesy of Galerie Revel.

Organic Fibers

Ugandan artists Nabir Yo and Christine Nyatho both use barkcloth, a sustainable and organic material, to complete their figurative works. The bark’s rich pigment is similarly characteristic of the tone quinacridone sienna, which imbues each artist’s practice with a unique quality within their signature silhouettes. Nearly two decades ago UNESCO proclaimed barkcloth production as an Ugandan Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, historically an artisanal craft passed down through generations of Baganda people resident in the country’s central region. Barkcloth typically serves as a dress garment, with designs added to the surface, which makes it a fitting material for representing people in these quilt-like artworks. It is a solid continuous surface of malleable wood fiber harvested from tree saplings that continue their life cycle of growth to continually produce new layers of this inner bark, making it an ecological alternative to harmful plastic-based materials.

LR Vandy is another artist utilizing natural fibers to construct anthropomorphic sculptures of sisal rope: a traditional material used to produce incredibly durable industrial ship ropes. It is a hemp-like fiber that is harvested from the agave cactus, particularly in Tanzania and Kenya, then imported to European industrial cities like Liverpool where ropery fabricators spin them into mooring and anchor lines for international shipping vessels. These pathways of trade and material exchange have long histories that bring conversations of plantation labor, slavery, migration, and global trade into discussions of sisal’s political implications within the fine art realm. Jig (2023), as the title suggests, coalesces associations between dance movements, black bodies in motion, hierarchies of labor, and complex histories of colonial domination into a single gestural sculpture.

Even weaving techniques cross media-specific boundaries in the ceramics practice of Xanthe Somers showing intricately constructed openwork vessels at Gallery Revel. Utilizing a punchy palette of glazes, Somers’ quirky sculptures–especially Sisters Toil III (2024)–cross over into our discussion of textile-based art as the piece is entirely constructed of woven coils of clay. Ironically this closed structure is loosely woven and renders the piece a technically skilled demonstration of gridded openwork adorned with individually articulated interlinking earring-like rings. Another hybrid object that defies traditional notions of categorization, Somers’ statement piece is a triumph.

Gallery Nosco 1-54
Gallery Nosco’s booth features fiber art by Angolan artist Januario Jano and Brazilian sculptor Caio Marcolini. Photo: © Parker Calvert / CKA, courtesy of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair New York, 2024.


Angolan artist Januario Jano’s approach to the concept of tapestry is another complex construction worthy of mention exhibited in Gallery Nosco’s booth. Combining photography and fiber art Jano layers photographic images onto industrially produced tightly woven canvas, in addition to attaching borders to the top and bottom edges made of broad hand-gathered swaths of triple-tiered looped yarn and uncut raya fringe to build a ‘tapestry’ from discrete parts. Jano’s unique approach is a signature style developed to challenge hierarchies of representation between the historical prestige of European tapestry traditions and the accessible yet evidentiary medium of photography. However, once these seemingly antithetical processes are combined, the artist unearths the imperial and empirical ways in which both techniques are inextricably tied to the global politics of empire and the rhetoric of colonial control. In Untitled (The Last Royals), 2022 Jano proclaims the monarchical grandeur of the last aristocratic ruler of Angola. Even the country’s name hails from the root word Ngola referring to the sovereign of Ndongo, an African state from the medieval period. Paired with works by Afro-Brazilian sculptor Caio Marcolini this presentation heightens the anthropomorphic qualities of this artist’s woven brass wire forms resembling arterial pathways and swollen nodules. Marcolini creates monumental abstract sculptures based on rigorous training in industrial design and jewelry techniques that similarly spans multiple disciplines. The thin metal wire is malleable, yet the technical precision in Marcolini’s work comes from the uniformity of the surface’s smooth texture, the endurance to weave these metal threads–not only three-dimensionally but also across such a large expanse–, and most importantly to engineer a self-supporting structure that remains hollow. Brass, in particular, has the necessary strength to achieve the structural stability to resist the wear of gravity upon the work’s meandering tube-like structures, preventing them from collapsing in upon themselves. These hybrid constructions utilize materials typical of jewelry design, techniques ascribed to textile arts, and the engineering fabrication required of design to complete a work equally identifiable as fiber art, as it is as a sculptural installation.

Left to right: 1) Isabelle.D. “Mensonges et vérités 7 (Truths and lies),” 2023. Handmade crocheted and woven natural fibers on canvas. 35 x 35 x 10 cm. Unique. Courtesy of Gallery Nosco. 2) Basil Kincaid. “The Sea of Me Tide against My Eyes,” 2024. Embroidery on hand-woven cotton fiber, embroidered hand-woven Ashanti Kente. 62.23 x 50.8 cm. Courtesy of Mindy Solomon Gallery. 3) Anya Paintsil. “I am a one man band II,” 2023. Acrylic and wool on hessian. 48 x 60. Courtesy of the Artist & THK Gallery.

Popular Techniques

I must also mention artists working with familiarly ubiquitous techniques that retain wide popularity. The diverse regional significance of textile patterns and techniques unique to each country’s traditions, textile lovers will rejoice at the high caliber of technical skill paired with a wide range of conceptual approaches of contemporary African artists exhibited at the fair. Isabelle.D’s polychromatic personally crocheted Truth and Lies series resembling coral reef structures questions the politics of ocean health amidst our global climate crisis. D is a French-Algerian fiber artist represented by Belgium’s Gallery Nosco. Internationally recognized artist Basil Kincaid presents his laboriously embroidered large-scale tapestry works at Mindy Solomon Gallery’s booth illustrating a familiar technique at its highest level of expressive creation. These intricate yet painterly works amplify the palette of the woven kente cloths that they are embroidered upon. These works are layered investigations of heritage, invisible labor, and the power of community in contrast to American influences towards prioritizing individualism. By pushing the boundaries of figuration and iconographic significations, Kincaid weaves a language of symbolism inspired by the lineage of encoded messages within the history of Black American quilt-making traditions. Thereby calling attention to the interlaced nature of our physical and spiritual lives. Anya Paintsil’s vulnerable tufted tapis works (or wall hangings constructed from carpet techniques) yearn to be touched, displaying low-pile hugging figures within a high-pile ground of frenetic ivory loops. These highly stylized figures–due to their nearly boundless forms and the improbably exaggerated scale of the hands–evoke a stirring emotional response within the viewer.

Resist Dyed Textiles (Batik & Mudcloth)

Another textile technique is braiding which has deeply significant traditions and systems of symbolic knowledge that are worthy of discussion under this banner of inquiry. Unfortunately I have run out of space for a proper discussion of it this technique, but highly encourage other writers to delve into researching this category further. Dissertations of material can (and have been) written similarly on resist dyed textiles such as the wax cloth batik dying technique and its distinct cultural potency particularly in Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal, as well as mud resist dye techniques from Mali that are commonly used throughout the Sub-Saharan region. Though equally unable to thoroughly explore this facet of textile fabrication, I would be remiss not to mention The African Art Hub’s presentation of Nigerian artist Ibrahim Bamidele’s and South African artist Reggie Khumalo’s works, who both utilize these pattern motifs to exquisite painterly effect. Even breaking the fourth wall with the figures’ garments spilling out over the canvas’ frame into the realm of the viewer, Khumalo’s definitive and regal pieces are worthy of admiration for their transformative beauty and are the high note that I will close upon.

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair’s 10th Edition at The Starrett-Lehigh Building, 255 11th Avenue, between West 27th & 26th Streets, is open through May 4th, 2024.

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