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'I tend to be fascinated by otherness': Mariane Ibrahim Abdi On Representing The Underrepresented


Sunday March 5, 2017
By Ann Binlot


Mariane Ibrahim Abdi (Mariane Ibrahim Gallery)


The accolades just keep coming for the Somali-born, Seattle-based gallerist Mariane Ibrahim Abdi, whose program creates an American platform for African artists. The dealer just took the inaugural Presents Booth Prize, which awards $10,000 to the strongest booth in the sector, which is meant to cultivate emerging galleries. The gallerist presented a solo booth of work by Ghanaian-German artist Zohra Opoku, who showed textile and photographic works that looked at her father’s roots as a Ghanaian royal. Mariane Ibrahim Gallery will be exhibiting through March 5 at the Armory Show in New York. I quizzed the dealer before the fair about the challenges she faces in the art industry and why the world needs to pay attention to African art.

Your gallery's name is an acronym for your initials, and I’ve also read that it’s an acronym for Missing in Art. What is missing in art these days?

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The previous acronym stood for my name, Mariane Ibrahim Abdi. And paradoxically, it also is famous acronym evoking missing and absence, I referred my gallery as one who missed in space and time, presenting work that was not visible. Some international art is missing, artists from the southern hemisphere in general.  There should be more visibility for artists from certain regions, I tend to be fascinated by otherness.  I am not comfortable with the current myopic perception of contemporary art in other continents, there is always a notion of nationality involved. Today when we talk about contemporary art praised western-centric aesthetics.

What are the pros and cons of being in Seattle?

Seattle is beautiful and progressive city. It’s growing in me more and more. The error is to try to make Seattle, a Paris or New York. It has its own characteristics. There is not much diversity but have one the most approachable, educated and curious community. As contrary as it sounds, it is a city I enjoy to leave and come back to. I am part of Seattle, and Seattle is part of me now. As I travel a lot to East Coast, Europe and Africa, it is the far from the regions I travel to.

Why did you open with a show of work by Malick Sidibé?

Seattle is quasi absent from the art world map, let alone the national art marketplace. I have been collected Malick Sidibe as he was the eyewitness of a generation of young Africans celebrated the post-independence era. My parents lived through that, it was an exhilarating time.  But also these photographs are present in Africa, I have stylized photographs of my mother and aunties. It was a personal show. I wanted to launch the gallery with a strong, and world famous artist.


Mariane Ibrahim Gallery's Armory Show booth (Mariane Ibrahim Gallery)

Tell me about your roster. How do you select your artists? What excites you about their work?

The artists I work with are diverse. I don't go through an administrative type of select. It is very organic. But it's always love at first sight. If is not reciprocal, I wait. I don't have a lot of pressures. I am in control of my business. I own the risks and the success.  I am particularly excited when the artists go beyond the expected line.

What would you like the art world to know about African artists?

Africa was the birthplace of mankind. Like it not, you will be back.

Why is it beneficial to show at the Armory?

The Armory is world class art fair. It attracts the best dealers, artists and collectors. It offers a great visibility. I am extremely honored and privileged to be part.

What are the challenges of being a black gallerist?

The art world is polarized, I feel women are still under represented.  I am very excited to add my voice as a black, woman dealer.



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