In the spring of 2019, acclaimed curator Okwui Enwezor died from an ongoing battle with cancer. Born in Nigeria, Enwezor served as the first non-European creative director of documenta, the international exhibition of contemporary art held in Kassel, Germany every five years. Though brilliant as a curator and writer, Enwezor’s most integral contributions to the art field often derived from his desire to create global platforms for art and culture, breaking Euro-centric assumptions and encouraging artists to explore multicultural and geographically diverse practices and landscapes.
“Mr Okwui Enwezor who left us too soon, was a remarkable visionaire,” says Mariane Ibrahim. “The centrality of contemporary art in the Western countries is evident, and at this stage inevitable. I adhere to Mr. Enwezor’s commentary, art must be dispersed in a global format. It is also important that the narrative and the integrity of the work be preserved wherever it is displayed. More importantly, the artists must be free to navigate in all platforms. Art platforms should also be decentralized and in perpetual movement, not grounded in a particular setting or geography. I believe there is truly an art market for the African Artists everywhere in the world.”
A rendering of the exterior of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in Chicago
Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Chicago
Ibrahim, who opened her gallery in Seattle in 2012, has fostered the careers of an ambitious roster of young artists and bridged the gap between major art institutions and fairs in the US and Europe and a geographic region often underrepresented in contemporary art. In September 2019 she is packing up her bags and moving to a new space in Chicago, a decision that will likely have an effect not only on the art community there, but the discourse surrounding contemporary African art throughout the US. “Chicago has been on the gallery’s horizon for quite some time,” said Ibrahim. “The community represents the quintessential kind of artistic, cultural and architectural backdrop we are eager to which contribute. The attraction to the creative landscape in Chicago is its diverse artistic community, which is a rarity in the US, forever emulating an authentic American experience in terms of architecture and history.”
Debuting in the city’s West Town gallery district, Ibrahim will be in close proximity to the spaces of some of Chicago’s most internationally recognised gallerists, including Rhona Hoffman, Richard Gray, and Monique Meloche, many whom have been close colleagues of Ibrahim. The 500-square-foot gallery will take on the aesthetic design of the neighbourhood, mixing metal and brickwork in a manner that is both open and transparent, while staying true to the city’s iconic architectural tradition. Its opening will also coincide with EXPO Chicago: Chicago’s International Exposition of Contemporary and Modern Art and The Chicago Architecture Biennial.
Ibrahim is prepared to engage both sides of Chicago’s art community, international and local. “Our programme will continue to support international emerging artists and we will continue to reflect on the role of the artist, the gallery as a catalyst for their commentary on social, economic and racial disparities,” she says.
While transition is always challenging, Ibrahim seems to embrace the situation in a way that appears not only advantageous for the sustainability of her own gallery practice, but indicative of the keen perspectives needed to drive contemporary art towards more globally expansive and meaningful sightlines.
A rendering of the interior of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in Chicago
Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Chicago
Considering the gallery as a transitory yet foundational space provides a moment to consider how communities both local and abroad interact. How might the presence of African and diasporic artists influence the way local artists perceive geographic shifts in their own city? How might the presence of international artists in an “authentically American” city like Chicago frame regional concerns within global contexts? Ibrahim’s desire and understanding of the need for a diverse art market and acute sense of the ecosystems in which artists can collaborate places her in a position to draw borders closer. Her global approach and presence brings together viewpoints that have become increasingly disparate but integral in the US and abroad.
As in Seattle, exhibitions in Chicago will continue to present the work of the emerging artists Ibrahim has championed. An example is the gallery’s inaugural exhibition Ayana V. Jackson: Take me to the Water, which builds on the artist’s alluring photographic practice and offers an opportunity to witness the career of an artist that has developed under Ibrahim’s direction. Jackson, like many of the artists in Ibrahim’s roster challenge perceptions of identity, whether historical or geographic, often through the lens of portraiture. Clearly, Ibrahim’s new space will not only serve as a paradigm for global art practice and exchange, but will stand as a resource for continued exploration of such horizons that will be welcomed into Chicago with open arms.
Mariane Ibrahim Gallery will open in Chicago on 20 September with its inaugural exhibition