French-Somali gallerist Mariane Ibrahim on the five works that changed her life

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

CNN Originals’ “Nomad with Carlton McCoy” series premieres May 1 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The first episode, shot in Paris, will feature Mariane Ibrahim.

When Mariane Ibrahim opened her sleek new three-storey art gallery in Paris last September, she became the first black gallerist to set up shop in the French capital and, according to the Franco-Somali art dealer, the first to devote himself to the exhibition of contemporary works. art from Africa and its diaspora.

Located in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, among other well-known galleries and close to landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre, the space showcased the otherworldly figures of the Haitian artist’s mixed media American M. Florine Démosthène and collages of found images by Afro Latino artist Clotilde Jiménez. In April, Ibrahim debuted in the European exhibition of Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo, who captures the beauty of dark skin in swirling, lush brushstrokes.

Mariane Ibrahim in the program “Nomade”.

The gallery setting, in a new light and airy space, located inside a historic building designed in the classic Haussmann style, was particularly meaningful to her in emphasizing the importance of less visible work. “It commands some contemplation, when you walk in,” she said in a phone interview. “I really intended to have a prestigious space, capable of hosting the art of the future.”

Prior to his return to Paris, Ibrahim spent the last decade building his presence in the United States through eponymous galleries in Seattle and Chicago, with a focus on African diaspora art. In recent years, American museums and galleries have made significant progress in representing black artists, she said, while art market interest has also increased. But in Paris, despite France’s long colonial history with the continent, there are no other galleries dedicated to artists of African descent.

Facade of Mariane Ibrahim Paris.

Facade of Mariane Ibrahim Paris. Credit: Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

“It’s disturbing, because we are in 2022, (in) France, a country which has such a strong link with the world in general, but (especially) with Africa, and the Indies, the Caribbean”, a- she declared. “There are more African artists who have come to the attention of museums…in the United States in the past five years than there have ever been in France in the past 50 years.”

In the upcoming CNN Originals show “Nomad with Carlton McCoy,” in which sommelier Carlton McCoy explores the hidden side of famous cities and countries, Ibrahim joined him and artist Raphaël Barontini for a home-cooked meal in the Barontini’s workshop in Saint-Denis, a suburb or “suburb” of Paris. McCoy said in the episode that he noticed “a distinct lack of black and brown perspectives” in the capital’s famous museums.

“In France, you are exposed to art, but you are exposed to the domination of one culture over others,” Ibrahim told her in the episode. “What you see are works of them by them on people like us.”

Mariane Ibrahim, Carlton McCoy and Raphaël Barontini on "Nomadic."

Mariane Ibrahim, Carlton McCoy and Raphaël Barontini on “Nomad”.

Ibrahim began collecting Barontini’s work in 2019, attracted by the personal connection she felt with her work. Barontini is French, Italian and Caribbean, and Ibrahim felt a kinship with the “hybridity” of his practice, in which he serigraphs heroic African figures into regal compositions evoking art-historical European paintings.

“People keep asking you to choose: what are you? Are you French, are you African? Ibrahim said. “I refuse to do this. I don’t want to choose. I want to be everything.”

Although Ibrahim is a pioneer in bringing contemporary art from the African diaspora to Paris, she believes others will soon follow.

Paris has “the right audience,” she noted. “That’s why I’m very, very optimistic for France. I think Paris is going to be the capital of diversity.”

Here we asked Ibrahim to share five works of art that stayed with her.

The most significant works of Mariane Ibrahim

Seydou Ke​​ïta “Untitled” (1958-59)

When Ibrahim spotted a poster in a Parisian bar promoting an exhibition featuring the work of 20th-century photographer Seydou Keïta, who ran a portrait studio in Bamako, Mali, as the city transformed after domination colonial, it put her on the path to becoming a gallerist. The portrait featured, against a patterned background, a man in a polished white suit and thick-rimmed glasses delicately presenting a single flower to the viewer.

Seydou Keita, "Untitled, 1958-59."

Seydou Keïta, “Untitled, 1958-59.” Credit: Seydou Keïta/SKPEAC/Jean Pigozzi African Art Collective

“The poster, the flower, the look reminded me of my family photos,” she said. “It just took me back to something that I knew very well. I saw my uncle or my dad’s friend holding this flower.”

Influenced by Keïta, Ibrahim’s first-ever gallery exhibition in Seattle featured the work of his peer Malick Sidibé. She reflected, “This image affected me so much that I wanted to create a gallery.”

Tamara de Lempicka “Young Woman with Gloves” (1930)

This lavish, highly stylized painting by Polish Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka is one of Ibrahim’s favorites because she savors the simple pleasure of beauty. The woman pictured peeks out from under a wide-brimmed white hat with matching gloves, resplendent in a jewel-toned green dress and a bright red lip. “I know the art world abandoned beauty in the 60s…with minimalism,” she commented. “I like maximalism.”

Tamara de Lempicka "Young woman with gloves."

Tamara de Lempicka, “Young Woman with Gloves”. Credit: Elena Aquila/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

De Lempicka was also a rare female perspective in figurative painting, and Ibrahim appreciated the clarity of her gaze. “I’m haunted by this image of the drapery and this woman in the green dress,” she said. “Everything is loaded… It’s overloaded.”

Arthur Jafa “Love is the message, the message is death.” (2016)

Set to Kanye West’s gospel-soaked track “Ultralight Beam,” this seven-and-a-half-minute video by artist and director Arthur Jafa is a tribute to the creative power of black Americans amid violence and bigotry. Weaving found video footage together, Jafa creates a narrative of both collective elation and despair.

“Every time I watch this video, it gives me an energy that I can’t explain – an energy to destroy and an energy to restore, to fix, to change,” Ibrahim said. “It just gives you something that brings joy and brings pain with the same intensity.”

Maimouna Guerressi, “Surprise” (2010)

The photographs of Italian Senegalese multimedia artist Maimouna Guerressi, which will exhibit at Ibrahim’s location in Chicago later this year, are tinged with mystery, influenced by Islamic mysticism.

Maimouna Warsi, "Surprise."

Maimouna Guerresi, “Surprise”. Credit: Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim

As a European-born woman who converted to Islam, Guerressi assimilated into African traditions instead of the other way around. “She’s the opposite of me,” Ibrahim said. “She took on another culture, changed her name, changed her religion…I found that really interesting and brave.”

In “Surprise”, a levitating woman in a dramatic yet austere black and white costume watches two young children in white robes, the image exudes a sense of holy reverence. Addressing Guerressi’s wider practice, Ibrahim said, “He’s someone who completely immersed himself in (African Muslim) culture and just created this amazing work.”

Gustave Courbet, “The Origin of the World” (1866)

Ibrahim was a teenager when she first encountered a cropped, close-up oil painting image by French artist Gustave Courbet of a woman’s vulva reclining, and she said she had the impression that she “couldn’t hide” from the work. “I’ve never seen a body displayed like this,” she said.

After the painting was commissioned by an Ottoman diplomat, it was passed on to private collectors, rediscovered in an antique shop, and looted during World War II before eventually being auctioned off to psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who hid behind a wooden sliding door. It has been on public display since 1995 at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where Ibrahim finally saw the work in person for the first time last year. She believes that work is indicative of the experience of seeing a work of art.

“Art is supposed to make you feel a little uncomfortable,” she said. “But you keep looking for it again and again and again.”


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