• Zoltan Alexander

nº60 / 1:54 PARIS 2021

A three-day discovery at Christie’s Paris during 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair 2021. A review, covering the most prominent artists and art galleries of the Art Fair through the eye of producer Cori Coppola.

Review by Zoltan Alexander

through the eye of

Cori Coppola

1:54 Paris 2021 at Christie's / Trailer © video created by Zoltan Alexander ZOLTAN+MEDIA

Featured galleries and artists

François-Xavier Gbré, Roméo Mivekannin and Ouattara Watts at Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan / Dakar / Paris), Nú Barreto at Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris / Bruxelles), Mounir Fatmi at Wilde Gallery (Basel), Romuald Hazoumè at Galerie Magnin-A (Paris), Leila Alaoui and Pascale Marthine Tayou at Galleria Continua (Paris / San Gimignano / Roma / Beijing / Havana), Andrew Tshabangus at Galerie Septième (Paris), René Tavaresat This Is Not A White Cube (Lisbon), Mous Lamrabat and M’hammed Kilito at Loft Art Gallery (Casablanca), Sara Imloul and Mouna Saboni at Galerie 127 (Marrakesh), Prince Gyasi at NIL Gallery (Paris), and Maïmouna Guerresi at Galerie Dominique Fiat (Paris).


Being restricted from travelling due to Covid was an utter nuisance, and although it was a necessary act to slow the pandemic, it prevented me from attending the Paris edition of 1:54 in person. I have been covering the art fair for years and it would have been a great loss to miss out on the event, had my movie producer not been living in Paris.

2021, more than any other year, is dedicated to powerful and aspirational women: Kamala Harris, Vice President, San Francisco / Amanda Gorman, poet, wordsmith, change-maker and beacon of hope, Los Angeles / Touria El Glaoui, founder. director of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, London-Marrakesh / Ilwad Elman, peace activist, Somalia / Zanele Muholi, photographer, activist, South Africa / Cori Coppola, movie producer, writer, Paris-Los Angeles.

C. Coppola and I come from very different backgrounds, yet our minds work as if in tandem. She responded to my proposition with no hesitation when I asked her to be my 'eye' for the day at Christie’s. She accepted the challenge and joined me for a somewhat atypical tour at 1:54. We visited the event 500km apart, virtually for me, physically for her but perfectly synchronised together, effectively overcoming my perceived limitation thinking of the words of St. Agustine who once said: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only one page.”

"M-Eating, White Rubber Tire - First Lesson" of Maïmouna Guerresi / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Dominique Fiat
"Surtenture" by Emo de Medeiros / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Dominique Fiat


The renowned and worldwide celebrated 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair does not need any introduction. The Fair has been going on for over seven years in London, later in New York and Marrakesh.

In 2021, 1:54 made a radical change. Due to the worldwide pandemic and travel restrictions, the Marrakesh edition in February was postponed and founder Touria El Glaoui brought 1:54 to Paris for the first time.

The partnership between 1:54 and Christie’s dates back to October 2020, to the success of their collaboration, for which Christie’s London displayed many of the artworks at their King Street location in St James’s and on their online platform.

Christie's Paris - Avenue Matignon / Photo © Courtesy of 1:54

Now, Christie’s Paris partnered with 1:54 and hosted 20 international exhibitors including Galerie 127, Loft Art Gallery, Nil Gallery, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, Galerie Magnin-A among many other reputed art galleries.

The online platform, curated by LE 18, a multidisciplinary art space located in Morocco, enabled visitors from across the world to participate digitally in the Art Fair from January through February. El Glaoui's voice now can be heard in four different cities of the world.

  • Touria El Glaoui was born in Marrakesh, daughter of Hassan El Glaoui, a painter of figurative scenes of horsemen and landscapes; granddaughter of the last Pasha of Marrakesh, Thami El Glaoui, following a 300-year-old dynasty over the Berbers. She has organized and curated exhibitions of her father’s work before founding 1:54 in London, in 2013.

Beside Somerset House in London and La Mamounia in Marrakesh, Christie’s Paris became the headquarters of 1:54 offering a scaled-down but unquestionably a diverse, vibrant and powerful selection of international galleries portraying the multitude of contemporary art and artists of Africa and its diaspora.




Entrance Hall with the motorcycle installation of Maïmouna Guerresi / Photo © Courtesy of 1:54


Having spent the day with Cori Coppola, I asked her: “Now, that we walked around, what was your first impression, the first thing that struck you when you entered Christie’s at avenue Matignon? Who were the most significant artists you would draw our attention to?”

C. Coppola

Cori Coppola: “We just recently finished a film in Paris and with all the complications of the lockdown it was a breath of fresh air to attend 1:54 at Christie’s. It wasn’t just 1:54’s debut in Paris but mine too to attend the event as my first major discovery on African contemporary art. It was a delight. This unique edition was almost like a testament to adapting within the current global context. I believe that our support was important and meaningful.

