Somali-French gallery owner Mariane Ibrahim on the five works of art that changed her life

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

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

When Mariane Ibrahim opened her elegant new three-storey art gallery in Paris last September, she became the first black gallery owner to settle in the French capital and, according to the Somali-French art dealer, the first to focus on showing contemporary art. from Africa and its diaspora.

Located in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, alongside other well-known galleries and close to landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre, the space features the otherworldly mixed-media figures of Haitian American artist M. Florine Démosthène and found-image collages by Afro shown. Latino artist Clotilde Jiménez. In April, Ibrahim debuted Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo’s European show, which captures the beauty of black skin in swirling, luscious brushstrokes.

Mariane Ibrahim in the show “Nomad.”

The gallery’s setting, in a fresh, airy new space, housed in a historic building designed in classical Haussmann style, was particularly important to her to underline the importance of the lesser-seen work. “It forces a certain contemplation when you enter,” she said in a telephone interview. “My intention was really to have a prestigious space that can house the art of the future.”

Before returning to Paris, Ibrahim has spent the last ten years building her presence in the US through eponymous galleries in Seattle and Chicago, with a focus on African diaspora art. In recent years, American museums and galleries have made significant strides in representing black artists, she said, while interest in the art market has also grown. But in Paris, despite France’s extensive colonial history with the continent, there are no other galleries dedicated to artists of African heritage.

Facade of Mariane Ibrahim Paris.

Facade of Mariane Ibrahim Paris. Credit: Thanks to Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

“It’s troubling because in 2022, (in) France, we’re a country with such a strong connection to the world in general, but (especially) to Africa and India, the Caribbean,” she said. “There are more African artists who have received museum attention… in the US in the last five years than at any time in France in the past 50 years.”

On the upcoming CNN Originals show “Nomad with Carlton McCoy,” in which sommelier Carlton McCoy explores the lesser-seen side of famous cities and countries, Ibrahim joined him and artist Raphaël Barontini for a home-cooked meal at Barontini’s studio in suburban Saint-Denis. or “banlieue” of Paris. McCoy said in the episode that he had noticed “an obvious 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 a culture over others,” Ibrahim told him in the episode. “What you see are works by them about people like us.”

Mariane Ibrahim, Carlton McCoy and Raphaël Barontini op "Nomad."

Mariane Ibrahim, Carlton McCoy and Raphaël Barontini on ‘Nomad’.

Ibrahim started collecting Barontini’s work in 2019, attracted by the personal connection she felt with his work. Barontini is French, Italian and Caribbean, and Ibrahim felt an affinity with the “hybridity” of his practice, in which he screen-printed heroic African figures into regal compositions reminiscent of art-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 everything.”

While Ibrahim is a pioneer in bringing contemporary African diasporic art to Paris, she believes others will soon follow.

Paris has “the right audience,” she noted. “That’s why I’m very, very optimistic about France. I really think that Paris will become the capital of diversity.”

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

The most impressive works of art by Mariane Ibrahim

Seydou Keita “Untitled” (1958-1959)

When Ibrahim saw a poster in a Parisian bar promoting an exhibition featuring the work of 20th-century photographer Seydou Keïta, who had a portrait studio in Bamako, Mali, as the city transformed after colonial rule, it set her on the map. track to a gallery owner. The portrait featured, against a patterned background, a man in a gleaming white suit and thick-rimmed spectacles that delicately presented the viewer with a single flower.

Seydou Keita, "Untitled, 1958-1959."

Seydou Keita, “Untitled, 1958-1959.” Credit: Seydou Keita/SKPEAC/The Jean Pigozzi African Art Collective

“The poster, the flower, the look reminded me of my family photos,” she said. “It just brought me back to something I was very familiar with. I saw my uncle or my father’s friend holding this flower.”

Influenced by Keïta, Ibrahim’s first-ever gallery show in Seattle showcased the work of his colleague Malick Sidibé. She reflected, “That image got me to the point of wanting to start a gallery.”

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

This opulent, highly stylized painting by Polish Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka is one of Ibrahim’s favorites because it relishes the simple pleasure of beauty. The woman depicted peers out from beneath a white wide-brimmed hat and matching gloves, resplendent in a jewel-toned green dress and bright red lip. “I know the art world gave up beauty in the 60s…with minimalism,” she noted. “I like maximalism.”

Tamara de Lempicka, "Young lady with gloves."

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

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

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

This seven-and-a-half-minute video from artist and director Arthur Jafa pays tribute to the creative power of black Americans in the midst of violence and bigotry. By interweaving found video images, Jafa creates a story of both collective elation and despair.

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

Maimouna Guerressi, “Surprise” (2010)

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

Maimouna Warsi, "Surprise."

Maimouna Guerresi, “Surprise.” Credit: Thanks to Mariane Ibrahim

As a European-born woman who converted to Islam, Guerressi assimilated with African traditions rather than the other way around. “She’s the opposite of me,” Ibrahim said. “She adopted a different culture, changed her name, changed her religion…I thought that was really interesting and brave.”

In ‘Surprise’ a floating woman in dramatic but austere black and white clothing gazes down at two young children in white robes, the image conveys a sense of sacred reverence. Ibrahim told Guerressi’s larger practice, “This is someone who has completely immersed himself in (African Muslim) culture and has just created this extraordinary body of work.”

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

Ibrahim was a teenager when she first came across a depiction of French artist Gustave Courbet’s cropped, close-up oil painting of the vulva of a reclining woman, and she said she felt she “couldn’t hide” from it. artwork. “I’ve never shown a body like that before,” 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 finally being sold at auction to psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who hid it behind a wooden sliding door. . It has been on display to the public since 1995 at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where Ibrahim finally saw the work for the first time last year. She believes that the work is indicative of the experience of viewing a work of art.

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

Leave a Comment