L. E. Brown moved to Santa Fe after studying contemporary Middle Eastern art in Turkey and California. Inspired to relocate to the city due to its prolific art scene, she was quickly confronted with its lack of diversity and prompted to open East of West. “Racism, bigotry and Islamophobia are such pervasive themes throughout America,” says Brown. “I figured that I should help to shift negative perceptions surrounding people and regions that are too frequently stereotyped, demonised, or ‘othered’."
Housed in a refurbished warehouse in the Siler Arts District, East of West is spread across two floors. In addition to both permanent and temporary exhibition galleries, there is also a room dedicated to video installation, a reading room and a space that is currently being prepared for use as a studio for artists in residence. “I have primarily had a positive response,” says Brown, “I think these voices of artists from across the world is something that Santa Fe wants to support – especially after our most recent election. The community really supports the gallery, and although I do occasionally get some racist comments, it is greatly outweighed by the positive.” Before Brown signed the lease, the building had previously been used as a shop for fitting breathalysers in cars.
Nasreen Shaikh Jamal Al Lail. Abstract VI. Mixed media on paper. 59.4x41.9cm. Courtesy of the artist.
Despite the drastic change in function, after just one month the space had been converted into a gallery for exhibition. “I tore down and built new walls, rewired the electrical set up, dry-walled, taped, primed and painted on an extremely limited budget,” says Brown, “I worked nearly 20 hours a day to finish construction and make it into a gallery.” The hard work paid off though, and since opening in December 2017, East of West has exhibited work by Maha Alasaker, Nasreen Shaikh Jamal al Lail and Shaghayegh Cyrous. The gallery’s next exhibition A River Flowing: Contemporary Women Artists from the Middle East and Beyond will focus on women artists from the Middle East and its surrounding regions. Titled after a quote from Maya Angelou, the show will loosely focus on shared experiences surrounding womanhood and include an immersive installation based on a Riad.
Zahra Marwan. Bathers. Watercolor and ink on paper. 27.9x38.1cm. Courtesy of the artist.
The curatorial aspect of East of West has allowed Brown to expand on her past experience working in galleries across California and Santa Fe. “They were all amazing and supportive spaces, and would let me curate rooms and let me explore my voice,” she says, “Learning how to curate was mostly based on trial and error.” Brown tries to talk to her artists a few times a month to let them know when new clients come in and to update them on events and give advice on what grants to apply for.
“In a perfect world, I'd be able to support them all to do artist residencies at the gallery, produce books of their work and commission big installations. But for now, I try to support them in any way I can," she says, “This venture wouldn't be possible without them and their belief in the gallery. I truly can't thank them enough or adequately express how much I love their work, and I feel so incredibly blessed that I can share it with my community.” Talking about her hopes for the future, Brown simply says, “[I want] to keep the doors open and the lights on! And to keep bringing art to Santa Fe that this city hasn’t seen.”
A River Flowing: Contemporary Women Artists from the Middle East and Beyond will be on display at East of West Gallery till April 8. Find out more about the gallery's latest and upcoming exhibitions on eastofwestonline.com/