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This year, the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair celebrates its fifth year in London. With 42 galleries participating, 11 of which are new, the fair has seen significant growth—not just in number of galleries but also in editions. Following the success of its New York event, 1:54 is looking forward to expanding to Marrakech in February of 2018. Whitewaller spoke with founding director Touria El Glaoui.
WHITEWALLER: Of 42 galleries this year, almost half, coming in at 18, are from Africa. Is that an increase from previous years? Would you say you’ve seen a growth in the African art market on a local gallery level?
TOURIA EL GLAOUI: It is a significant increase from previous years. This is also the first time a gallery from Mozambique will be participating. In terms of the local London market there is considerable growth, and this is evidenced in the success of Sotheby’s inaugural sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art, as well as the recognition of African artists such as visual activist Zanele Muholi, who opened her first solo exhibition in London, “Somnyama Ngonyama,” at Autograph ABP in July 2017.
WW: Eight solo exhibitions have been confirmed. Can you tell us a few highlights?
TEG: The solo exhibitions include Nidhal Chamekh, Safaa Erruas, Ahmed Keshta, Atta Kwami, Nelson Makamo, Ndikhumbule Ngqinambi, Abe Odedina, and Zineb Sedira—all of which are highlights, in my opinion. They are such a dynamic group of artists that it would be impossible to just select a few.
WW: In a more intimate fair like 1:54, what is the benefit for a gallery of presenting a solo booth?
TEG: The benefit for galleries is that they can strategically develop a clear audience and collector base for the selected artist. It is also an impactful way to introduce emerging talents to the market. On the whole, it also gives our audience a nuanced and refreshing experience. I think by including solo booths, our audience is given an opportunity to interact with artists more intimately.
WW: Can you share some of the Special Projects planned for the 2017 edition yet?
TEG: We have 12 Special Projects. Goodman Gallery will be curating an artist’s film program, “History Is Not Mine,” with works exploring overlooked and suppressed histories. For the annual courtyard installation, Pascale Marthine Tayou (Galleria Continua) will present Summer Surprise, an installation specifically designed for the courtyard that references togunas (public structures native to Mali). Together with Somerset House, we have also commissioned British Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj’s first U.K. solo exhibition in seven years, titled “La Caravane.” Yinka Ilori has designed a playful, evocative experience for the 1:54 lounge that restores life to reclaimed materials, drawing inspiration from traditional Nigerian parables and African fabrics.
WW: Outside of the fair, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing in London that week in October?
TEG: October is an extremely vibrant time in the global art scene. During the fair, many of our participating galleries will be holding additional events, some of which will form part of our VIP program. And of course, I will be attending Frieze. Outside of London, the first Karachi Biennale in Pakistan will be opening later that month and this would certainly be worth exploring, as Karachi has a rich and intriguing history.
To learn more about what’s going on in London this week for the fairs, pick up the latest issue of Whitewaller London & Paris, out now.