When Mariana Ibrahim opened her elegant, new three-story art gallery in Paris last September, she became one of the few black gallery owners to open a store in the French capital and dedicate the space to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.
Located in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, among other famous galleries and close to attractions such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre, the space contains otherworldly mixed media figures by Haitian American artist M. Florin Demosthenes and found collage images of Afro Latin American artist Clatias. In April, Ibrahim made his debut at the European show of the Ghanaian artist Amaako Boafowhich captures the beauty of Black Skin in whirling lush strokes.
The setting of the gallery in a fresh, airy new space, housed in a historic building done in the classic Hausman style, was of particular importance to her to emphasize the importance of less noticeable work. “When you come in, it evokes a certain idea,” she said in a telephone interview. “I really intended to have a prestigious space where you can place the art of the future.”
Prior to returning home to Paris, Ibrahim spent the last decade building his presence in the United States through galleries of the same name in Seattle and Chicago with an emphasis on African diaspora art. Over the past few years, American museums and galleries have made significant strides in presenting black artists, she said, while interest in the art market has also increased. But in Paris, despite France’s extensive colonial history with the continent, there are few galleries dedicated to artists of African heritage.
“This is alarming because we are in 2022, (in) France, a country with such a strong connection to the world at large, but (especially) to Africa and India, the Caribbean,” she said. “In the last five years, there have been more African artists in the United States who have attracted the attention of museums than ever in France in the last 50 years.”
In the upcoming CNN Originals show “The Nomad with Carlton McCoy,” in which the sommelier Carlton McCoy exploring the lesser-known side of famous cities and countries, Ibrahim joined him and artist Raphael Barantini for homemade food at Barantini’s studio in Saint-Denis, a Paris suburb. McCoy said in the episode that he noticed a “clear lack of prospects for black and brown” in the capital’s famous museums.
“In France, you face art, but you are exposed to the domination of culture over others,” Ibrahim told him in the episode. “What you see are their works about people like us.”
Ibrahim began collecting Barantini’s works in 2019, drawn to the personal connection she felt to his work. Barantini was a Frenchman, an Italian, and a Caribbean, and Ibrahim was related to the “hybridity” of his practice, in which he created silk-screen printing of heroic African figures into royal compositions that smelled of historical European paintings.
“People are constantly asking you to choose: what are you? Are you French, are you African?” Said Ibrahim. “I refuse to do that. I don’t want to choose. I want to be everyone. “
Although Ibrahim is a pioneer in bringing contemporary African diasporic art to Paris, she believes others will soon go.
Paris has “the right audience,” she noted. “That’s why I’m very, very optimistic about France. I really think Paris will be the capital of diversity.”
Here we asked Ibrahim to share the five works of art that remained in it.
The most impressive works of Mariana Ibrahim
Seydou Ke Ita “Untitled” (1958-59)
When Ibrahim noticed a poster in a Parisian bar advertising an exhibition of 20th-century photographer Seidu Katie, who ran a portrait studio in Bamako, Mali, when the city was transformed after colonial rule, it set her on a path to becoming a gallery owner. . The portrait depicts a man in an elegant white suit and spectacles in a thick frame, which delicately presents one flower to the viewer.
“The poster, the flower, the look reminded me of family photos,” she said. “It just brought me back to what I was very familiar with. I saw my uncle or a friend of my father’s holding this flower.”
Influenced by Kate, the first gallery of Ibrahim in Seattle featured works by his peer Malik Sidibé. She reasoned, “This image affected me to such an extent that I wanted to create a gallery.”
Tamara de Lempitskaya “The Miss in Gloves” (1930)
This luxurious, highly stylized painting by Polish art deco artist Tamara de Lempitskaya is one of Ibrahim’s favorites because she enjoys the simple pleasure of beauty. The woman in the photo peeks out from under a white wide-brimmed hat with matching gloves, shining in a green dress of precious tones and a bright red lip. “I know that the art world abandoned beauty in the 60’s … with minimalism,” she commented. she. “I love maximalism.”
De Lempica was also a rare female perspective in figurative painting, and Ibrahim appreciates the clarity of her gaze. “I’m haunted by this image of drapery and this woman in a green dress,” she said. “Everything is charged … Inflated.”
Arthur Jaffa “Love is a message, a message is death”. (2016)
This seven-and-a-half-minute video by artist and director Arthur Jaffa, set to Kanye West’s song with the gospel “Ultralight Beam,” is a tribute to the creative power of black Americans amid violence and bigotry. Weaving together the found videos, Jaffa creates a story of both collective uplift and despair.
“Every time I watch this video, it gives me energy that I can’t explain – energy to destroy and energy to restore, correct, change,” Ibrahim said. “It just gives you something that brings joy and pain with the same intensity.”
Monkey Gerresi, “Surprise” (2010)
The photos of Italian Senegalese multimedia artist Monkey Gerresi, which will be exhibited in Chicago later this year, are full of mystery influenced by Islamic mysticism.
As a woman born in Europe who converted to Islam, Geresi assimilated with African traditions, not the other way around. “She is the opposite of me,” Ibrahim said. “She adopted a different culture, changed her name, changed her religion … I found it really interesting and courageous.”
In “Surprise,” a levitating woman in dramatic but austere black-and-white attire looks down at two young children in white attire, the image radiating a sense of reverence. Speaking about Gerresi’s wider practice, Ibrahim said: “This is someone who is completely immersed in (African Muslim) culture and has just created this extraordinary work.”
Gustave Courbet, L’Origine du Monde (1866)
Ibrahim was a teenager when she first encountered a cropped, close-up oil painting of French artist Gustave Courbet depicting the vulva of a reclining woman, and she said she felt she “could not hide” from the work of art. “I’ve never seen a body like that,” she said.
After the painting was commissioned by Ottoman diplomats, it was handed over to private collectors, found again in an antique shop and looted during World War II, before eventually being auctioned off by psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who hid it behind a wooden sliding door. Since 1995, she has been exhibiting at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where Ibrahim finally saw the work for the first time in person last year. She believes that the work shows the impression of watching a work of art.
“Art should make you feel a little uncomfortable,” she said. “But you keep looking for it over and over and over again.”