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TEDGlobal 2017

Touria El Glaoui: Inside Africa's thriving art scene

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Art fair curator Touria El Glaoui is on a mission to showcase vital new art from African nations and the diaspora. She shares beautiful, inspiring, thrilling contemporary art that tells powerful stories of African identity and history -- including works by Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop, Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj and Zimbabwean painter Kudzanai-Violet Hwami. "It is really through art that we can regain our sense of agency and empowerment," El Glaoui says. "It is through art that we can really tell our own story."

- Art fair curator
To showcase vital new art from African nations and the diaspora, Touria El Glaoui founded the powerhouse 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Full bio

Let's talk about how the narrative
of Africa is being told,
00:12
and who is doing the telling.
00:16
I want to share with you
the selection of work
00:19
by contemporary artists
from Africa and its diaspora.
00:21
I love this art.
00:26
I find it beautiful
and inspiring and thrilling,
00:27
and I really hope I am able
to pique your interest.
00:31
I want to share something about myself
and why art matters to me.
00:34
I'm the daughter of an artist,
so that means that growing up,
00:38
I had the chance to see my father
do artwork in his studio.
00:41
My home was surrounded by art,
00:45
and I had an early art education,
00:47
being dragged to museums and exhibitions
over the summer holidays.
00:49
What I did not understand,
really, at the time,
00:54
is that this also gave me
an early understanding
00:56
about why art is important,
00:58
how to look at it,
01:01
how to understand it,
but also how to love it.
01:03
So art matters to me on a personal level,
01:06
and not only because it's beautiful
and inspiring and thrilling,
01:09
but because art tells powerful stories.
01:13
All these artists have stories to tell you
about what it means to be African,
01:16
stories that tell you and touches
about our African identity,
01:21
but also stories that tell us
about who we are as Africans,
01:25
but also stories that tell us
about our complex history.
01:29
So how can art tell you powerful stories?
01:35
I want to share with you this series
01:39
by Senegalese artist Omar Victor Diop.
01:41
This is a series of self-portraits,
01:44
and the artist in this particular series
01:47
is focusing on the representation
of Africans in art history
01:48
between the 15th to the 19th century.
01:53
I want to show you how, with one image,
01:56
Diop is able to touch
on our African identity,
01:59
on the politics of representation,
02:02
but also on our social value system.
02:05
In this particular self-portrait,
02:07
Diop is actually referencing
another portrait by Anne-Louis Girodet.
02:10
This picture is doing a portrait
of Jean-Baptiste Belley.
02:15
Jean-Baptiste Belley
was a native of Senegal,
02:19
a former slave of Haiti,
02:22
but during his lifetime, he also
was elected to represent the colony
02:25
at the third government
of the French Revolution,
02:30
and he advocated strongly
for the abolition of slavery.
02:33
What is very smart
and clever about Diop here
02:37
is that he's going back to history.
02:40
He's reclaiming this figure
02:42
by restaging this beautiful
royal blue uniform,
02:44
where he is restaging also the pose,
02:48
and he's doing that
to actually underline the issues
02:51
that are still impacting
individuals of color today.
02:54
There was nothing special
02:57
about this very typical
political portrait of the time,
02:59
except that for the first time,
03:02
an individual of color,
in that case, Jean-Baptiste Belley,
03:04
was actually named
and acknowledged in a painting.
03:07
What Diop is adding to this picture
is this crucial element,
03:12
which is the football under his arm,
03:16
and by doing that,
03:18
Diop is actually touching
at our hero worship culture
03:19
of African football stars,
03:23
who unfortunately, despite their fame,
03:25
their immense talent,
and their royalty status,
03:28
they are still invisible.
03:30
Diop is asking us to dig deeper,
03:33
to go beyond history
and what has been written,
03:35
and, basically, see how it still
influences and impacts us in the present.
03:38
I want to share
this other beautiful series
03:42
called "Kesh Angels,"
by artist Hassan Hajjaj.
03:45
So in this particular series,
03:48
the artist is really pushing
on the boundaries
03:50
of stereotype and cliché.
03:52
Hassan Hajjaj is a friend,
03:54
and honestly, I admire him dearly,
03:57
but this particular series is talking
to me directly as a Muslim woman.
