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On September 20, concurrent with the 8th edition of Expo Chicago, the Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (MIG) inaugurates its new space in the windy city with Ayana V. Jackson’s “Take Me to the Water.” The show is a comprehensive presentation of the artist’s work to date including her latest project, a series of self-portraits where she enacts “aquahumanoids” inspired by African Diasporic water spirits.
Though Jackson is known for her archivalist instinct in enacting lived histories, this new “memory work” will call on myth and speculative fiction to uncover, in the artist’s words, “what we have been taught to forget.”
MIG was founded in 2012 as an act of frustration. “When I started,” said Ibrahim, “contemporary African art was not part of institutions at all. There was no programming or dialogue around it except for in an archeological sense.”
In that void, MIG has made a name for itself as a home for contemporary African art with a diverse roster of Artists including Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, a South African artist who has recently received acclaim for her figurative work with the black body. And, with a special interest in young and emerging artists, the gallery is bringing a new edge to art acquisition giving the opportunity for artists and collectors to grow together.
We spoke with Ibrahim about the move, the next generation’s collectors, and the gallery’s first time presenting at Art Basel in Miami Beach.
WHITEWALL: What drew you to Chicago?
MARIANE IBRAHIM: I think the dynamic social and economic contexts really speaks to the true American experience. It’s a powerful and diverse metropolis with strong cultural institutions. This is the city of the Obamas and for me the historical cache of that alone is energetic.
At the end of the day, the vibrant and welcoming art scene made the decision to move to Chicago extremely easy. The whole community has been so open and we are excited to join the historic art district nextdoor to Monique Meloche, another gallery I respect.
WW: Tell us why you chose Ayana Jackson as the artist to introduce MIG to Chicago?
MI: I knew I wanted to defer to the African American Woman in this inaugural show. I think this country wouldn’t be what it is without labor, magic, and participation of the African American woman within society—culturally, economically, politically. And, to pay homage to that fact, I wanted to have an African American black woman present the direction of MIG in the new location, wherever it would be.
As soon as we decided on Chicago, Ayana came to mind as the artist. We didn’t even have a space yet!
It all came together with the happy coincidence that Ayana had been working on a new body of work that has become something truly monumental.
‘Take Me to the Water’ is a holistic survey of her work to date, and builds on the themes of individual and collective identity as a synthesis of lived history. However, this latest work, will incorporate fantasy and myth in order to fill in the missing points of a larger narrative of Black identity.
WW: MIG has become synonymous with contemporary African art but what does that label really mean?
MI: When I started the gallery in Seattle, it was really in response to an immediate frustration. There was no platform for young and emerging African artists. These artists are often seen as a ‘high-risk investment’ which feeds into a cycle underrepresentation.
At MIG we’ve represented artists of many backgrounds—from Liberia to Iran—we’ve always had a social and political message because of that.
For me it wasn’t about the continent itself, I was interested in Africa and the diaspora—the “Afro dash something else”—whether Brazilian, Cuban, or American. Essentially we are exploring what it means to have a ‘Black experience’ today and yesterday.
WW: Twenty percent of your collectors are now millennials, what is the biggest challenge for these collectors?
MI: There’s no substitute for establishing an organic connection with an artwork, but to do that you have to feel completely comfortable.
I hold a privileged position; I can enter art spaces and feel comfortable… like I belong. It’s a confidence that’s earned through experience, and that experience isn’t made available to everyone—especially younger generations. I want to democratize the process by taking time with young collectors so they feel absolutely at ease navigating those spaces.
WW: MIG is looking forward to its first Art Basel in Miami Beach presentation this December. What should we expect?
MI: We feel extremely honored for our first participation for Art Basel, especially being able to present a young painter in such an in depth manner. His name is Amoako Boafo, and he is a Ghanian artist based in Vienna who combines oil paints and pastels on canvas in captivating portraits of his everyday life. He’s offering new ways to view blackness and I’m excited for the audience to see.