Touria El Glaoui | On The Inaugural 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair

Co-written by Stephanie Baptist and Missla Libsekal

This October, London will become host to its first international contemporary art fair from an African perspective. 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, like most fairs, is intended to be a platform for increased visibility and critical debate, and is scheduled to debut concurrently during Frieze week (October 16 – 20), a highlight in the annual art fair circuit.


Touria El Glaoui | On The Inaugural 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair



As a newcomer, 1:54 will present artists who reside or whose origins are from one of the fifty-four sovereign countries, and seeks to show the strength of the marketplace, and aims to deliver complexity around the art in question, as well as provide socio-cultural and historical-political context through its public programme offering.

The fair’s monolithic yet heterogeneous starting point [Africa], inevitably raises questions around the role of the art fair, in relation to contemporary art from Africa. It may be an imperfect starting point, but one nonetheless. Contemporary art from Africa is an emerging market and the channels for it reaching art purveyors and audiences are still few.

Simon Njami (Revue Noire, Paris) previously tackled the contentious role of art fairs on the African continent in ‘Chicken and Egg’ on culture verses its financing. In 2011 there were only two, the FNB Joburg Art Fair and Marrakech Art Fair, of which the later is no longer. Examples of new embryonic marketplaces faced with dual challenges; to encourage both economic and intellectual exchange in a field whose contours are still unclear.

Njami’s argument negates the focus from being on the chronology of the chicken or egg, but rather to focus energies on the creation of new business models that allow for the emergence of culture. A viewpoint echoed by 1:54 Founder, El Glaoui’s decision to launch the fair.

Whilst 1:54 may face some growing pains, as is the case with every new venture, it is poised to make a significant entry through the stalwart programme of guest speakers art directed by Dakar’s Raw Material Company founder, Koyo Kouoh and the fair designed by famed architect David Adjaye.



Founder, Touria El Glaoui, daughter of Moroccan artist Hassan El Glaoui, elaborates on the upcoming inaugural fair that has been in development since July 2012.




What market demand/commercial viability do you see for contemporary ‘African’ art?

Touria El Glaoui | A number of artistic and commercial ventures have been established in recent years to develop the theme of African contemporary art: whether it is the Tate Modern, launching a two-year African art program and establishing an acquisition committee, or the emergence of foundations and contemporary art centres such as Raw Material Company (Dakar), the new Museum of Modern Art Art (Equatorial Guinea), or the stronger presence of African artists at international exhibitions (dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel, La Trienniale in Paris) or exhibition programs such as ‘We face forward’ in Manchester, there has been a tremendous emergence of interest and focus around the importance of contemporary African Art both locally and internationally. Additionally, Africa has been on an accelerating growth path over the last 10 years, and the establishment of international artistic centres show-casing African art, have brought this Art to the attention of new global collectors. All these dynamics contribute to supporting the viability of a fair entirely dedicated to contemporary African Art. Looking forward, I envisage a permanent place for 1:54 on the annual Art Circuit.


What are the reasons for hosting the fair concurrently during Frieze?

TEG | Running during Frieze will ensure that the artists and galleries get the best visibility and leverage on the 70,000 visitors in London during Frieze.


Who are the key audiences and potential clientele for this new fair?

TEG | The general public, museums, artists, curators, writers and collectors are all key constituents of the target audience for this new fair. The art world today is a very diverse community with a growing number of new museums and collections as well as collectors in centres ranging from New York and London to China, South America, the Middle East and Russia amongst other places. Collectors are by nature curious and always looking for new artistic experiences & there is every reason to believe that given the right platform, African art will draw the focus and attention that has recently been lavished on other new art markets such as China and Brazil.


Do you anticipate that any of the collectors, museums and buyers will be coming from the African continent, and if so where?

TEG | The art world is a very mobile one, and most curators, collectors and art advisors from Africa travel on a regularly basis to attend artistic events around the world. Given the feedback we have received from both museums, galleries and collectors, there is every reason to believe they will travel to attend this fair. We are already planning a marketing presence in magazines and key art centers in Africa.


What criteria did you set for selecting the participating galleries?

TEG | 1:54 is a young and relatively small fair. The fair is set to grow as the African art scene continues to develop and may eventually travel in the future, to be held in an African country. Even though we are a young fair, we have a selection committee led by our artistic Director Koyo Kouoh. We aimed to select both, galleries based in Africa and galleries from the rest of the world who work with leading African contemporary artists. The African art scene is buoyant and includes many extraordinary artists and we aim to display the best and most interesting artists linked to that African continent in recent years.


