The Wick - Touria El Glaoui The Wick - Touria El Glaoui
Monday Muse

Interview Touria El Glaoui, founding director of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

Touria El Glaoui
10 October 2021
Touria El Glaoui
10 October 2021
Art fair curator Touria El Glaoui’s passion and curiosity about art came from growing up with an artist father – the famous Moroccan painter Hassan El Glaoui. After pursuing a career in banking as a wealth management consultant, she turned her attention to the art world and helping to create opportunities for African artists. Alongside co-curating significant exhibitions of her father’s work including a major retrospective in Casablanca, she founded 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in 2013. Returning to London and Somerset House on 14-17 October for its ninth edition, 1-54 is now the leading international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. It also has iterations in New York, Marrakech and Paris.

Ahead of Thursday’s London launch and a record 20 galleries exhibiting from Africa (out of a total of 48 exhibitors), Touria El Glaoui tells us what to expect from its upcoming programme and beyond…

THE WICK:   Talk us through a typical Monday.

Touria El Glaoui:   Usually, I wake up early to read my emails and any press coverage. I then head into our Somerset House office, where I meet the team for our weekly meeting. I work in Somerset House for a few hours before having afternoon meetings with galleries and artists showing at the fair. At the moment, it’s hectic as we have our London fair, so a ‘typical’ Monday doesn’t really transpire in the way I’ve just laid out, but this variety is one of the many reasons why I love what I do. And when we work on our Marrakech and New York fairs, my Mondays change again.

TW:   What compelled you to take the jump into the arts with 1-54 in 2013?

TEG:   At the time, I had recently helped my artist father, Hassan El Glaoui, organise exhibitions of his work and I was coming to realise how instrumental his connections were in making these exhibitions materialise successfully. By that point, I had also spent a lot of time travelling across Africa for my role in telecoms. These travels allowed me an insight into art scenes on the continent, where I met incredible artists and gallerists. I was always struck by how little visibility these artists had in international art scenes. The convergence of these experiences gave rise to my initial thoughts for a platform that would give the arts across the continent the recognition and opportunities they deserved internationally.

TW:   To what extent do you think 1-54 has helped bring visibility to African artists?

TEG:   1-54 followed a decade+ of hard work by individuals in Africa pushing for greater visibility, so this isn’t a lone achievement. I think 1-54 has been a space that allowed for a large gathering of artists, galleries, museums, collectors and curators from across Africa and those based in the locale. These gatherings not only resulted in visibility, but visibility resulted in action – work being collected, museum shows, artist collaborations, residencies, a furthering of critical discourse and so forth. If visibility is done right, it is partnered with action. We still have a long way to go in not only the visibility of African artists but also challenging misconceptions, but I am spurred on by what we have collectively all done so far.

TW:   Last year’s 1-54 was pared back. What can we expect this year?

TEG:   This year, you can expect 48 galleries presenting the work of more than 150 artists from Africa and its global diaspora to be present for four days in Somerset House. Our public programme, 1-54 FORUM, is curated by Dr. Omar Kholeif, director of collections and senior curator at Sharjah Art Foundation. The programme is taking place online and will be live streamed to Somerset House and includes talks, screenings and performances with leading artists, curators and thinkers. This is also alongside numerous special projects such as an exhibition at Christie’s Duke Street curated by Christine Eyene.

“I was always struck by how little visibility these artists had in international art scenes.”

TW:   Are there any special commissions that were produced for the upcoming fair?

TEG:   Every year we commission a work for the Somerset House Courtyard Commission. This year, this has been beautifully undertaken by London-based artist Lakwena Maciver. We will also be showing our first ever NFT series, ‘Different Shades of Water’ by Nigerian artist Osinachi, which will be auctioned off at Christie’s upcoming Post-War and Contemporary Art sale.

TW:   What would you like the legacy of 1-54 to be?

TEG:   I established 1-54 to meet the needs of creatives in Africa and its diaspora. We are slowly seeing change and eventually, I hope we will no longer be needed because international fairs and other platforms become mutually beneficial spaces for artists from the continent.

TW:   1-54 debuted in Paris at the beginning of 2021. Which cultural centre or art community has surprised you the most?

TEG:   Pre-Covid, I visited Ethiopia and was energised by the hum of creative activity that filled Addis Ababa. I spent time with one of our galleries, Addis Fine Art, that has led the charge in building up the scene as the leading commercial art space in the city (it has also just opened a space in London). I also visited Zoma Museum, an ecologically conscious art centre that was established by Meskerem Assegued and an artist whose work we’ve often had at the fair, Elias Sime. Zoma Musuem is not only a venue, but also leads an amazing educational programme.

TW:   Where would your dream destination be for 1-54?

TEG:   I would, of course, love to be in another city on the continent, though not to come any time soon. We’re focusing on our existing iterations for the time being. During Covid we were forced to postpone our Marrakech edition, so my attentions are on making sure it can take place in 2022. Each iteration is unique, reflecting the art scenes in which they are situated and catering to the needs of the city, and I also don’t want to jeopardise this with growth.

TW:   What book could you never part with?

TEG:   Since the fair’s founding, we have always produced a catalogue alongside every fair. The catalogue profiles every artist and gallery present. It’s an amazing resource that has long been recognised as one of the most up-to-date references for understanding the leading artists on the continent in the present moment. Post-Covid, this has now become the 1-54 Annual Book, a substantial compilation of all the artists and galleries present at every edition in a single year. Our inaugural publication covers 2020-2021 and includes the profiles of more than 300 artists and 70 galleries, including all those at this upcoming London edition. I am incredibly proud of all the previous catalogues, and what is now the 1-54 Annual Book. They are an intrinsic part of the fair and our dedication to encouraging learning and knowledge exchange.

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