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Finding Art-World Success in Chicago, This French-Somali Gallerist Is Returning to Paris With a Red-Hot Roster—and a New Mission

Monday September 13, 2021


Mariane Ibrahim moved to the US 11 years ago, frustrated that, despite her native France’s long colonial history in Africa, there just wasn’t a market for contemporary artists of the continent’s diaspora. “People were not really open to the idea of diversity and Black artists,” says Ibrahim, who is of Somali heritage. “I needed to prove them wrong.”

Now, having built a much-watched gallery in Chicago, she’s expanding to Paris this month with her red-hot roster of artists—nearly all of them born in Africa or of African descent, including Amoako Boafo, Ayana V. Jackson and Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze.

“I’m in the intellectual and emotional place to come back to France and introduce them to progressive European collectors,” she says, noting she sees it as a “personal challenge” to bridge the multiple cultures in this time of social upheaval.

France, Ibrahim says, has long preferred traditional African art and “racialized” art over contemporary works from the continent. But the reception to a groundbreaking 2019 show at the Musée d’Orsay,

The Black Model, From Géricault to Matisse, which traced the importance of Black figures in the modernization of Western art from the early 19th century to the present day, convinced Ibrahim that the country finally has a new attitude and is embracing Black talents.

(The exhibition, curated by Denise Murrell, originated at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University.)

While real-estate hunting, Ibrahim first considered the Marais—an established gallery district, with Marian Goodman, David Zwirner and Thaddaeus Ropac among the neighbors—but opted instead for the Right Bank’s Avenue Matignon, where her new outpost is a 4,300-square-foot, three-floor space on the same short stretch as Christie’s, Skarstedt, White Cube, Perrotin and the future home of Sotheby’s, further cementing the area as a contemporary-art destination and Paris as the post-Brexit European capital of choice.

Ibrahim titled the inaugural exhibition, opening September 18, J’ai Deux Amours, or “I Have Two Loves,” after Josephine Baker’s signature song about adoring both Paris and the US; each artist will create a pair of works.

“I realized all of our artists have two places in their minds, and I am also from two places,” Ibrahim says. “They all have two loves that they navigate with.”


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