When I entered Christie’s, I was immediately offered a custom-made face mask making me feel secure. I made my way to the first floor and the very first image I came across was an installation of a rusty, old-fashion motorcycle with large glass buckets, titled “Bunkeley” by Romuald Hazoumè. I got the message right away that 1:54 is going to be a ground-breaking statement, exactly what we need now in our tormented time. But let me come back to the artist later, at Galerie MAGNIN-A."

"Homme scarifié" by Rashid Mahdi / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Eric Dupont, Paris.

"As I advanced in the exhibition halls, a rush of warmth and colours enveloped me and I could only think of a quote by Albert Camus:

“In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realised, through it all, that in the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there is something stronger, something better, pushing right back.”

"Now, let’s look at the artists and galleries I most enjoyed” C. Coppola



Abidjan / Dakar / Paris

Galerie Cecile Fakhoury / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Cecile Fakhoury

Cécile Fakhoury presented the works of five major artists: François-Xavier Gbré, Jems Koko Bi, Roméo Mivekannin, Cheikh Ndiaye and Ouattara Watts.

I found a stunning and silent architectural image by the Ivorian photographer François-Xavier Gbré “Escalier, Maison du PCDI-RDA,Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire”, and downstairs a chef d’oeuvre, a black acrylic painting “Le Radeau de la Méuse”, a retelling of the famous painting by Théodore Géricault by Roméo Mivekannin, taking up an entire wall and drawing a direct continuous line between the past and contemporary history.” C. Coppola

“Escalier Maison du PCDI-RDA” by François-Xavier Gbré / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Cecile Fakhoury
“Swimming Pool III” by François-Xavier Gbré / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Cecile Fakhoury

François-Xavier Gbré

François-Xavier Gbré grew up in Lille, was confronted with major urbanization works, economic growth and traces of a Côte d'Ivoire. He created his own landscapes through a series of photographs that revealed the invisible of everyday life. Linked by an often-distant perspective on architecture and landscape in a form of testimony of documentary, his work evokes the architectural photography of Lewis Baltz, Stephen Shore and Guy Tillim.

"Station CIDP, #2, Ségou" by François-Xavier Gbré / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Cecile Fakhoury
"Vierge aux gravats" by by François-Xavier Gbré / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Cecile Fakhoury
"Salle des pas perdus. Palais-de-Justice" by François-Xavier Gbré / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Cecile Fakhoury

Gbré photographs abandoned architecture and traces of the social and political history of their countries of origin, from Mali to Israel, from Lille to Rabat. He carries out archiving work of forgotten buildings, public spaces and on the resilience of architecture. In the series on the urbanization of new Abidjan or the Eko Atlantic residential complex in Nigeria, he continues to question his own ever-changing world. With sensitivity to observing the state of the world, François-Xavier Gbré's photographs are a passage to an unexpected object, details that refers to the story of our present time and life. In the urban confusion that sometimes confuses us, he raises the question of our way of functioning, our social relations and relations to history.

“Le Radeau de la Méuse” by Roméo Mivekannin / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Cécile Fakhoury

Roméo Mivekannin

The artist Roméo Mivekannin, born in Bouaké, Ivory Coast, seeks inspiration in photographic archival holdings and iconic paintings that are emblematic of Western art history. He focuses particularly on the ambiguous representations of black people who are anonymized, eroticized or objectified and aimed at the quasi-exclusive gaze of a male.

His black acrylic paintings on dye-bath elixir canvases embody the place of reassessment of a marked iconography, inherited from human trafficking and domination systems that were slavery and colonization. Drawing a line between the past and contemporary history, Mivekannin chooses to resume these historical facts and subvert their primary narrative in order to construct his vision of common tales. He currently lives and works in Cotonou, Bénin and Toulouse, France.

"Africa United" by Ouattara Watts / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Cécile Fakhoury

Ouattara Watts

Quattara Watts is an American artist from Ivory Coast, now lives in the United States. In 1988, he met Jean-Michel Basquiat in Paris who was very impressed by Watts's paintings and convinced him to move to New York.

Through vibrant colours, dynamic shapes, and hypnotic signs and symbols, Watts explores the spiritual bonds that transcend geography and nationality. By merging found objects, photographs and raw material, his paintings invoke the artist's multicultural identity and offer various levels of social and historical readings. In his large-scale paintings, Watts creates the balance of extremes, merges opposites and harmonizes the chaos of the world.



Paris / Bruxelles

"Méfiance" by Nú Barreto / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Nathalie Obadia

Since the opening of their first gallery in Paris in 1993, followed by Brussels in 2008 and the second space in Paris in 2013, Galerie Nathalie Obadia has exhibited international emerging and well-established contemporary artists such as Youssef Nabil, Andres Serrano, Fabrice Hyber, Seydou Keïta, Nú Barreto, Guillaume Bresson, Patrick Faigenbaum.

Here is, for instance, Nú Barreto, from São Domingos, Guinea-Bissau who currently lives and works in Paris. Nathalie Obadia brought a gorgeous series of illustrations to 1:54 covering the gallery’s ent