Why Marrakech is North Africa’s newest art hub

Marrakech looks like it has been coloured-in using a child’s paint box. The winding medina streets are a dusky pink, and jasmine, cactus and bougainvillea-filled courtyards shimmer under the deep blue sky.

But while the Moroccan city has been attracting and inspiring artists for centuries, it is only now becoming a key stop on the art market’s endless parade of international gatherings. And this February is its debutante ball, as the renowned African art fair, 1:54, and the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (Macaal) both launch in Marrakech the same week.

Macaal has many prints from contemporary African artists (Francois Xavier)

African art has blazed onto the cover of magazines and into the world’s glossiest galleries and apartments after decades of international irrelevance. As the influence of Chinese art has waned, contemporary African art fairs have popped up in New York, London and Paris, and African art exhibitions have been given prominence throughout Europe.

But an increasingly loud clamour is coming from the continent itself, as local artists and curators insist that museums and fairs dedicated to their work are also located on home turf.

“After raising the profile of African artists overseas, our long-term ambition was always to bring the focus back to the continent, so we could create a solid base on African soil,” says Touria El Glaoui, the founder of 1:54, which runs alongside Frieze in both London and New York.

From Addis Ababa to Johannesburg, African-based galleries are proliferating at an impressive rate thanks to a surge in profits and international media coverage. Last year, the spotlight was firmly on Cape Town due to the launch of Zeitz Mocaa – the world’s first dedicated contemporary African art museum – which cemented the beach city’s status as a cultural hub.

But in a continent of 54 countries and over one billion people, there is an urgent need for more than one major international art…

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