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Women in the Arts: Touria El Glaoui

‘I learned to be unapologetically confident and decisive, which has proved vital not just in the arts, but everywhere’

For our series celebrating the achievements of women in the arts, the founder of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair speaks about the importance of attitude in her journey through the arts as an entrepreneur.

As you were starting out in the arts, what were the possibilities for mentorship, collaboration and cross-generational engagement among women?

I came into the arts as an entrepreneur, which is quite unusual, so my thoughts on the above come from a different perspective. The first step I took for getting 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair off the ground was to pitch the idea to peers and professionals I knew; this support came from both men and women.

As an entrepreneur, you can often feel lonely as you take on the monumental task of starting a business. It is so important to surround yourself with a driven and committed team, no matter what their gender. At the moment the full-time 1-54 team is all women, which was not intentional: I have hired people who are ambitious and work hard.

What, if any, were the difficulties of embarking on a career in the arts as a woman?

I started out in the arts with a mass of experience from brokerage, wealth management and telecoms. I learned to be unapologetically confident and decisive, which has proved vital not just in the arts, but everywhere. This attitude is something I have seen in other successful women leaders. It exudes authority and drive, and ultimately garners greater respect. That is not to say having this attitude and approach is easy, especially when so many people do not expect you to have it.

What specific experiences have you had that shaped your understanding of gender in the workplace, the media and the arts?

I am always reminded of the structural obstacles we face as women; however, in the arts I was lucky enough to start my own business, so I choose who I work with. If I feel someone's response to me is a reflection of my gender or a form of harassment, I can choose not to work with them – and that is what I do.

What has changed today?

Discussions on gender are everywhere. At times these conversations can be frustrating and without a defining result. But I remind myself that these discussions were not happening 20 years ago and that, no matter what the outcome, I have the power and agency to start them when I want to and I know other women feel the same way. Every discussion has the potential to change archaic structures and attitudes.

There is also an increasing amount of energy going towards transparency and support for whistle-blowers which has allowed for issues, often invisible, to come to light and lead to effective change.

What are your thoughts about #Metoo and other initiatives to call attention to sexual harassment?

#Metoo has opened up a space for much-needed discussion globally and I think this had led to some change. Ultimately #Metoo harnessed the scale at which sexual harassment occurs. It also created a solidarity among women across the globe. Of course, prior to #Metoo women knew the scale of sexual harassment, we are all victims of it, but this made the discussion public. The scale forced institutions, companies, governments to publicly recognize a problem that sadly all too often goes ignored.

Main image: Touria El Glaoui

Touria El Glaoui is the Founding Director of 1–54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which takes place annually in London, Marrakech and New York.

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