Your father Hassan El Glaoui is revered as one of the greatest Moroccan artists. Can you tell us about your upbringing in Morocco? What was it like to have a famous artist as a father?
My father’s work and practice were an intrinsic part of my family home and our lives. I soon realised that my family home, with my father’s studio at the centre, was different from that of my friends. As a small child, I modelled for my father’s portraits. At the time, putting on a smart dress was the most exciting aspect of this for me. Of course, I now not only recognise how special these moments with my father were but also appreciate what he did and the admiration he had from Moroccans.
His father, your grandfather, was the last Pasha of Marrakech, an art collector and friend of Winston Churchill. What influence did this have on your father’s career?
Yes, as the last Pasha of Marrakech my grandfather was a political figure and warrior. He went to Harkas (war in Arabic) riding horses; his nickname was Black Panther. A remarkable man, but with a vision for his sons to take on respected administrative roles, so there was little sensitivity and understanding regarding my father’s desire to be a painter or an awareness for my father’s talent.
When Sir Winston Churchill visited my grandfather in 1943, he saw my father’s work in his office and encouraged my grandfather to support his son’s painting. A painter himself, Churchill showed that you could be a statesman and still, ‘paint on the side.’ This also brought my father to the attention of art collectors such as Anson Conger Goodyear (founder of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York).
At the recommendation of Churchill my father was soon flying to Paris to study art, and so began his career as a painter. He held his first solo exhibition in Paris in 1950 and moved back to Morocco fifteen years later in 1965
Sotheby’s is offering a major work by your father, La Sortie du Roi, for sale on 2 April. The theme is one he revisited many times – can you tell us about the subject, and about his fascination with painting horses and Tbouriba?
The scene in this particular painting, La Sortie du Roi, presents the national celebration of the king’s accession to the throne. It is an event that is still celebrated today and known as Fête du Trône or Throne Day. Celebrations traditionally took place in front of the old city ramparts with onlookers dressed in traditional Moroccan white djellabas; you can see these details in the painting.
Painting horses, and in particular Tbouriba, which refers to the practice of synchronised horse riders charging in long lines while simultaneously lifting their jezails (long-barrelled rifles) above their heads and towards the sky, was a central element to my father’s work. Painting Moroccan traditions (both those no longer practiced and those that are still integral to the Moroccan spirit) was very important to my father.
You have organized and co-curated significant exhibitions of your father's work, including a major retrospective in Casablanca and Meetings in Marrakech, a joint exhibition with Winston Churchill's paintings hosted at Leighton House in London in 2012. Do you continue to discover new information about his life and work?
All the time and I think I always will. There is an exhibition of my father’s work at the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rabat opening in April of this year. The exhibition will explore both his public and private life. It focuses on a whole period that I previously did not know much about, his years in Paris. At the moment we are putting together the exhibition catalogue and it is proving quite difficult as some of the galleries in Paris, London and New York that my father had exhibitions with do not exist anymore. Early on my father had exhibitions at Galerie André Weill, Paris (1950); Wildenstein, New York (1951); Galerie Petrides, Paris (1959), and later on Hammer Galleries, New York (1967, 1976); Galerie Isy Brachot, Bruxelles (1969) and Tryon Gallery, London (1969) to name just a few.
Your sisters are creative, but you had a career in wealth management and business development before founding 1-54, the contemporary African art fair, in 2013. Do you think a life in the art world was inevitable given your upbringing?
Yes, I think it was inevitable. My father gave me my first arts education and always encouraged us to appreciate art. Putting together the show of both my father’s and Winston Churchill’s work in 2011 at Leighton House prompted me to look at the arts as a potential professional avenue.
Can you tell us why you founded an art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa?
There has, as with everywhere, always been creative scenes across the continent. It was during my role in telecoms that I was fortunate enough to visit these art scenes while travelling. I was always in awe with the work I was seeing and the artists I was meeting, but always frustrated by the lack of recognition and visibility the artists I was meeting had in Europe and the US. I had seen the importance of connections and support first hand with my father. I decided that a platform dedicated to artists from Africa and its diasporas was an avenue in which to strengthen and encourage mutually-beneficial support and exchange, it is from this thought that 1-54 sprung. I think mutually beneficial is key here, because for too long the relationships between Africa and Europe have been unequal, too often resulting in artists from Africa and its diasporas being spoken for or placed in reductive and archaic narratives. An important aspect of 1-54 has always been to help turn the tide of these narratives and present the multiplicity of experiences on the continent. Because my experience with the arts started with my father, 1-54 has always had an artist-centred approach. As a result, first and foremost we hope that we are reactive to their needs and provide a space for their dialogue and growth.
1-54 has since expanded from London, to New York and now Marrakech. What did bringing the fair home to Morocco mean to you, and what can visitors to 1-54 Marrakech expect this year?
Bringing the fair to Morocco meant the world to me and I am very much looking forward to the second edition in Marrakech (21-24 February 2019). There will be over 65 artists hailing from over 24 countries at La Mamounia. Seven galleries will be exhibiting in our Marrakech edition for the first time, some of these galleries have been at our London and New York editions in the past, so it is great that they see the potential in Marrakech. Again, we have partnered with institutions across the city to provide extensive public, 1-54 FORUM and Special Project programmes. For example, as a part of the Special Projects programme there will be an installation by sound artist Emeka Ogboh open to the public for the week of the fair as well as exhibitions at Comptoir des Mines Galerie and MACAAL. It is important to us that we instigate multiple avenues for viewing and appreciating work from Morocco and the continent for both local and international visitors.