The TRUE Africa 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today and tomorrow. We’re featuring them over 100 days and we’ve asked each of them three questions.
Touria El Glaoui founded the 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair in 2013. She provides a platform for artists, galleries, curators, independent art centres and institutions dedicated to promoting African and Africa-related art. Last year she took 1:54 to New York City.
When did you decide we needed an Africa-focused fair?
During 2011 and 2012, I had just finished organising an exhibition of my father’s work in London alongside Winston Churchill’s paintings. This triggered something. I realised how important visibility was and that only a certain type of art was getting it. I was then selling different solutions to American companies in Africa and was staying in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria at the weekend. As the daughter of an artist, I was very curious about the art scene wherever I was. So I’d ask people which artists’ studios I could visit or about the galleries in town. And I was amazed by the richness I was seeing. But it seemed that when I went back to Europe or America there was no trace of what I had experienced.
These artists didn’t have solo exhibitions at the Tate or any other international museums. Because of the lack of institutions on the continent, there is often a very limited local art scene. There was no or very little geographical crossover.
There has always been a problem of access to art in Africa because the most important international collectors will never travel to participate in art events there. Many are only tempted by international destinations like Marrakech, Cape Town or Lagos. The truth is we get more people coming to see the work in London or in New York than if we were exhibiting in Africa.
Which market has been most receptive to contemporary African art in your experience?
In New York, we saw more collectors who were American than other nationalities. We were also aiming to attract more African-Americans, both as collectors and as an audience. Of course it was our first year in NYC so people only knew we were there through word of mouth. As we’re completely reliant on sponsorship, we don’t have too much of a marketing budget to give visibility to the fair. Other fairs have a lot of advertising, but we’re very limited.
Getting more than 5,000 visitors in New York in the first year was excellent. It was very similar to the number we had in central London; we are very dependent on the American and European market. I’d say around 90 per cent are European in London and the same proportion are American in New York.
We still have a very small fraction of Africans travelling for the fairs. We do events to encourage this and we’re learning how to entice them. People are generally more interested in their local art market. The whole pan-African thing, that you buy from all over the continent and you build an African collection, is really a Western concept.
You have international collectors who are quite curious or want a bargain; they want to discover who will be the next Basquiat in 10 years’ time. And also of course you have the art lovers who are curious to see all types of art and come to enjoy the fair.
Who’s your African of the year and why?
Okwui Enwezor as he curated Venice Biennale this year; he’s a top guy in my industry. Tidjane Thiam at Credit Suisse is also a success story. There are people who are really changing things like Lionel Zinsou, the new prime minister of Benin. I would also like to choose Koyo Kouoh, the FORUM programme curator of 1:54. She’s just been appointed curator of Ireland’s biennial of contemporary art, EVA International. She’s a superstar!
Come back tomorrow for the next TRUE Africa 100 and keep up to date using the hashtag #TRUEAfrica