Touria El Glaoui, director 1:54

1:54 London is taking place 6-9 October 2017

1:54 has become the leading international Art Fair across the globe presenting over 130 African and African diaspora artists

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. 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 starts today until the 9th of 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 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 were disheartening. 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 pushed even further, and so 1:54 London was born. The decision to launch it 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 our vision of a cross continental network.

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, the factors considered were access, infrastructure, social and cultural relevance. 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. I always 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.

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 ones will be the same. We also hope to activate spaces for regular interventions: providing regular platforms for emerging artists to increase their visibility outside of their fair. We also intend to develop our fair model to be even more accessible and enable for 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 but we rather working with an artistic committee who consult as an outfit. We are always eager to give a platform to as many varying perspectives as possible. 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.

Could you give some context regarding the general theme of the London fair happening later this year in October?

The fair doesn’t 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 an 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 and special project 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, 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 art is still in its infancy in comparison to the western canon. FORUM is our opportunity to bring to the table these difficult debates, to nurture constructive knowledge and sharing practices. Through FORUM we provide a space for audiences and fair contributors. FORUM is also an experimental platform where new ideas can be tested and generated. The intergenerational discussions and screenings that take place encouraging audiences to ask questions and  voice their opinions. This year FORUM will examine how institutional critique is performed across a range of cultural platforms and formats.

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 and the Government Art School. 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.


Courtesy: Art Africa

October 6, 2017
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