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WHITEWALL: 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Brings Meaning to Malt House

The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair opened yesterday in New York, welcoming global attendees and exhibitors to a new location. Held at Malt House in the Manhattanville Factory District on 127th Street in Harlem, it remains open through May 21. Joining 26 galleries from Africa, the U.S., and Europe—with over one-third maintaining a showroom in Africa—the fair also brings 16 first-timers to the show, including DADA Gallery, KATES-FERRI PROJECTS, LatchKey Gallery, LouiSimone Guirandou Gallery, and Wunika Mukan Gallery.

Upon entering the expanded fair yesterday, we were greeted by enticing wall hangings by Ange Dakouo and sculptures by Pedro Pires on low plinths in LouiSimone Guirandou Gallery’s booth. Commonly mistaken for textiles, Dakouo's work defies the eye with woven works on paper. Of his work, he said, "My technique, which I call 'the woven gris-gris' is inspired by the amulets worn by Malian traditional hunters—the Dozos. I customize my 'gris-gris' with cardboard and newspapers, and then weave them together to create a harmonious universe, through which the 'gris-gris' represent people who are supposed to protect each other." Pires's works, featuring colorful wax fabric faces, are part of a series named "...for the future." Of the creations, he stated, "I choose to think about the future using the wax fabrics which carry heavy symbolism from the past and are controversial due to their history. For me, it opens a space that talks about status, history, past, and identity."

Across the hall, we were drawn to Eric Firestone Gallery's solo presentation of Sana Musasama's sculptures hanging on the wall, as well as ceramics displayed on tabletops. For the show, the Brooklyn-based African-American feminist artist and activist showed works that reflected her mantra, "Inspire, Commit, Act," including new and existing pieces across several series. They are also in dialogue with furniture and design items from her personal home and studio in Queens, as well as pieces she's collected over years of international travels.

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