Touria El Glaoui founded 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in 2013. Its first edition, which took place in London, filled a gap in the contemporary art fair circuit for galleries to present African artists and artists of the diaspora. Most participating exhibitors have spaces in Africa, a continent vastly underrepresented on the market. As 1-54 has grown to host fairs in New York and Marrakech, has expanded the platform and widened the audience and reach of African galleries and artists.
Whitewall spoke with El Glaoui about the evolution of 1-54, a growing patronage, and the fair’s upcoming editions in Marrakech (February 23–24), New York (May 3–5) and London (October 3–6).
WHITEWALL: 1-54 has become the leading international art fair for contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. How would you say the fair has impacted the market for contemporary African art?
TOURIA EL GLAOUI: The market for contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora has grown considerably since the fair began, but this has been a result of multiple factors, the fair only being one of them. We have contributed by providing a platform for international visibility, which has in turn given artists and galleries the opportunity to meet collectors, curators, and other artists. We’re now seeing artists and galleries from Africa and the diaspora being increasingly recognized and shown by art fairs based in Europe and the U.S., artists who were initially shown at 1-54.
WW: The fair now has editions in London, New York, and Marrakech. How would you compare each market?
TEG: The markets in New York and London are very established and, as both editions coincide with Frieze, provide an even larger international collector community. But these established markets do not encourage the involvement of anyone outside of the typical art buyer profile. We hope that we disrupt this and encourage buyers and visitors from all backgrounds, even if not to buy, but to engage with the arts.
Morocco has a smaller established collector base, and it is predominantly French-speaking, but I find it is more inclusive of buyers from all backgrounds. As it is on the African continent itself, it is a place for intercontinental exchange and market growth.
WW: What are your hopes for the impact showing at a fair like 1-54 can have on an emerging artist’s career?
TEG: We aim to be a space for stable growth and opportunity for artists from Africa and the diaspora. International visibility provides access to more collectors. But I hope we are also a space artists feel welcomed into and can converse within. Growth should not be solely marked by the works sold, but also a development of the potential collaborations and projects to work on once the fair is over. International residencies and collaborations can provide a chance for an artist to explore avenues in their practice they have not considered or been able to realize.
One of the most interesting characteristics of our audience of collectors is the wide age range. The market for contemporary art from Africa is growing, and prices are reflecting this, but some prices are still low enough to encourage younger collectors to engage with the market. I hope there will always be a sustainable avenue into for younger collectors to engage with the market.
WW: You must travel a good amount for 1-54. Where is somewhere you’ve been recently that you’re excited to return to and see more from?
TEG: I do travel a lot, but this year I have really been focusing on Morocco. I am keen to continue to collaborate with institutions across Marrakech for our edition there, so it is important to me to engage and support the cultural scene throughout the year. The scene in Marrakech is growing in so many exciting directions, so I am always looking forward to going back.
WW: 1-54 is coming up soon in Marrakech, as well as New York in the spring and London in the fall of 2019. Would you say you have a focus or goal for 1-54 in the new year?
TEG: As ever, we’re hoping that we continue establishing ourselves in order to offer greater visibility and wider opportunities for our galleries and artists at all three editions. Alongside this, we’re focusing on encouraging south-south exchange and collaboration that will strengthen existing markets on the continent.