Arts + Culture
Touria El Glaoui at the 1-54 2018 preview. Photo by Katrina Sorrentino, courtesy of SUTTON.

In Conversation with 1-54 Founder Touria El Glaoui on the Fair's Constant Transformation

We catch up with director of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, Touria El Glaoui , whose New York edition launched this week.

Since the first edition of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair took place in London in 2013, a lot has happened with the fair. New York followed in 2014 as an additional venue, and Morocco became the first African country where the fair was held this year.

What remains the same is the focus on the 54 countries of the continent, to which the name refers, and the goal of promoting a global dialogue and exchange from an African perspective.

Touria El Glaoui, founder and director, uses the fourth edition of the New York Fair as an opportunity to draw an interim conclusion that sets 1-54 as a model in constant transformation.

Read more in our conversation below.

Ann Mbuti for OkayAfrica: 2018 has been the first year in which 1-54 had an edition in an African country. Why now?

Touria El Glaoui: Our goal from the very start was to have a physical presence on the African continent and create direct channels of exchange between Africa, Europe and North America. Having created a global platform and steadily strengthened our position in London and New York, we wanted to use this momentum to bring the focus back to the continent. Morocco has an extensive art and cultural history, and through its trade has been a link between the African continent and Europe. In some way by having the fair across continents we also serve as a connector. There are many reasons we chose to situate ourselves in Marrakech. One of them being that in the past year there have been more Africa-centered initiatives in Marrakech such as the opening of art institutions (MACAAL), and a significant growth in Morocco's contemporary art scene in general. We wanted to be a part of that development and introduce galleries and collectors to this budding market.


Touria El Glaoui. Photo by Javier Salas, courtesy of SUTTON.

What were the main conclusions you drew from there?

Marrakech is absolutely alive. It is a city that values its traditional culture and heritage, where one can vividly see the present in dialogue with the past. There are renowned Moroccan artists many of whom use traditional dry mediums, however through the contemporary turn we have seen a surge of new media and multi-disciplinary artists using performance, photography, sound, installation and film. There is so much vibrancy and enthusiasm emanating from practitioners, institutions, patrons and audiences. With new initiatives such as galleries and institutions finding form there are opportunities for tremendous growth as well as space for new discussions to be nurtured. I am eager to see how the contemporary art scene is going to progress and the visual languages that will emerge from a country that already has such a rich culture and history.

Did the experience of the Marrakesh edition influence the NY edition starting this weekend?

Every edition provides us with an opportunity to learn and be inspired, therefore we revise our practices accordingly. We are in constant search of more effective and innovative ways to produce the fair so as to provide a valuable experience for exhibitors and audiences.

You were quoted in an article saying that people are still surprised how vivid the contemporary art scene in African countries is. How would you describe 1-54's role in changing that?

Yes, how could there be a single image of 'contemporary African art' when we are speaking about a continent of 54 countries each with their own infrastructures, politics, socioeconomic conditions, languages, cultures and so on. 1-54 is a part of a wider collective effort to highlight the innumerable voices that make up the contemporary art scene of Africa and its diaspora. By dedicating the platform to such practitioners and their stories we remind audiences that the image of 'contemporary African art' is not static, it is constantly evolving. This is why we have a rigorous exhibitor selection process headed by the selection committee to ensure that with each edition there is a deeper nuancing of perspectives. We also have the Special Projects and FORUM talks program which promote innovative and critical artistic and thinking practices.

Are there differences depending where the fair is held?

There are, and we try to use these differences to make each iteration a unique experience. The fair is tailored to each site and responds to the architecture of the space, the local art communities and the more-subtle social dynamics of that particular environment. Our extended public program of off-site events is one of the ways in which we tap into the wider art scene and public. We strive by all means to forge meaningful and sustainable relationships in each space while retaining the 1-54 voice and objectives. With some returning exhibitors there will always be a sense of familiarity, but the content creates a new level of engagement that cannot be duplicated.

Major art fairs like the Armory Show or Art Basel are rethinking their concepts, they offer more supporting program, downsize, etc. What is next for 1-54?

We see 1-54 as a model in constant transformation. We would like to further build on the three iterations and form a global network with more opportunities for collaboration throughout the year. Our goal is to work towards a future, wherein global African identities are unhindered by cultural and political hegemonies and are wholly valued as agents in contemporary arenas of knowledge sharing, art and cultural production, the marketplace and global industries.

popular

Stop What You're Doing Right Now and Watch Falz's New Video 'This Is Nigeria'

The Nigerian rapper tackles his country's social ills in his very own answer to Childish Gambino's "This Is America."

Nigerian rapper, Falz has been known to use his sharp brand of humor to address social ills in his country. Today he's taken it a step further with the release of a new song and video entitled "This is Nigeria" and the outcome is an audacious, decidedly necessary critique of Nigerian society inspired by Childish Gambino's viral video "This is America."

