ART AFRICA in conversation with Touria El Glaoui
ART AFRICA got in touch with Touria El Glaoui to speak about 1:54 which was initiated in 2013. This year marks it’s fifth consecutive edition at Somerset House, London. 1:54 London 2017 showcases 42 leading international galleries, presenting over 130 African and African diaspora artists across the East, South and West Wings of Somerset House. This fifth-anniversary edition is accompanied by an educational and artistic talks programme, FORUM, curated by Koyo Kouoh and Special Projects. 1:54 London will be taking place 6-9 October 2017.
ART AFRICA: As a greatly renowned international art fair, what led to the creation of 1:54 both in London and New York and why the approach of contemporary African Art?
Touria El Glaoui: I spent many years in the Telecom/IT business development industry. During this period, I travelled extensively, making it a point to explore local art scenes everywhere I went. Traveling in Africa and the Middle East, the global disconnect and lack of self-initiated platforms for artists from Africa and its diaspora were disheartening. Don’t get me wrong, there have always been cultural producers working tirelessly to diversify the art industry, and it is through their efforts that I knew the envelope could be and hence needed to be pushed even further, and so 1:54 London was born. The decision to launch in New York was not without fear, but once we saw the London fair gain momentum we instinctually knew it was time to move into another art epicentre and begin actively nurturing our vision of a cross continental network. We recognised that more resources and opportunities were being afforded to American practitioners of African descent through key institutions and programming, all of which would provide additional support for a new fair at the time.
In 2018 the first 1:54 Marrakech will be opening, why the location of Morocco in the African sphere?
The idea of having the fair on the continent is something we have been working towards ever since 1:54 was conceived. 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. Morocco has one of the continent’s most dynamic art scenes and hosts the incredibly significant Biennale de Marrakech. On a personal note, I am Moroccan and my father is an artist. From an early age, I experienced the world through art, from the art of the ‘everyday’ to unforgettable encounters with breath-taking pieces. So one could say that there is a sense of nostalgia about returning home and contributing to the art scene that shaped my formative years.
Touria El Glaoui. Courtesy of 1:54 © Victoria Birkinshaw
1:54 has become the leading international Art Fair across the globe, what do you hope to achieve in the future with 1:54 and its expansive reach?
Our priority is to see the Marrakech edition launch successfully and ensure that the London and New York editions continue to thrive in a sustainable manner for all involved. We also hope to activate spaces throughout the year through regular interventions, in that way providing regular platforms for emerging artists to increase their visibility outside of their fair. We also intend on developing our fair model to be even more accessible and enable transcultural and diasporic connections across all three platforms. We hope to continue to inspire in ourselves a desire to think beyond what we know, as to be enquiring is to innovate.
41 galleries across Europe, Africa and Middle East are being showcased at 1:54 London this year, choosing these galleries must have been a long process, could you elaborate on the curation of the Fair itself?
We have a total of 42 galleries now. There are no curators for the fair per se but rather we work with an artistic committee who consult as an outfit. The committee reviews the applications extensively before coming to a decision. We are always eager to give a platform to as many varying perspectives as possible, whether established or emerging. It is also very important for us to work with galleries who are ambitious and are committed to addressing and contributing to the wider concerns that are affecting the contemporary African and diasporic art industry.
Malala Andrialavidrazana, Figures, 1861, Natural History of Mankind, 2015, UltraChrome Pigment Print on Hahnem hle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth, 305 gsm, 120 x 130 cm, Edition of 5 + 1 AP, signed and numbered. Courtesy of AFRONOVA GALLERY.
Could you give some context regarding the general theme of the London fair happening later this year in October?
The fair does not work with an overall theme, however as aforementioned we select galleries and special projects that we feel are responsive to the present conditions. 1:54 strives to always be context-specific and provide a critically engaged, evolving platform. The only area of the fair that is curated is our educational talks programme FORUM curated by Koyo Kouoh.
Who are the curators for 1:54 London this year and why were these specific individuals selected for the opportunity to curate this prestigious event?
Our fair education programme is curated by Koyo Kouoh who is the Director of Raw Academy. She has developed this programme extensively over the past five years. The exhibitor’s and special projects programmes are not curated, rather it is collectively shaped by our consulting committee.
FORUM has had a great impact on the fair – could you please delve into FORUM for us and explain how it compliments both the fair and the viewership?
As a fair that aims to support artists and cultural producers from Africa and the diaspora, it is our responsibility to contribute to the discourse and provide a holistic experience for visitors and contributors. We are all aware that the discourse surrounding contemporary African and diasporic art is still in its infancy in comparison to the western canon. There are inequalities and oppressive notions that still need to be addressed. FORUM is our opportunity to bring to the table these difficult debates and to nurture constructive knowledge sharing practices. Through FORUM we provide a space for audiences and fair contributors to engage with one another more intimately through collective knowledge production. FORUM is also an experimental platform where new ideas can be tested and generated. The intergenerational discussions and screenings that take place encourage audiences to ask questions, voice their opinions and wholly indulge in this alternative educational space. This year FORUM will examine how institutional critique is performed and actioned on and across a range of cultural platforms and formats.
1:54 East Wing. Courtesy of 1:54 © Victor Raison.
Finally, why the choice of Somerset House as a venue?
Aside from the obvious practicalities of such a space, if you look at the history of Somerset House, it has been through numerous transformations. It has also been a house for art and learning, housing the Royal Academy, the Government Art School and The Courtauld Institute of Art. There is something quite poetic about adding to that history, by inserting artists into a space that historically may not have been accessible to all. The venue is also very beautiful and the individual rooms give the fair a unique feel.
For more information: http://1-54.com/london/