03:58
I experience this all the time,
04:03
where, you know, people
have a lot of expectations,
04:06
religious ones and cultural ones,
04:08
but what I love about this artist
is that he's putting all this on its head.
04:10
He's actually challenging
every representation
04:14
of Muslim, Arabic women that there is.
04:18
Hassan Hajjaj is a child of the diaspora.
04:21
He grew up in Morocco
amongst bright logo goods,
04:24
you know, counterfeit originals
being sold at the souks.
04:28
So to see those symbols
representing in his work
04:31
a celebration of the global culture,
a critic of the global urban culture,
04:35
is no surprise,
04:39
but really at the heart of his work
is his desire of a nuanced representation.
04:41
He wants us to interrupt ourselves
04:46
and all the perception that we might have
04:48
on people, on a culture,
and on environment.
04:50
And for example,
04:53
this particular picture,
your common association would be,
04:55
you know, certain street brand for
a certain Western distinctive consumer.
04:59
Well, he mashes it all up,
05:03
where he is daring to imagine
a female biker culture
05:05
where actually Chanel or Louis Vuitton
is designing the djellaba,
05:10
and Nike, the babouche,
05:14
and this is actually the standard uniform.
05:16
What I love about the women
in "Kesh Angels"
05:19
is that they are able to hold your gaze.
05:23
We are completely
participating in the image,
05:25
but they are the one inviting us in,
and on their own terms.
05:28
Hassan Hajjaj's "Kesh Angels"
or "Project Diaspora" by Omar Victor Diop
05:32
offer me two strong examples
why art is so instrumental.
05:37
It is instrumental as it really
inspires us to ask questions,
05:41
but it is also instrumental
because it ignites change.
05:45
Seeing diversity in race and ethnicity
in contemporary art
05:48
is the only way that we'll see
changes in the art industry,
05:52
but also for the relations between Africa
and the Western canon.
05:56
How we will participate in all this
is really up to us.
06:01
There's a lot of progress to be made,
06:05
and honestly, we still need
to support stronger voices,
06:07
as they are the ones shaking things up
and bringing new perspective.
06:10
I want to share
this beautiful old painting
06:13
by younger emerging artist
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami.
06:16
For me, when I see her work,
it really represents freedom.
06:20
Hwami has fantastic takes
on what it means to be an African
06:25
and an African life.
06:29
She has lived in three
different countries:
06:31
Zimbabwe, South Africa and Britain,
06:33
and therefore has been influenced
by a multitude of layers
06:36
of communities and cultures,
06:39
from LGBT to eco to Xhosa
to emo to British cultures.
06:41
And as she says herself, the beauty
of being a child of the diaspora
06:47
is really being able to reinvent ourselves
06:51
and what it means to be African.
06:53
I want to leave you
with this powerful piece
06:56
by South African artist Lawrence Lemaoana.
06:59
Lawrence Lemaoana also criticized
07:03
the influence of the media
on our moral consciousness,
07:05
and he's doing that by using those fabrics
like banners in political demonstrations,
07:09
where he's asking us
to reclaim our voices.
07:14
I believe in the transformative
power of art,
07:17
as it is our only way to paint
a nuanced image of Africa,
07:21
but also its diaspora,
07:25
one that will be painted by its artists
and its cultural producers
07:27
with their radical but also very unique
view of seeing the world
07:32
and their place in it.
07:36
It is really through art
that we can regain
07:38
our sense of agency and empowerment.
07:41
It is through art that we can
really tell our own story.
07:45
So like Lawrence Lemaoana says,
the power is ours.
07:49
Thank you.
07:53
(Applause)
07:54

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About the speaker:

Touria El Glaoui - Art fair curator
To showcase vital new art from African nations and the diaspora, Touria El Glaoui founded the powerhouse 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair.

Why you should listen

Touria El Glaoui is the founding director of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which takes place in London and New York every year and, in 2018, launches in Marrakech. The fair highlights work from artists and galleries across Africa and the diaspora, bringing visibility in global art markets to vital upcoming visions.

El Glaoui began her career in the banking industry before founding 1-54 in 2013. Parallel to her career, she has organized and co-curated exhibitions of the work of her father, the Moroccan artist Hassan El Glaoui, in London and Morocco.

More profile about the speaker
Touria El Glaoui | Speaker | TED.com