Petra Mason: Contemporary African art is currently making a historic impact on contemporary art and culture. How did we get to this point, and what will the long-term effect be?
Touria El Glaoui: I believe we are at this point through labored progression, a process of learning, exchange, reconfiguring and building as a result of innumerable socio-political influences and contributors. Art of Africa and its diasporas has long had an impact on art and culture worldwide. However, it is only now that it is more widely disseminated, acknowledged, and its practitioners valued more appropriately. Contemporary art is in dialogue with fashion, music, literature, food, politics and more: That is what makes it so impactful.
Hints of the long-term effects are already apparent, we are seeing an enthusiasm to continue investing in infrastructural development that will support these expressions.
There is an imperative to dig deeper and redefine presupposed boundaries, a rewriting of sorts led by artists and cultural practitioners. There are also critical conversations happening that address sustainability and the ethics of practice.
PM: What are the origins of your fair? How did you gain momentum?
TEG: It all began in 2013 with the first London edition, and there was a lot of research and development work happening in the years leading up to it. We were confident that what we were doing was essential in addressing the lack of diversity in the international art market. However, we could not be certain until it came to fruition that it would be received by audiences in the way that it has. In 2015, we launched the New York iteration and this year in February we had the inaugural Marrakech edition. Our aim was always to have a cross-continental platform, and we chose sites that we felt could support the 1-54 vision and challenge us.
The fair gained momentum through forming strong partnerships with people and institutions that share our objectives, such as Pioneer Works with whom we have enjoyed a partnership with for the past 3 editions. Through the growing 1-54 network we have been able to expand our reach and engage with new art markets.
PM: Game-changing movements are on the rise, and women artists are finally in the spotlight, so how do we keep up the pace? Traditionally the contemporary art world has been an all-boys club: How do we proceed with changing the game?
TEG: I think it is about being present and working collectively. What female artists have continued to do is to produce, regardless of whether they are “seen” by the mainstream or not. They have also supported one another through collective practice and mobilizing. Women artists have been required to operate on the margins and in many ways have created a centrality within the very place intended to erase them. As we open ourselves up to what women practitioners have been doing, a more nuanced “herstory” is emerging. What is important is that women remain at the fore of this, as there cannot be transformation if women are excluded from the table. It is a significant time for women artists: In this year’s FORUM program, titled Living Room, the talks and performances “will honor black feminist traditions” according to curator Omar Berrada. Within our Special Projects program, there are also two projects that are centered around women’s narratives. An installation by Phoebe Boswell, I Need to Believe the World is Still Beautiful, an exploration and celebration of women and their bodies in relation to ideas of agency, is inspired by the writings of Audre Lorde. And The Project Space exhibition will feature works by the two female finalists of their Young Female Residency Award.