1-54 MARRAKECH ART FAIR
One of our cultural highlights of the year here in Marrakech kicks off this week.
The city will be buzzing with thousands of art fans here for the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair.
Work from 20 galleries and more than 60 artists in mediums ranging from photography and drawing to sculpture and installation will be on show. Young artists making their debut at this year’s 1-54 include Kehinde Wiley and Thandiwe Miriu. Established names including Youssef Nabil, Joanna Choumali and Prince Gyasi will also be showing their work.
It’s a hugely exciting event. And one that we’re always delighted to attend. Because art is core to all we do at El Fenn and in recent years Marrakech has become one of the key hubs for up-and-coming African art. In fact, alongside Lagos, Cape Town and, more recently, Accra, Marrakech is now a vibrant melting pot for artists, gallerists and increasingly collectors.
It’s a relatively new phenomenon as African art – and artists – finally begin to stake their claim in a field long dominated by European and American art and practitioners.
Morocco’s art scene began to take off in the 1960s with Art Naïf – a style developed by Essaouirian artists. But they faced the same barriers that so many artists across Africa did. With little to no interaction between the artists themselves, or galleries and collectors crossing borders, their work was never really accessible either in Africa or the international market.
Then in 2004, the Marrakech Biennale was established by Vanessa Branson, one of the El Fenn founding partners, and emerging Moroccan artists finally had a platform on which to flourish. Next came the establishment of several world-class museums and galleries in Marrakech, such as the Musée d’Art Contemporain Africain Al Maaden (MACAAL) and more recently DaDa, an experimental art space on the Jemaa el-Fna.
The arrival of 1-54 in 2018 cemented the city’s position as a key player on the international stage.
“I was working in finance for Cisco Systems across Africa and my role was to develop new markets,” says 1-54 founder Touria el Glaoui, the daughter of respected Moroccan artist Hassan el Glaoui. “I was seeing all this amazing art during my travels, but there was no trace of it in Europe or America. I realised there was a massive gap in the market so I launched 1-54, first in London, then in New York, and finally in Marrakech.”
What makes 1-54 so different to other international art fairs is that it focuses exclusively on the African diaspora. And a key aim for Touria is that the complex separation between North and Sub-Saharan Africa will slowly erode.
“There are definitely invisible borders in terms of how people perceive Africa,” she says, “In the west lots of people are more attracted to Sub Sahara or West Africa in terms of the art, while North Africa itself always felt closer to the Middle East than to the rest of the continent. We’re working hard to overcome these perceptions and in the last few years it’s become much more inclusive, developing into something very exciting.”
Marrakech’s art scene, like the city itself, is exuberant and vivacious. And we’re delighted that it’s secured a place in the exciting story of the rise of African art.
:: 154-Marrakech will run 9-12 February. For more information go to https://www.1-54.com/marrakech/