Touria El Glaoui, the founder of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, with iterations in London, New York, and Marrakech.
“When one is doing something that may be perceived as against the grain, the on-going journey requires resilience to tackle the physical and emotional labour involved.”
In the “Women You Should Know” series, ArtTactic Editorial highlights the careers of the most accomplished female entrepreneurs operating in the art world today. In this week’s installment ArtTactic speaks with Touria El Glaoui, the founder of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, with iterations in London, New York, and Marrakech.
Although 1-54 may have been a niche market back when Touria founded the fair in 2013, it has no doubt helped expand the market for Contemporary African art considerably. In January 2018, the ArtTactic Outlook 2018 report predicted that the African Modern and Contemporary art market was going to be one of the fastest growing art markets this year, with 70% of experts surveyed believing that the African art market would see an increase in sales in 2018. In ArtTactic’s most recent report on Modern & Contemporary African Art Auctions, we can confirm that the expert’s predictions were correct, with auction sales up 42% since last year. Just this year, Bonhams and Sotheby’s have generated a total of £6.45 million in their International African sales.
In this interview, Touria discusses business, her career, and how she hopes to empower female artists well into the future.
How is 1-54’s business model disrupting and improving the current state of the art world?
1-54 is invested in promoting and supporting artists of Africa and its diaspora. We aim to highlight the wealth of cultural and artistic production that has been marginalized from mainstream art markets for centuries. One could say we are disrupting this history of prejudice and repressive perceptions. As a specialized fair we have focused objectives and remain aware of our relationship to broader socio-economic conditions. Our model goes beyond commercial pursuits, it is about creating platforms for equitable practices, cross-cultural exchange, knowledge production and collective empowerment.
What is the most challenging part of being a female entrepreneur in the art world? The most rewarding?
There are many women in the art world however very few in recognized positions of authority. It means that I have to assert my presence at times to be heard. But it also means that I receive an overwhelming support from fellow women and allies who are dedicated to dismantling structures of inequality in the art industry. More than just being a woman, I would say operating as an independent body rather than under a larger group or events company is a challenge. This allows us to have full agency however it also means the stakes are higher.
What role does technology play in 1-54’s innovative and dynamic business model?
For every edition we partner with Artsy, an online resource for art collecting and education and Artlogic, an art technology firm, both of which assist us in the smooth running of the fair. Because the art fairs themselves are temporary, we aim to create an interactive virtual space to reach new audiences and extend the ways in which people engage with the fair on an ongoing basis. Our website has become an extensive educational resource with virtual art fair experiences, artist profiles and recordings of all talks in the 1-54 FORUM programs.
What are the unique ways in which 1-54 supports and promotes female artists?
We are always looking for new ways to address issues of inequity. In the selection of galleries, Special Projects and FORUM program contributors our dedicated team works towards creating equal opportunities to disrupt stagnant, historically engrained systems. We cannot afford to be negligent in this area as we are too aware of the damage years of disregard has created. If we desire to change the status quo we have to reimagine and initiate new modes of thinking and performing.
Do you see 1-54 as a model for other female entrepreneurs in the arts? What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs in the arts?
When 1-54 began it was not easy securing supporters, particularly because 1-54 is geared toward a seemingly niche market. Initially this was a daunting position to take, however by remaining resolute in our vision we discovered and crafted numerous doors of possibilities, some of which we were not even aware existed.
As for advice – resilience and self-care come to mind. When one is doing something that may be perceived as against the grain, the on-going journey requires resilience to tackle the physical and emotional labour involved. At the same time without dedication to self-care it is easy to fall into a pattern of joyless productivity. It is essential to build a reliable and passionate team around you to help sustain the vision collectively. If you are working with a task that feels ambitious or outside of your realm of expertise, do not be afraid to ask for assistance, whether from your team, support systems or those who have achieved in a similar arena. The strength of our networks directly impacts the ‘success’ of our work.
Lastly, find the balance between being strong-willed and open. One can assert their voice yet still remain open to constructive criticism and the many avenues of growth.
How would you like to see technology helping women in the arts in the future?
Technology has the potential to provide greater visibility, support systems and opportunities for women artists internationally. I would like to see more online resources that thoroughly document and promote the work of women artists and more resources channelled into empowering women with the skill sets to use various technologies in their practice. This call is one that extends beyond the arts sector.