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Africa is finding its right place in world of contemporary art

Arts & Culture

Africa is finding its right place in world of contemporary art

The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair is the first and only international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. As the 2022 edition opens in London, New African speaks to its founder, Touria El Glaoui.

When you first opened 1-54 London in 2013, what were your expectations, and how did you think the Fair would evolve through the years? 

In 2013, I wanted to create a pivotal platform for contemporary African and African Diasporic art practices that could inspire meaningful conversations and reflections. 

I aimed to create a space that would bring together collectors, directors, curators, critics, art professionals, academics, and new audiences driven by a curiosity to explore a rapidly expanding market. 

1-54 strives to demonstrate the multiplicity of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora on an international stage, and I felt that it was only a matter of time before people began to pay attention to what we were doing. 

1-54 was able to create more visibility and new audiences by launching the Fair in New York in 2015, Marrakech in 2018, and Paris in 2021, as well as change how institutions, cultural producers, and collectors engage with artists from the African continent and its diaspora.

How do you think the contemporary African art market has changed in the last ten years? Do you think 1-54 had a role in it? 

The contemporary African art market since 2013 has changed dramatically, and 1-54 played an instrumental role in changing the landscape and the perception of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. 

The 1-54 model goes beyond commercial pursuits, emphasising collaboration and exchange between curators, artists, galleries, foundations, and anyone else who shares our vision. 

Through these conversations, on both a local and international level, we have witnessed the growth of art ecosystems, a change in the demographic of collectors – and an increase in opportunities made available to young and emerging artists inside and outside of the continent. 

These changes to the art market and the pre-existing art ecosystem are crucial, as in between the logics of the market, we witness a community of people who champion information sharing and knowledge production, visibility, the creation of cultural and artistic spaces, and most importantly, the celebration of African and African Diasporic art practices. 

After a decade since 1-54’s inception, you’ve expanded the Fair to three continents, with editions in London, Marrakech, New York, and a pop-up Fair in Paris. Looking back, what are you most proud of? 

It has been such an exciting journey to see the growth of 1-54 this past decade. What I’m most proud of is the exceptional array of artists and galleries we’ve been able to support each year. 

I am grateful to have been able to play a part in not only the inclusion of contemporary African artists in the mainstream international art market, but also in institutional exhibitions and private collections. I really feel that we’ve made available a multitude of opportunities for those who we’ve been lucky to engage with thus far. 

I’m also proud to have maintained 1-54 Forum, our educational programme, which has been part of the Fair since 2013. The programme allows us to bring engaging discussions and educational talks to the table, and has been an integral part in our collaboration with key institutional players. 

What are you most excited about in the 10th London edition? Are there any special projects you are particularly looking forward to? 

This year, I am most looking forward to 1-54’s collaboration with Somerset House. We are planning to showcase a monumental installation of Portuguese interdisciplinary artist and writer Grada Kilomba, titled O Barco/The Boat, in the courtyard of Somerset House.

The sculpture reproduces the shape of a historical slave ship, addressing the history of European colonisation. The installation, which is accompanied by a live performance combining song, dance, and music, invites the audience to consider forgotten stories and identities.

Another project that I am looking forward to is 1-54 Love Letter, a unique tea blend to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of 1-54, created in collaboration with Hassan Hajjaj. The tea is a true ‘love letter’ to the continent, bringing together a select blend of ingredients that exemplify the richness of the continent. This is an exciting and ambitious project, as we’ve been able to work with one of our long-term collaborators and friends.   

In recent years, there has been a new-found interest in contemporary African art from galleries, institutions, art fairs and collectors, purchasing work by contemporary African artists and displaying it in significant exhibitions. To what do you attribute this growth? 

I believe we are seeing more interest internationally than ever before and it is long overdue! Although the sale of art from Africa and its diaspora still represents a small percentage of global art sales recorded in the last few years, this increased interest has led several institutions working within the international art market to reassess the barriers that have kept artists and galleries from Africa and its diaspora excluded in the first place. 

Part of 1-54’s vision is to continue encouraging this growth and be part of the collective effort toward firm inclusivity within the wider global art market.

What do you hope for the future of the Fair? 

1-54 continues to be a place of discovery, showcasing the most exciting and high-quality contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. 1-54 intends to explore new locations in Africa and around the world to foster new relationships, talents, and opportunities. 

We are excited to explore new regions that are not yet as familiar with contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora, and to continue giving our artists a platform to promote their work, make connections, and build a career internationally outside of the continent. 

Read more about the 10th London edition of 1-54 in “10 artists to watch at this year’s 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London

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