Get To Know: Touria El Glaoui

Now in its fifth edition, the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair has become a stalwart of London’s October art calendar. Each year, the fair has broadened its presence, working to gain increased exposure for artists and exhibitors from Africa and the African diaspora. This year 1:54 will showcase the work of over 150 contemporary artists, and boasts an expanded programme of exhibitions and talks. We caught up with the super inspiring 1:54 founder Touria El Glaoui as she prepares to launch the 2017 edition at Somerset House. 

What sparked the idea to found 1:54, and what did you hope to achieve the first time round? 

In a way, I have always been connected to the arts as my father is an inspiring artist. Prior to dedicating my energy entirely to the art world, I worked in Finance and Business development sector. I travelled in the Middle East and around Africa, and during this time I explored the different art scenes. I realised that there was a disconnect with what was being exhibited in the US and Europe and what existed outside of these ‘art centres’. So, it began from a desire to encourage greater cross-continental exchange and connections, and to increase visibility for artists beyond their immediate locale. As much as we had a clear vision of what we wanted the fair to achieve, our greatest hope was always to create a sustainable, impactful and ever-growing platform. 

Pascale Marthine,  Summer Surprise  (2017).

Pascale Marthine, Summer Surprise (2017).

With 1:54 now in its 5th edition, how has the fair evolved since its inception in 2013 and how does the Somerset House setting and surroundings amplify the visitors’ experience?

The fair has matured and become more grounded, and so has the team. We now have a dynamic Special Projects programme which includes curated film programmes, live performance art and site specific installations. This year Pascale Marthine Tayou will transform the courtyard with his installation ‘Summer Surprise’ inspired by togunas (public structures native to Mali). The fair has also grown in exhibitor and visitor numbers, and we have formed strong partnerships with Somerset House, Nandos, Floreat and other supportive institutions and organisations. For example, together with Somerset House we have commissioned British Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj’s first UK solo exhibition in seven years titled ‘La Caravan’. 

If you look at the history of Somerset House, it has also been a house for art and learning, housing the Royal Academy, the Government Art School and The Courtauld Institute of Art. There is something quite poetic about adding to that history, by inserting artists into a space that historically may not have been accessible to all. The venue is also very beautiful and the individual rooms give the fair a unique and intimate feel. 

Somerset House, London

Somerset House, London

Contemporary African art has seen a lot more exposure in recent years. Cape Town is opening the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art, Sotheby’s had an extremely successful sale in May and London’s GAFRA and Jack Bell Gallery continue to rise in prominence. Do you feel UK based collectors and the public are awakening to art from across the African diaspora? Why do you think this is happening now? 

There has been a notable shift in how collectors and audiences all over the world are becoming more receptive to work from Africa and its diaspora. I think that there are numerous factors that have contributed; people are travelling more therefore they are exposed to new perspectives and the internet has of course connected the world like never before.  I always say to people that there has been work from Africa in the west from the period of colonial rule, however these works were never truly valued. So, it is also about ‘time’. If we look at the African continents history and its relationship to the West I don’t think there could have been another moment for art from Africa and its diaspora to assert its presence than the present.

The fair also operates in New York. How does it compare to the London edition, and do you have plans to expand your reach even further? 


Expanding the fair beyond London was always an important part of the vision. New York, much like London has progressively positioned itself at the centre of arts and culture both historically and in the contemporary. It is a cultural melting pot with several key museums and institutions that are dedicated to nurturing African and diasporic art. In comparison to London the fair in New York is much more intimate, based in Brooklyn, it has a different atmosphere overall. In terms of expanding our reach, we recently announced the 1:54 Marrakech edition which will launch on the 24 – 25 February 2018. We are very excited about finally having the fair on the African continent, and about introducing audiences to the rich North African art sector.

The 1:54 FORUM, a discursive programme curated by Koyo Kouoh, is one of the most exciting and popular aspects of the fair. What can you tell us about this year’s programme and its theme: 'The Conversationists'?  

This year FORUM is about looking back, examining where we have been as a cultural platform, and imagining the future of discursive platforms like FORUM. In many ways, we are self-critiquing in an effort to collectively develop the FORUM, and the ways in which we engage with contemporary African art discourse. This year FORUM will prioritise inter-generational conversations and aim to push through our own perceived boundaries. It will explore the role of educational programmes through two guiding questions: How do we continue to engage with Africa and the African diaspora within the context of an international narrative, and: Who are the agents of critique, and how are shifts in knowledge and cultural production shaping critical artistic and cultural practices?   There will be discussions around how histories are written, orated and archived, the role of artists as invited institutional critics, alternative discursive platforms that are emerging on the ‘periphery’, aurality and activism and artist talks focused on practice. 

How else can the industry at large battle the dearth of African art on view / for sale in contemporary galleries across the US and UK?

I wouldn’t say that there is a dearth of African art on view or for sale, I think that we are making steady progress in that area. I am more concerned about how artists and their practise is perceived and valued in the long term, because ultimately this is what influences the collectors and institutions. I also feel that the focus should not solely be on developing the western market, but resources must continuously be put towards developing the infrastructure on the continent too. 


90s or 00s? 


Most recent exhibition you visited?

Martin Puryear at Parasol Unit

Favourite gallery in London?

There are so many it would be impossible to select just one.

Favourite gallery in New York?

Studio Museum, Performa, and Brooklyn Museumare all very strong institutions. 

Painting or Sculpture?


Click here to find all the information on this year's fair which runs from the 5th - 8th October.