Launching yesterday and open through October 10 is the 1-54 London contemporary African art fair. In compliance with national regulations in response to COVID-19, the scaled-down fair includes presentations for 29 international galleries, accompanied by an online edition in partnership with Christie’s.
Visitors in-person at Somerset House and digitally will find artwork by over 100 artists from Africa and its diaspora. This year’s 1-54 Forum of talks, panels, and screenings is curated by Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba from Contemporary And (C&).
Whitewall caught up with the fair’s founding director Touria El Glaoui to learn more.
WHITEWALL: Why was it important for the fair to find a way to host 1-54 London, even if modified, in-person, rather than fully online this year?
TOURIA EL GLAOUI: Following the success of the online New York edition, we could have done the fair entirely online. However, it is difficult for galleries to make connections and build relationships with collectors online. This is something that, especially during lockdowns, became even clearer when speaking to them. Our galleries are at the heart of what we do, so we strove to have a physical presence for them to be a part of.
WW: What can in-person visitors expect from the experience?
TEG: There are 29 galleries with physical booths at the fair showing the work of near to 100 artists. Despite the circumstances, we have had galleries join us from all over the world. Alongside the fair, we are honored to present, with Somerset House, the first major UK retrospective of works by the late French Moroccan photographer, video artist, and activist Leila Alaoui.
There is a one-way system in place and other systems in place for visitors’s health and safety. We have done our utmost to ensure our gallerists and visitors feel comfortable. This year we do not have a catalog in order to ensure the fair is “hands-free.” Still, we have continued to develop our app, which is available to download for Android and Apple devices globally and includes all the information our catalog provided.
WW: Are there any 1-54 London first-time participants we should keep an eye out for?
TEG: We are welcoming quite a few new galleries to 1-54 London: Afriart Gallery, Afikaris, Boogie Wall, Berman Contemporary, De Buck Gallery, Galerie Eric Dupont, Gallery Delta, Galerie number 8, POLARTICS, and This is Not a White Cube.
They all have fantastic booths, but I am always drawn to solo exhibitions so, keep an eye out for the presentation of DuduBloom More’s work at Berman Contemporary, Stephen Towns at De Buck Gallery, and Ekene Emeka Maduka at POLARTICS.
WW: The 1-54 Forum is always a highlight, this year curated by C&. What are some highlights of the programming?
TEG: Taking place completely online through Zoom Webinar, 1-54 Forum is engaging with voices globally and in particular creative voices from Latin-America and the Caribbean as the program is inspired by and exploring the productive networks of the global African diaspora.
We just had our opening keynote delivered by researcher and curator Aldeide Delgado, which explored the history as well as opportunities and implications of the term “Latinx.” It is now available on our 1-54 Forum podcast on Google Podcast, Apple podcast and Spotify, and our 1-54 YouTube. The program continues on Saturday with three exciting webinars and two more webinars on Sunday.
WW: The fair will also host a free exhibition by Leila Alaoui, the first major UK retrospective of the late French Moroccan artists. How did this show come together?
TEG: Every year, we partner with Somerset House to present a solo exhibition of an artist from the continent who has never had a major solo exhibition in the UK. We are wary of the fact that the fair takes place over a short period. However, this project ensures there is a presence from Africa for a few months after.
Leila Alaoui, who passed away in tragic circumstances in 2016, was chosen as we wanted to recognize her outstanding contribution to the photographic field as well as her activist work. Her photographs are beautiful, and we are so glad that Somerset House has done such an insightful and enduring presentation of her work.
WW: As fairs have had to greatly adapt in 2020, what advantages have you seen with meeting these new challenges and finding footing online?
TEG: The circumstances of COVID-19 forced us to pause and look at our fair model, format, and programming. We not only wanted to get through this challenging moment, but we want what we do now to inform and change what we do in the future, rather than just reverting to our old model once things return to “normal.” Through our online-only edition in New York, and now our hybrid London edition, we have tried to push the current capabilities of online platforms to not only work for the collectors and galleries who cannot join in person, but to now also work seamlessly with galleries and collectors who have been able to join us. We have had a lot of success with 1-54 Online, powered by Christie’s as well as Artsy for this London edition both in terms of selling work but also reaching new collectors with galleries using multiple channels in which to engage with them.