All the highs from the art fair’s second edition in the Ochre city

The second edition of any art fair is always a pivotal moment but questions surrounding whether 1:54 Marrakech would maintain the hype after its big-bang maiden outing proved unfounded as this year’s edition drew new crowds to the Moroccan city. Founded by the Almoravids in the 11th century, Marrakech seems to have predicted the rise of Instagram long ago, its rosy pinks, majorelle blues and magical light making it one of the most seductive travel destinations. This unique appeal also no doubt makes Touria El Glaoui’s ever growing fair on her home soil a must-visit for art professionals and art lovers alike.

1:54 Marrakech remained “small and punchy” (to quote Gallery 1957 director Marwan Zakham) in 2019. Bringing together just 18 galleries at the beautiful La Mamounia hotel, seven of those were based in Africa including two newcomers, South Africa’s leading Goodman Gallery and Morocco’s own Galerie SINIYA28. All in all, there were over 65 established and emerging artists on show from across the continent and beyond. This easy to navigate number allowed the newer artists to shine more brightly. Names such as Joana Choumali, Najia Mehadji and Nu Barreto held their own alongside blockbuster artists including Sory Sanle, Ibrahim el Selashi and Abdoulaye Konate. “The setting is idyllic and the boutique format of the fair gives it a special charm,” explains Yasmine Berrada Sounni from Loft Art Gallery (Morocco). “People have time to stop and talk about the work,” agrees Carlos Marzia of Goodman.

Beyond the main fair, 1:54’s off-site and special projects programme was a huge success. Over at MACAAL (Musée d'Art Contemporain Africain Al Maaden), the opening of its group show Material Insanity drew on the sheer dynamism of art currently proliferating across the continent. Showstoppers by Ibrahim Mahama (Ghana) and Moffat Takidiwa (Zimbabwe) considered concepts of trade and the legacy of colonialism through found objects, while Moroccan artist Younes Baba Ali’s film and installation piece detailed the art of street selling in Dakar through an anthropological lens. Arlene Wandera’s brilliantly considered study of the colonial commercialisation of the Pineapple - from South America via Columbus, to present day Del Monte empires - whispered however, where Baba Ali’s shouted and honked. “The show takes a multi-layered approach to the notion of contemporary African art,” Wandera says, adding: “MACAAL is one of two major museums based on the continent that facilitate and support contemporary art and I’m privileged to be showing here alongside so many artists I can call my friends.”

Around town special projects from Emeka Ogboh, Mohamed El Baz and Mo Baala covered the industrial walls of the still-to-be completed DADA contemporary art space, showcasing the city’s continuing appetite for cultural growth. But over at Hassan Hajjaj’s well-estabished Riad Yima, the Moroccan artist’s ability to unite music and art stole the limelight, as he surprised visitors with an intimate listening party for Yasiin Bey’s latest record, alongside Hajjaj’s own hyper colourful visuals. Soaking in this oasis of sound and image, you couldn't help but fall in love with this ever-expanding city and the art fair that further cements is cultural capital.

Visit 1:54 Marrakech

Published on 05/03/2019