A Global Discussion

1-54 is the first international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora, founded by Touria El Glaoui (b. 1974). Annual editions have been held in London since 2013, New York since 2015 and Marrakech since 2018, offering a dynamic platform that is engaged in contemporary dialogue and exchange. The name of the fair references the 54 countries on the African continent.

El Glaoui (born in Morocco) started her career in the banking industry. Parallel to this, she co-curated a number of exhibitions with her father, the well-known figurative painter Hassan El Glaoui. “I am the daughter of an artist – my home was surrounded by art, telling powerful stories about who we are as Africans, and our complex history,” she notes.

 In essence, the fair reflects this, considering how the narrative of Africa is being told, and who telling it. The 2020 edition – a hybrid model with both physical and digital components – welcomes 35 international exhibitors from across Europe, Africa and North America. It showcases more than 110 artists in-situ at Somerset House and online, with carefully curated selections that untangle problematic stereotypes. “Our committee deliberates every application submitted. They question the gallery’s approach to ‘African aesthetics’ or other reductive notions,” El Glaoui explains.

As such, intersectionality is a key focus of this year’s programme, as well as considerations of what it means to separate and define. “The ties between Africa, Afro-Latin America and the Caribbean have never before been a focus of 1-54 Forum, but it is an incredibly important and dynamic area to explore. On 8 October, we’re presenting an online keynote by Aldeide Delgado (Founder and Director of Women Photographers International Archive) who discusses the implications and opportunities of the expression ‘Latinx.’”

Whilst 2020 has been a monumental year – with global protests against social and racial injustice, the art world is still rife with misrepresentation and exclusivity, and 1-54 is keen to play its part: “Discussions absolutely need to continue. We are dedicated to initiating and supporting on-going discourse relating to contemporary art from Africa and its global diaspora. Since the fair’s inception we have done this through 1-54 Forum – a public programme of talks and screenings which accompanies the exhibitions. This year, we’ve curated a mixture of in-person and online events, organised by Yvette Mutumba and Julia Grosse (founding editors of Contemporary and (C&) América Latina. The programme engages with Afro-Latin American, Caribbean and African perspectives.”

This year’s edition is sure to inspire, with vital exhibitions for a world waking up. As El Glaoui states: “Seeing a range of ethnicities is the only way we will see changes in the art industry, but also with the relationship between Africa and the western canon. There’s a lot of progress still yet to be made.”

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair runs 8-10 October at Somerset House, London, and online. For more information, click here. 

1. Detail, Prince Gyasi, Crumple Zone. Photography (fuji crystal archive brillant). Edition of 10 + 4 AP. 46×61 cm. Courtesy of Prince Gyasi & Nil Gallery.