Magazine article New African

Touria El Glaoui: 'It Is a Niche - We Do Not Overshadow Anybody'

Magazine article New African

Touria El Glaoui: 'It Is a Niche - We Do Not Overshadow Anybody'

Article excerpt

Setting up a successful art fair in one of the world's biggest art capital London, is undoubtedly a daunting task. But the unflappable Touria El Glaoui, Founding Director of the highly acclaimed 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, embraced the challenge. She spoke to Mukami Kuria about how she did it.

Q: As a concept, 1:54 was rather avant-garde when it began in 2013. How aid you notice the gap that could be filled by such a niche fair?

A: My previous life took me to different countries in Africa. I had the chance to visit different local art scenes while I was there for my business trips. I saw that the work was amazing and that the quality was there, in some cases the local art scenes were growing. When I would come back to London, I couldn't see this being transferred here in a solo exhibition, in a museum or having a gallery representing those artists. I thought there was a gap. I did a lot of market research before I decided to launch 1:54.

Of course, while you have a background in business you have always been fully immersed in the art world as your father is an artist himself Do you then think that starting a contemporary African art fair was and has been a personal-journey as much as it is also a cultural one?

Working on my father's exhibitions, while still working in my regular life and job, I realised I enjoyed working in art much more. My professional life was a bit monotonous, so when this idea started I still believed very naively that I could do it in parallel. Early on I realised it was a full-time project. I had a chance to see this wonderful lady at the Tate, Sheena Wagstaff and my conversation with her struck the importance of what I was doing and that I couldn't take it lightly.

What were some of the challenges you faced before you started i:s4 and during the first edition of the fair?

The art world is a very tight world, the collectors know each other, the people working in the industry know each other and know of each other, but it was a blessing in many ways that they didn't know me. It was also difficult because they questioned how I could do it and what my experience and background were.

Finding the location was a challenge. I wanted something central, which people would come to during Frieze so it wasn't too overwhelming, doing two fairs in the same day or in a week. I wanted a place that was grand and would elevate the art. I was very lucky to be able to talk to the people at Somerset House, and they were open about the idea. Another challenge is that I was counting on having more sponsorship. I've learned now that it's a challenge for everyone, but I think that will get easier with the years to come.

As a fair that has gained significant traction in the last3 years, even going to New York earlier this year, what has driven the success of 1:54 so far?

The quality of the work. We curate it well and we are selective, part of the success is the fact that we try to keep the standard of what we show high. The contemporary African art world is small so we all became friends in many ways and we are in it together, to make it successful. There's also this intimacy you probably will not have with a very large fair, with all your exhibitors.

How does i:s4 speak to other art fairs and events in the art world and more so in cultural production coming out of Africa and the African diaspora, but also remain unique?

1:54 is complementary to other fairs, it's so niche that I don't think we overshadow anybody. …

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