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Mariane Ibrahim established her first gallery a decade ago in Seattle. Her mission then, as it is now, was to provide a platform for voices from the African diaspora and beyond. As the art world at large and its institutions finally woke up to work made by artists of that diaspora—names like Amoako Boafo, Zohra Opoku, and Ayana V. Jackson—her program has been steadfast in its original commitment. After moving the gallery to Chicago in 2019, Ibrahim opened an additional space in Paris on Avenue Matignon.
Whitewall spoke with Ibrahim about following her intuition, even when it put her at odds with the expectations of the art market, and even her own.
WHITEWALL: You’ve said that you were interested in opening galleries outside of markets that weren’t overly saturated. Why?
MARIANE IBRAHIM: Avenue Matignon has a historical cachet and has been for a long time the epicenter of secondary market and masters of modern art dealing. Contemporary galleries have opened spaces since our opening, and clearly the energy is continuing to thrive. I have always wanted the gallery to be a part of something that has a bright future, and one we can be a meaningful part of.
WW: You’ve recently added names like Carmen Neely and Yukimasa Ida to the gallery’s roster. What makes an artist a good fit for you?
MI: An artist who can see that their illumination and success will uplift more than just themselves. An artist who transcends a singular way of expression. A timelessness must be fusing all of their creative genius.
WW: You take care in building relationships with your artists, with nurturing their career. People like Clotilde Jiménez and Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze worked with you for years before their first solo show. Can you tell us about that dynamic and how you see your role as their gallerist in shaping their career and trajectory?
MI: I am patient. I see relationships, shows, and ways of working and operating all as a continuum of an energy that will define a career, and the gallery itself. I am interested in nurturing a career first and foremost, because this is what builds the foundation of a successful exhibition and a body of work. The trajectory will follow, if we do our job well, as dealer and artist. The relationship needs to be in sync, in my opinion, which requires a specific closeness.
I think the art world was ready to give space to Black artists in general. Since the creation of the gallery, our program has not changed, but the world has shifted. And the institutions reflected on these changes, and some have adapted their program to fit these new paradigms. It was particularly visible in the U.S. Undoubtedly, Europe was going to be next to reconsider the relevance and importance of the artists from the African diaspora. How could not include these artists in your program?
Galleries are here to support the artists and vocalize their missions. France can play a pivotal role in bringing a wider exposure. I persist to say that Paris will be the capital of cultural and artistic diversity.
WW: Do you see yourself as an advocate for your artists? How does that play out in the day-to-to day representation of them?
MI: Being resilient in your vision, and not swaying from your direction, regardless of trends, and exterior opinions. Keeping the artists’s future as the ultimate mark of importance. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler or Leo Castelli are my historical mentors. Marian Goodman is a living legend to me.
WW: You opened a Paris location of the gallery last year. What prompted the expansion, and over a year out, how has this footprint impacted your mission?
MI: First, let’s not forget I left Paris. I am a Parisian. It was expected, but I did not expect so soon. Our dedication to cultivating strong connections between art scenes in the United States and in Europe—thus creating the opportunity for collectors to engage with artists in closer proximity—was a big part of the intention for Paris. Paris is being re-enchanted, maybe in part, as you mentioned because of Brexit, which will destabilize London as the historical art center in Europe. Paris remains the favorite destination of collectors.
WW: Your career in the arts began outside of contemporary art, in a more cultural/historic sphere, prompted by an urge to preserve and protect Somalian cultural history. How do you think that shaped the way you look at the contemporary art world?
MI: I am an East African woman by tradition, and I am more of a marathoner. A fast track is not in my interest.
What matters the most to me is the journey, the race, more than the outcome. With artists, I treasure the long-term relationships. That’s the only way to grow. Without commitments, nothing can be achieved.