Falz opens the song with a voice over of his father the lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, discussing the consequences of rampant corruption and exploitation, before adding his own cutting criticism: "This is Nigeria, look how I'm living now, look how I'm living now. Everybody be criminal," he rhymes as chaos ensues all around him.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Photo courtesy of Nike

The Secret Behind Nike's New Naija Football Kits are Nigerians Themselves

The story behind the bold new uniforms the Super Eagles will be wearing at this year's World Cup.

Partner content from Nike

The new Nigeria football kits are not even out yet, but they're already causing pandemonium with Nigerian press reporting that there have been already 3 million worldwide orders. And it's easy to see why—the designs are daring with a bold nod to Nigerian culture that is very in vogue right now. In addition, UK Grime MCs with Nigerian roots, Skepta and Tinie Tempah have already been photographed in the new jerseys causing a surge of social media chatter about the new look.

But while rock star endorsements and an edgy new design will certainly bring attention, there's no doubt that the real bulk of the demand is due to what is ramping up to be a significant moment in the history of Nigerian football—the 2018 World Cup.



If you don't already know, Nigeria is entering this year's World Cup in Russia with some of the most exciting young players we've seen in years. With youthful talent like Wilfred Ndidi, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho—all 21—and veteran Olympic captain Jon Obi Mikel ready to take the field in Moscow all eyes are on Nigeria to advance out of Group D and challenge the world for a chance at the cup.

The plan here is to outdo the teams previous international achievement, the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal in men's football which is commemorated on the home kit with a badge recolored in the colors of the '96 gold medal-winning "Dream Team."

The home kit also pays subtle homage to Nigeria's '94 shirt— the first Nigerian team to qualify for the tournament—with its eagle wing-inspired black-and-white sleeve and green torso. But if the allusion to the pasty is subtle, the new supercharged patterns are anything but.

The look of the kit feels particularly in touch with what's going on in youth fashion both in Nigeria and the world and that's no accident. Much of the collection comes in bold print, both floral and Ankara-inspired chevrons, ideas that we've seen entering street wear collections and on the runway in recent years. That's because African and Nigerian style has become a big deal internationally of late. And not just in style, the country's huge cultural industries from Nollywood to Afrobeats have announced themselves on the world stage. This cultural ascendance is reflected in the design.


Courtesy of Nike

"With Nigeria, we wanted to tap into the attitude of the nation," notes Dan Farron, Nike Football Design Director. "We built this kit and collection based on the players' full identities." Along with other members of the Nike Football design group, Farron dug into learning more about Nigeria's players, "We started to see trends in attitude and energy connecting the athletes to music, fashion and more. They are part of a resoundingly cool culture."

In fact OkayAfrica has covered the team's love for music before—even dedicating an edition of the African in Your Earbuds mixtape to John Obi Mikel, Alex Iwobi & Kelechi Iheanacho's favorite songs to get hyped up before a game. When we asked the charismatic trio, they gave us list that included many of the huge Nigerian artists that we love, like Tekno, Wizkid, Yemi Alade and Nigerian-American rapper Wale and also, perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, Celine Dion.

Nigerian culture has gone global partly through its infectious energy but also because of its vibrant diaspora populations that bring it with them wherever they land. Lagos-born Alex Iwobi whose goal in the 73rd minute to qualified Nigeria for this summer's tournament spent most of his life in London but still reps Naija to the fullest.

"I grew up in England, but Nigeria is my homeland," he says. "When I scored that goal, the players were dancing, the fans were playing trumpets and bringing drums…there was just so much passion and energy. It is always an honor to wear the white and green. To compete this summer is not just our dream, it is also the dream of our fans. Together, we all represent Naija."

This similar energy can be felt in Nigerian communities from Brooklyn to Peckham and even in China. Naija culture is truly global and no doubt the fans will embody the Naija spirit wherever they will be watching the games this summer.

If you're wondering, Nike isn't simply hopping on the Nigeria bandwagon. The apparel company has been sponsoring the Nigerian football since 2015, supplying kits to all nine of the Nigeria Football Federation teams at every level, including the men's and women's senior teams, men's and women's under-20 teams, men's and women's under-17 teams, men's and women's Olympic teams, and the men's beach football team.

So while the kit is available for purchase worldwide June 1, just know that you'll be competing with millions to get your own official shirts for the World Cup. If you are in New York, find the kit for sale exclusively at Nike's 21 Mercer store.

And please join OkayAfrica and Nike on June 2nd for Naija Worldwide as we celebrate Team Nigeria's journey to Russia in style.

News

Listen to Adekunle Gold's New Album 'About 30'

Adekunle Gold's highly-anticipated sophomore album is here.

Adekunle Gold's much-anticipated sophomore album, About 30, has arrived.

The 14-track album boasts features from Seun Kuti, Flavor and British-Nigerian soul singer Jacob Banks, who appears on a remix to the popular lead single "Ire." The album sees the artist flexing immense versatility and range as he delivers emotional ballads, folk-Inspired cuts sung in Yoruba, and a few highlife-tinged summer jams.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.