FEBRUARY 19, 2018
1-54 is the leading international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. Ahead of its first African edition on 24 February, we spoke to founder Touria El Glaoui who discussed her highlights — and why African art is more than a 'fleeting trend'
Its name refers to the 54 countries that comprise the single African continent, and the organization strives to promote and represent diverse artists, movements and perspectives. At its highly successful biennial fairs in London and New York, 1-54 features work from leading international galleries specializing in contemporary African art, accompanied by a program of talks and events.
The fair has done much to bring attention to African artists in a Western context, coinciding with an increased interest in the contemporary African art market in recent years. From 24-25 February, the event makes its debut at La Mamounia, Marrakech, marking its first edition on the African continent. We spoke to founder Touria El Glaoui ahead of its much-anticipated launch.
MutualArt: What most excites you about the first edition of 1-54 Morocco?
This is the first edition to be held on the African continent; that in itself is very exciting. I am also thrilled about the public programme which will connect the fair to the rest of the city. It was important to us to form partnerships with local institutions and initiatives and engage with an even wider audience. One of the events on the public programme includes a night where visitors can explore the neighbourhood Guéliz to discover the exhibitions on show at partnering institutions. There will also be talks, book launches and performances. The Moroccan band OverBoys will perform live, followed by Black Noise, a sound and movement piece by Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, co-presented by 1-54, MACAAL and Gallery 1957.
What made you choose to bring 1-54 to Marrakech?
The dream was always to provide a tri-continental network of galleries, artists, collectors and partners. It has also been a priority for us to host an edition on the African continent. When trying to find the right fit some of the factors which were considered were access, infrastructure, social and cultural relevance and the general vibrancy and allure of the environment.
Hassan Hajjaj La Caravane at 1-54 London 2017. Image: Katrina Sorrentino.
Other than Morocco’s cultural history, most recently there has been a growth in the contemporary art industry particularly in Marrakech, with established and emerging artists coming to the fore and gaining more international recognition. Our Special Projects and extended public programme in which we will be collaborating with many local institutions is evidence of this.
How will the upcoming 1-54 differ from the previous New York and London editions?
Every edition has a different dynamic — that is what makes each one inimitable. The varying sites provide a sense of newness. The upcoming 1-54 will be held at La Mamounia, which has intricate architectural detail and stunning grounds; a very different feel to our sites in New York and London. We are delighted to welcome new galleries to the 1-54 network. Five galleries will participate in 1-54 for the first time: Blain|Southern (United Kingdom/ Germany), LouiSimone Guirandou Gallery (Côte d’Ivoire), Galerie Vallois (France) Loft Art Gallery (Morocco) and Yossi Milo Gallery (United States).
La Mamounia in Marrakech, where the upcoming edition of 1-54 will be held.
Which artist or gallery are you most excited about right now?
As we celebrate the inaugural Marrakech edition we are also sharing this moment with MACAAL (Museum of Contemporary African Art Al Maaden) who will hold their official international opening during the week of the fair.
How did you come to found 1-54?
1-54 was founded as a response to the lack of opportunities for cross-continental exchange for artists of Africa and its diaspora. At the time there were also no focused platforms of this nature for artists of Africa and its diaspora. There have always been initiatives that have been working to create more opportunities for exchange and inclusivity, however I knew the envelope could be pushed even further. It was not easy but once we launched we quickly gained momentum.
Mahi Binebine, Sans titre, 2017. Wax and pigment on wood, 200x300cm. Image courtesy of Sulger Buel-Lovell. This work features in 1-54 Marrakech.
Has being the daughter of celebrated Moroccan artist Hassan El Glaoui given you a specific insight into African art? How much did your father’s outlook influence your own?
It taught me the value of art from a very young age. I was able to gain insight into the artist’s process and how art functions once it leaves the artist’s studio. It also gave me a sense of the potential that art has as to affect communities and social structures.
Do you collect yourself? If so, which artists are in your collection?
I do acquire works when I can, it has to be work that I am moved by and I collect pieces by both emerging and established artists.
Abdoulaye Konaté, Noir-bleu aux triangles et cercles rouges, 2017. Textile, 295 x 233 cm. Image courtesy of Blain|Southern. This work features in 1-54 Marrakech.
How is the contemporary African art market different from other markets?
As in all sectors of the art market, there are elements which make it distinctive. One might also say that because it is not as established globally as other areas, the growth trajectory is different too. But essentially it does not function any differently as contemporary art of Africa and its diaspora is an area that functions within the wider contemporary art market.
How would you describe the changes to the contemporary African art market over the last few years?
It has grown significantly. Some African countries are making notable strides, establishing infrastructure, expanding art pedagogical systems, initiating support structures for artists, all of which strengthen the market. Collectors are showing more interest and confidence in the market too. I think it has moved beyond the fleeting trend phase into a more stable period focused on sustainability.
Slimen El Kamel, La Tête Rose, 2016. Mixed media on canvas 150x160cm. Image courtesy of Sulger Buel-Lovell. This work features in 1-54 Marrakech.
Have perceptions of African art become more nuanced, in your opinion?
Perceptions have become more nuanced about art of Africa and many other globally under-recognised artistic hubs. Although we have come far from ‘othering’ terms, there remain negative residual effects that need to be addressed. To acknowledge that there is still room for change means we need to constantly reevaluate assumed opinions.
What problems does the African art market still face?
I wouldn’t call them problems rather challenges which are very much a part of the ‘growing pains’ of any developing art sector. I believe the greatest challenge, other than shifting reductive perceptions, is to nurture the foundations of the sector and encourage innovation so that it can continue to be sustainable in the long term.
Image: Touria El Glaoui, founder of 1-54, pictured outside the fair's London home, Somerset House. Image: Victoria Birkinshaw©
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