The opportunities and perhaps pitfalls of doing an Afro-centric art fair?

TEG | The fair will be an amazing and unique opportunity to draw further attention on the emerging new talents coming from the African continent. It will raise awareness and help further grow the new contemporary African art scene both in Africa and internationally. We hope to avoid pitfalls by carefully selecting the artistic program, the participating galleries as well as the sponsors for the Fair. Further, we have been diligent in producing a program accompanying the fair, which will best illustrates what is happening in African art scene.


What program are you currently lining up for the fair?

TEG | There will be a 3 day program of keynote lectures, panel debates and discussions featuring leading international art figures, collectors, curators, and foundations to encourage exchange of ideas.


How can we eclipse the term African? It is a growing trend particularly off the continent that artists are countering such a word to define their practice or their person.

TEG | We have heard indeed that a few artists are trying to distant themselves from the term African. This is something, which happens sometimes and it happens also with artists from others continents and countries. Art by nature is not something you can reduce to one denomination or term. Some artists in America and Europe don’t like to be pigeonholed to a country/ a continent or movement either. But most artists don’t mind and are proud of their African origins or connections. The reference to Africa describes the scope of our Fair and enables us to highlight the current unique energy in that artistic scene and to bring it to international recognition. By hosting the event in London for the first year, and having international visitors attend, we are looking to create a cross over between artists, curators, collectors and the general public from all backgrounds and nationalities. The fair aims to represent artists from the 54 countries of the continent including North Africa as well as artists from the African diaspora, Africa is a word which is as diverse and rich as the continent itself.


For more insight |


1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair | Oct. 16 – 20



Edson Chagas, Found not Taken, 2013, C-Print

© Edson Chagas, Found not Taken, 2013, C-Print. Courtesy of the artist.


Exhibitors | Galerie Mikael Andersen , aria (artist residency in algiers), Artco , Art Lab Africa, Jack Bell Gallery, Carpe Diem, Galleria Continua , Museum of Modern Art (Equatorial Guinea), Galerie Cecile Fakhoury, Galerie Imane Fares, First Floor Gallery Harare, In Situ / Fabienne Leclerc , M.I.A. Gallery, Magnin-A, October Gallery, Omenka Gallery, A Palazzo Gallery


Open Panels & Lecture

African contemporary art in the international arena hosted by Koyo Kouoh with Elvira Dyangani Ose (Tate Modern) and Stefano Rabolli Pansera and Edson Chagas (Luanda, Encyclopedic City, Gold Lion winners, 55th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia).

The series : ‘Market, Economies & Galleries’ a purview on ‘The Genesis of New Markets’ where Paul Hewitt (Christie’s) discuss the nascence of new markets with a focus on emerging economies; ‘Building Appreciation’ on the current status of the market within and outside Africa with Joëlle le Bussy (Galerie Arte), Maria Varnava (Tiwani Contemporary), Imane Farès (Galerie Imane Farès) hosted by Laetititia Catoir (Gallery Blain); and ‘Exploring New Territories’ the experience of introducing contemporary African art in the Middle East through MARKER at Art Dubai 2013 with Antonia Carver (Art Dubai), Bisi Silva (Center for Contemporary Art Lagos), Chab Touré (Carpe Diem) also hosted by Laetitia Catoir.

The series ‘Private & Public Collections’ looking at the ‘Building an African Collection of Contemporary Art’ with keynote by Sindika Dokolo, (Foundation Sindika Dokolo) followed by a panel discussion on ‘Public Collections’ with Chris Dercon (Tate Modern), Karen Milbourne (National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution), Gill Saunders (Victoria and Albert Museum) to discuss institutional strategies at play to expand their collections of contemporary African art hosted by Dr. Maria Balshaw (Whitworth Art Gallery & Manchester City Galleries).

‘Criticism & Publishing’ discussing criticality and theoretical validation of art practice with Simon Njami (Revue Noire) , Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung (SAVVY Journal), Brendon Bell-Roberts (Art South Africa) and hosted by Mark Rappolt (ArtReview)

‘Condition Report on Building Art Institutions in Africa’ on stimulating development of private artistic initiatives and the thriving community of independent art centres with Koyo Kouoh and Zineb Sedira hosted by Christine Eyene.


Artist Talks | In Conversation with

Hans Ulrich Obrist | Otobong Nkanga, Godfried Donkor
Christine Eyene | Senam Okudzeto , Baudouin Mouanda
Koyo Kouoh | Olafur Eliasson and Carsten Höller, Not Vital and Miquel Barceló


View the detailed program.


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