AFTER SEVEN YEARS in Seattle, Mariane Ibrahim has moved her eponymous gallery to Chicago. The new gallery opens next month with an inaugural exhibition dedicated to Ayana V. Jackson, an American artist whose photography examines the construction of identity. Titled “Take Me to the Water,” the presentation will feature a new series of large-scale works. The grand opening is Sept. 20, scheduled to coincide with major art and design shows in the city—EXPO Chicago and the Chicago Architecture Biennial.


AYANA V. JACKSON, “Sea Lion,” 2019. | © Ayana V. Jackson, Courtesy Mariane Ibrahim Gallery


Since opening her gallery in 2012, Ibrahim has focused primarily on African artists and figures from the wider diaspora. Her first exhibition featured black-and-white portraits by Malian photographer Malick Sidibé (1925-2016). Since then, her programming has concentrated on a new generation of emerging artists, a strategy that reflects Ibrahim’s early interests as a collector and the direction of the art market.

The gallery’s tenure has coincided with growing international awareness and demand for African contemporary art. The artists she works with explore issues of identity, race, gender, and politics, the formalities of painting and unique approaches to photography.

In addition to mounting gallery exhibitions in Seattle, Ibrahim has regularly participated in high-profile art fairs, including the 1-54 Contemporary Art Fair in London, providing an international platform for her up-and-coming artists and exposure to major collectors and museum curators.

The art fair strategy has paid off. With recognition of emerging African artists on the rise, Mariane Ibrahim stands out as one of the few U.S.-based galleries representing their work. The gallery’s presentations and the artists she shows are nearly always highlighted in art press coverage of the events and she usually reports selling out her entire booth before the fairs close. Nearly exclusively, the gallery owner has shown female African artists.

The art fair strategy has paid off. With recognition of emerging African artists on the rise, Mariane Ibrahim stands as one of the few U.S.-based galleries representing their work.

In 2017, Ibrahim won the Armory Show’s first-ever Presents booth prize recognizing her exhibition with Zohra Opoku, an artist of German and Ghanaian descent whose photographic and textile works explore history and culture, family connections and geographic dispersions.

The $10,000 prize eliminated the fee Ibrahim paid for her booth. The Presents section of the New York art fair is devoted to young galleries less than a decade old showcasing recent work by emerging artists.

In subsequent years at the Armory Show, the gallery has shown work by Lina Iris Viktor (2018), the British-Liberian conceptual artist who works across photography, performance, and painting using a limited color palette punctuated by gold, and Haitian-American artist Florine Démosthène (2019), whose work considers femininity, sensuality and the fetishization of the black body.

Ibrahim brings work by artists largely unfamiliar to art fair audiences and presents them in bold contexts that are hard to miss in a sea of mostly white cubes. At the Armory Show, Viktor’s installation was framed by gold walls and black laser cut screens. For presenting Démosthène’s mixed-media collages, the gallery chose bright green walls with architectural molding. Last year, a Forbes headline declared, “Mariane Ibrahim Changes The Art World One Armory Show At A Time.”

At Frieze New York in May, Ibrahim displayed recent paintings by Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi on pink walls. Inspired by elite gymnastics, the American-born South African artist, explored “one of the most personally affecting narratives in the history of the sport …the precarious position of the Black body in traditionally white spaces.” This fall, Ibrahim is headed to FIAC and Paris Photo.


AYANA V. JACKSON, “Double Goddess … A Sighting in the Abyss,” 2019. | © Ayana V. Jackson, Courtesy Mariane Ibrahim Gallery


IN JANUARY, Ibrahim presented a solo show with Jackson at Untitled in San Francisco. Then in February, the gallery announced it was relocating to Chicago. Jackson’s inaugural exhibition at the new gallery is a survey.

Born in New Jersey, the Spelman College graduate divides her time between Johannesburg, New York and Paris. Her self portraits consider black representation in late 19th and early 20th century photography and the role of the medium in constructing identity. According to the gallery’s description, the selection of portraits and movement studies in the exhibition will “offer a sense of the breadth of her practice, while at the same time taking her into new territories with regard to the range of her performances.”

The grand opening coincides with the gallery’s participation in EXPO Chicago, where Ibrahim is mounting a group show featuring, among other artists, Ghanaian-born, Vienna-based Amoako Boafo, who is known for his Black Diaspora portraits.

Ibrahim’s background is Somalian and French. Her husband’s job at Boeing brought her to Seattle in 2010. When she announced the move to Chicago, she told ARTnews that starting her gallery in Seattle, away from major art centers, gave her the space to develop her program and evolve. Chicago, Ibrahim said, made her feel like she was in America for the first time. “New York is so international—it’s its own country, in a way—but in Chicago I felt like, This is the capital of America, with all its history and architecture and economy and politics,” she said.

The new gallery is located in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood on N. Paulina Street, where Ibrahim counts Monique Meloche, Rhona Hoffman, and Richard Gray galleries among her neighbors. These galleries and their owners are deeply rooted in the Chicago art scene and each of their rosters include a number of African American artists. CT


FIND MORE about Mariane Ibrahim Gallery on its website

READ MORE the beginnings of Mariane Ibrahim gallery in Seattle Magazine


FIND MORE about Ayana V. Jackson on her website


“African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth” combines Ayana V. Jackson’s photographic portraits with writings by Marco Villalobos.


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