In Conversation with Touria El Glaoui

In Conversation with Touria El Glaoui

Touria El Glaoui is the founding director of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Held annually in London, New York and Marrakech, it is a sustainable platform dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and her diaspora.

El Glaoui was born and raised in Morocco. Her father, Hassan is one of Morocco’s most celebrated artists. She holds an MBA in strategic management and international business from Pace University, New York and began her career in the banking sector as a wealth management consultant before moving to London in 2001. Here, she assumed various business development positions in the telecom/IT industry before founding the fair in October 2013.

She has organised and co- curated significant exhibitions of her father’s work including A Major Retrospective in Casablanca and Meetings in Marrakech, a joint exhibition featuring Winston Churchill’s paintings, hosted at Leighton House in London and more recently, La Mamounia in Marrakech, as part of the 2014 Marrakech Biennale.

Touria El Glaoui is a member of the Executive Committee of The Friends of Leighton House, London and a trustee of the Marrakech Biennial.  In this interview with Omenka, El Glaoui discusses the last edition of 1-54 in Marrakech and its impact on contemporary African art.

The fair coined its name from the 54 independent countries in Africa. How is the business model disrupting and improving the current state of African art, especially in such a vast and diverse continent?

1-54 is invested in promoting and supporting artists of Africa and her diaspora; to this end we ensure our business model reflects this, putting artists front and centre. We also aim to highlight the wealth of cultural and artistic production that has, for centuries, been marginalised from mainstream art markets. It is in this way that I feel we are disrupting and improving the current place of contemporary African art.

As founding director of the fair, how do you ensure it stays relevant and current in the fast-paced art world?

Our structures and approach from the outset were designed to be reactive and flexible to the changes in the inherently shifting art world, as well as broader socio-economic conditions. We are also not afraid to strive forward in new and innovative ways to ensure we support our galleries and artists in the ways they want rather than following preconceived or ‘normative’ structures or processes.


From 20 – 23 February, you held the third edition of 1- 54 Marrakech. What significance did it hold for artists and collectors alike?

I was incredibly excited for this edition in particular, because, for the first time, over half of the galleries at the fair are based on the continent. This means more ties and connections can be made between spaces on the continent and between spaces and collectors on the continent and internationally. For the artists whose work was at the fair, I hope these introductions and connections can create new opportunities.

Alongside an extensive exhibition programme, this edition boasted of an exciting line-up of Special Projects. What were the expectations for this section of the fair?

Our Special or Partner Projects are an important way for us to encourage collectors and visitors to look beyond the fair and get to know the wider art scene in Marrakech. We hope that in this way, the scene in Marrakech and those outside can forge connections that will hopefully result in long-term support, opportunities, and collaborations for both.

How would you compare the response to the fair in Marrakech with the reception to the London and New York editions?

All three fairs have a different energy, so it’s always been hard to compare them; however, the reception has always been overwhelming in all three editions. The Marrakech art scene

has a very collaborative approach, so the enthusiasm and spirit are always unique and result in a fair that brings collectors to spaces all over the city.

How would you describe the growth of the African art market including the role 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair has played in this regard?

African art markets have most certainly grown, both on and off the continent. Although 1-54 has played a role in the growth, we have done so in collaboration and solidarity with numerous other organisations and individuals who have strived for this with relentless dedication and energy, for well over a decade now.

What can you attribute to the sharply increasing number of art fairs and why do you think they are essential for the art industry, especially in Africa?

Art fairs have become a mainstay in the art world, and in Africa, fairs are vital spaces of meeting and exchange. On such a vast continent, moments for meeting between those locally based and those further afield are important for both growth and consolidation. Fairs have become the place for this. This is part of the reason why 1-54 Marrakech, unlike the London and New York editions, has such a broad public programme.

Lakin Ogunbanwo, Untitled III, 2019. Image courtesy of WHATIFTHEWORLD and Lakin Ogunbanwo

 What do you make of speculations that Africa has the potential to become a superheated market like the UK, US and China?

The sale prices most certainly give the impression that the market could become ‘superheated’. However, when stepping back and looking at the whole picture, there is still a long way to go before this happens. Statistics show that the global share of auction sales of work by artists from Africa is still only roughly equal to that of Romanian artists.

At 1-54, we don’t see the benefit in the market for contemporary African art becoming so intense, such a market is based on buying for investment. This is not an approach we endorse as it can lead to an unhealthy boom, much like what was witnessed in the Chinese market. The fair’s model is designed to encourage collectors and visitors alike to engage with art beyond its market value and to build a relationship with galleries and artists.

As we have seen art markets on the continent grow, we are seeing far more unique structures and approaches to making, educating, buying and selling art come into fruition. Becoming ‘super-heated’ is not the goal, but rather the goal is to create a genuinely accessible and exciting space to be, create and make a living.

What are your future plans for the fair and how do you think they will evolve?

At the moment, we are focusing on our existing editions, ensuring that they are the spaces wanted and needed by the art scenes in which their based. This, of course, takes time and attention that we do not want to jeopardise simply for growth.

Oyindamola Olaniyan holds a in Botany from Lagos State University. Broadly experienced in this area, her core expertise includes social media management, content development and brand identity.

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