This year, Art Paris Art Fair had a clear focus on Africa, with twenty galleries either originating from the continent or choosing to focus specifically on artists who do. It could be considered part of a wider African moment in the French capital, alongside Musée du Quai Branly and La Villette.

Mohau Modisakend, Lefa 1, 2016

I am standing in the Grand Palais, surrounded by galleries showing modern and contemporary works. For a moment, I feel as though I have been transported forwards seven months, to October. FIAC does, after all, have a pretty firm stamp on this space, Paris’s greatest exhibition hall.  

This time, however, I’m here for Art Paris Art Fair, which soon separates itself from FIAC, and indeed, many of the current art fairs, by focussing on a particular region. After Russia, China and South Korea in previous years, this 19th edition pays tribute to Africa. Among one hundred and thirty-nine galleries, twenty either come from or engage with art from the world’s second largest continent. The gallery selection and direction of the show has been overseen by curator Marie-Ann Yemsi, who originates from Germany and Cameroon.

The many monographic displays contribute to the fair’s consistency. Across the entrance, Hicham Benohoud is shown with Loft Art Gallery. Cape Town-based gallery WHATIFTHEWORLD are also showing monographs, covering their booth’s walls with Mohau Modisakeng’s photographs, his muse, Lefa, blending into deep black backgrounds. Billie Zangewa’s silk tapestries are to be found at Afronova’s booth.

Almost every exponent has tried to respect this year’s focus. There is at least one sculpture in every stand, which is more than usually expected at art fairs and could be interpreted as a totemic reference to African culture. More explicitly, around fifteen galleries have showcased only African art. Take Daniel Templon. In his Paris selection, he included Omar Ba, one of his latest discoveries. From Spain, ADN Galeria champions Kendell Geers’s sculptures and works on paper. The Paris gallery Magnin-A features colourful and political canvases by self-taught painter Chéri Samba, who partly lives in France.

In the middle of the back staircase on the right stands The Pitcher by Ousmane Sow. This imposing bronze from Bogéna Galerie reminds me of Auguste Rodin’s legendary Walking Man, which happens to be here, in the Grand Palais. It is part of the retrospective now marking the centenary of the master’s death. A picture of this iconic bronze was taken a year ago by Patrick Hourcade, soon after the Musée Rodin had reopened. This shot is on Galerie Françoise Livinec’s display. There is no such thing as a coincidence.

This striding figure, along with its avatars, mostly make me want explore the city. Why not sustain this momentum? After all, it is Africa’s moment in France; which pairs the capital up with a clear cultural offer. Next stop: Musée du Quai Branly and La Villette, where contemporary African art also takes pride of place.

Hicham Benohoud, La salle de classe, 2002
Billie Zangewa, Domestic Scene, 2016
Cheri Samba, Si toutes les etoiles brillaients, 2016
Ousmane Sow, Le Lanceur (The Pitcher), 1991
Kendell Geers, Mutus Liber, 2015
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