When Marianne Ibrahim opened her elegant new three-story art gallery in Paris last September, it became the first black gallery to set up shop in the French capital and, according to the French Somali art dealer, was the first dedicated to showcasing contemporary art. Art from Africa and its diaspora.
Marian Ibrahim on “Nomad”.
The gallery setting, in a new, airy space, within a historic building designed in the classic Haussmann style, was especially meaningful to her to emphasize the importance of the lesser-viewed work. “It takes a certain thought, when you go in,” she said in a phone interview. “I was really intending to have a prestigious space, capable of hosting the art of the future.”
Prior to her return to Paris, Ibrahim had spent the past decade building her presence in the United States through her namesake galleries in Seattle and Chicago, focusing on the art of the African diaspora. Over the past few years, American museums and galleries have made great strides in representing black artists, she said, while interest in the art market has also increased. 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 Marianne Ibrahim, Paris. credit: Marian Ibrahim Gallery Courtesy of
“It’s concerning, because in 2022, (in) France, a country that has such a strong connection to the world in general, but (in particular) to Africa, the Indies, the Caribbean,” she said. “There are more African artists who have received museum attention… in the United States in the past five years than at any time in France in the past 50 years.”
Ibrahim told him in the episode: “In France you are exposed to art, but you are subjected to the domination of a culture over others.” “What you see is their actions about people like us.”
Marianne Abraham, Carlton McCoy and Raphael Barontini in “Nomad”.
Ibrahim began collecting Barontini’s work in 2019, drawn to the personal connection she felt with his work. A French, Italian, and Caribbean Barontian, Ibrahim felt akin to a “hybridization” of his practice, printing heroic African figures with silk in royal compositions imbued with the art of historical European painting.
“People are constantly asking you to choose: What are you? Are you French, are you African?” Ibrahim said. “I refuse to do that. I don’t want to choose. I want to be my everything.”
Although Ibrahim is a pioneer in bringing contemporary African diaspora art to Paris, she believes others will soon follow.
She noted that Paris had “the right audience”. “That’s why I’m so optimistic about France. I think Paris will be the capital of diversity.”
Here, we asked Ibrahim to share five artworks that she’s left with.
Marian Ibrahim’s Most Influential Artworks
Seidou Ki Ota “Untitled” (1958-59)
When Ibrahim spotted a poster in a Parisian bistro promoting an exhibition featuring the work of 20th-century photographer Seydou Keita, who ran a portrait studio in Bamako, Mali, where the city was transformed after colonial rule, she put her on the right track to become a gallerist. The image featured, on a patterned background, a man in a polished white suit and thick-rimmed glasses, delicately presenting a single flower to the viewer.
Seydou Keita, “Untitled, 1958-59.” credit: Seydou Keïta / SKPEAC / Jean Pigozzi . African Art Collection
“The poster, the flower, the look reminded me of my family photos,” she said. “It brought me back to something I was familiar with. I would see my uncle or my father’s friend holding this flower.”
Keita was influenced by Ibrahim’s first gallery show in Seattle, featuring the work of his counterpart Malik Sidibe. “This picture has affected me so much that I want to start an exhibition,” she said.
Tamara de Lempica, “Young Lady Wearing Gloves” (1930)
This lavish and highly stylized painting by Polish Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka is one of Ibrahim’s favorite paintings as she enjoys the simple pleasures of beauty. The woman pictured shimmering from beneath a white wide-brimmed hat with matching gloves, stunned in a jewel-green dress and a bright red lip. “I know the art world gave up on beauty in the ’60s…minimalism,” she commented. “I love extremism.”
Tamara de Lempica, “Young Lady Wearing Gloves.” credit: Elena Aquila / Pacific Press / Light Rocket / Getty Images
De Lempicka was also a rare female perspective in figurative painting, and Ibrahim appreciates the clarity of her gaze. “I am haunted by this picture of the canopy and this woman in the green dress,” she said. “Everything is charged… It is too charged.”
Arthur Jaffe “Love is the message, the message is death.” (2016)
Set on the gospel-infused Kanye West track “Ultralight Beam,” this seven-and-a-half-minute video by artist and director Arthur Jaffa is a tribute to the creative power of black Americans amid violence and intolerance. Weaving together video footage, Jafa creates a narrative of collective joy and despair.
“Every time I watch this video, it just gives me energy that I can’t explain – energy to destroy, energy to restore, repair, change,” Ibrahim said. “It gives you something that brings joy and brings you pain with the same intensity.”
Maimunah Quresi, “Surprise” (2010)
The portraits of Italian-Senegalese multi-media artist Maimouna Grassi, which will be exhibited at the Abraham location in Chicago later this year, are tinged with mystery, influenced by Islamic mysticism.
Mamouna Gracey is a surprise. credit: Courtesy of Marian Ibrahim
As a European-born woman who converted to Islam, El Gherissi immersed herself in African traditions rather than the other way around. “It’s the opposite of me,” Ibrahim said. “She adopted another culture, changed her name, changed her religion…I found that really interesting and brave.”
In “Surprise,” a woman in a dramatic black and white robe stares at two young children dressed in white robes, the image exuding a sense of sacred reverence. Speaking of the practice of the elder Guerressi, Ibrahim said: “This is someone who has completely immersed myself in (African Muslim) culture and has just created this extraordinary work.”
Gustave Courbet, “L’Origine du Monde” (1866)
Ibrahim was in her teens when she first came across a close-up of a cut-up oil painting by French artist Gustave Courbet of a reclining woman’s vulva, and said she felt she “couldn’t hide” from the artwork. “I’ve never seen a body displayed in this way,” she said.
After an Ottoman diplomat ordered the painting, it was passed around private collectors, rediscovered in an antiques store, and looted during World War II before it was finally sold at auction to psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who kept it hidden behind a sliding wooden door. It has been shown to the public since 1995 at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where Ibrahim saw the work in person for the first time last year. You feel that the work signifies the experience of viewing a work of art.
“Art is supposed to make you feel a little bit uncomfortable,” she said. “But you keep looking for that over and over again.”