In the midst of a busy week in the New York art scene, 1:54, a new art fair exclusively focusing on African American Art is making its New York debut May 15-17. We spoke to Touria El Glaoui, the founder of 1:54 to discuss about her vision behind 1:54 and the future of African American art in the contemporary art world.
How and why was 1:54 founded? Could you give the readers a little background about the history of 1:54?
The journey began around 2010. The project was motivated by a concern for underrepresentation and a paucity of viable opportunities for artists working or living in Africa and the African diaspora to practice on an international scale, particularly in terms of leading contemporary art fairs, biennales and exhibitions. Our goals for the fair remain the same, only that we are always working harder to operate with a wider presence, to gain increased exposure for our exhibitors and artists. The title of 1:54 refers to the 54 countries in the African continent, while acknowledging the diversity of a multitude of countries and art scenes that is often homogenised. We should move beyond this.
You were born and raised in Morocco, then completed your education in New York. But soon relocated to London and started 1:54 there. What was it about London that made you decide to be the home base for 1:54?
London was always a strong contender for establishing 1:54, and I certainly believe we made the right decision. From around 2010-1, institutions such as Tate were contributing toward a wider exposure of African artists – Elvira Dyangani Ose was appointed Curator International Art at Tate Modern with a special focus on Africa, which emerged in one way through the two-year project Across the Board (2012-14).
How has your father, Hassan El Glaoui influenced you?
I grew up with an artist, my father introduced me to his favourite artists, and I loved spending time in his studio. His knowledge became my first education into the arts, so to speak. I am also very fond of painting as a medium– it holds nostalgia for me.
1:54 is taking place at Pioneer Works, which seems like a very different site compared to London’s Somerset House, where 1:54 has been taking place over the years. What is the idea behind your choice in choosing Pioneer Works as the location for 1:54’s debut in New York?
Pioneer Works is a great space, and visually stunning. It is also a destination, which can be reached by boat, and it has a beautiful garden. Further, given its innovative programming, it seemed fitting that 1:54 would operate from a space that is dedicated to exploring and expanding new territories and realising ideas through collaboration.
Is there a highlight over your years of organizing and building 1:54 that stands out to you? Any specific projects or works by artists?
I will never forget the experience of the first ever edition at Somerset House, it was such a pleasure, while being completely new territory. I felt like many eyes were upon us. I loved the large-scale piece by Abdoulaye Konaté that was exhibited in the foyer last year in London– it was completely breathtaking, and a great welcome to the fair.
Over the two years of building this fair, what are some of the changes you noticed- both in African American art as a whole and the 1:54 fair itself?
I couldn’t possibly answer for African American art as a whole. The fair however has undergone changes in respect of its development with an increase in exhibitors from 17 in 2013 to 27 in 2014. We’ve worked with many different exhibitors and artists, and continue to feature special projects, which is always exciting. We also seek to work with different African designers to install elements within the fair, having previously worked with Peter Mabeo, Cheick Diallo, and for the New York edition, Bibi Seck (Birsel + Seck).
What do you think about the responses and conversations 1:54 has made within the public over the years in London? What do you want the New York audience to see about 1:54?
We’ve received kind encouragement and support over the years with the fair, which is how we are able to expand our parameters to an additional location; there seems a demand for our platform. The FORUM conversations are equally important, by way of producing a discursive space around a thematic territory as an open forum for discussion, feedback and insight. This year’s FORUM will work to consider notions of global ‘Africaness’, and examine current and speculative notions of 21st-century African trajectories of dispersion, as produced by African subjects and African descent subjects.
How do you see the future of African American art within our contemporary art scene? Is it just the beginning of it?
I believe so. I think structures are being dismantled and change is happening, African, African American and African diaspora artists are receiving more recognition than ever, from museum retrospectives, to prestigious accolades.
What are the next steps for both 1:54 and yourself? Any other projects that you are currently working on that you might want to share with us?
Next we have the London edition, which will keep us quite busy!