Growing up, my father's office was in Asia and for many years our dinner guests often reflected that. I can recall a night when I was 12 and engaged in a conversation with my father, my "Uncle" Ani and my "Uncle" Suhaimi. I recognized this was special -- that I got to share and learn from so many interesting people in my parents' lives. There were many themes discussed, but the one that became part of my ethos is the importance of giving back -- to people or institutions -- in an effort to cultivate the next generation. That same ethos has informed my profession as a gallerist. It's the reason I work with emerging artists, supporting and laying the foundation to build their careers. The only way I know how to get out of the bed in the morning is to do something I truly believe in and that gives meaning to my life. Prior to 2008 I had never thought to open an art gallery. My attendance at Art Basel Miami Beach 2008 planted that seed. It was just after the economic crash and the subsequent art bubble burst. Someone had described the prevailing mood like a sinking feeling akin to the Titanic. To most people it was not the ideal time to start a new gallery. Luckily, I did not seek their counsel.
In the wake of Art Basel Miami Beach, my now business partner Amelia Abdullahsani came across an article by J.J. Charlesworth that we took as a call to arms -- that artists weren't going to stop creating and that austerely pulling back from supporting artists was not the correct reaction to the crash. We felt we had better get creative and rebuild those systems of support. We started thinking about a space that was not only about viewership but also about collaboration, creation and exchange.
We were inspired by the recent times in our history that stimulated incredible periods of artistic and creative exchange. We wanted to replicate the Salons of Paris of the early 1900s where a diverse community of creatives came together to exchange news and ideas. We wanted to transport ourselves to 1950s New York when Happenings popped up, and dancers, visual artists, and artists of other art forms collaborated. In this spirit, Amelia and I began to build our dream, our now two-year-old Lower East Side (LES) New York City art gallery, Lu Magnus.
Our primary focus is the work we do with emerging artists, giving them a platform from which they can share their vision and ideas with the public. An incubator, we encourage them to use our space as a blank canvas, though our 18-foot ceilings can be a bit of a challenge. At this stage in their career they have exhibited quite extensively, in the U.S. and internationally, have received impressive residencies and grants, and are ready to break out. These artists and their work are the reasons Amelia and I enjoy the difficult endeavor of building our own business. It may sound idealistic, but good art can transform. That I may learn more about this world and myself or gain greater meaning in my life from seeing and feeling something I never have seen or felt before and to share it with others is the reason I do what I do.
We set out to actively engage the next generation of collectors. We've hosted intimate artist talks -- salons -- with Lu Magnus artists such as Fawad Khan and Jonathan Allen. During their solo exhibitions, they answered questions about their exhibitions on view and spoke about the individual works -- an insider's view akin to the visits gallerists have with artists in their studios. Gallerists enjoy this privilege, and we wanted to share this with our community. Expanding upon the idea of Lu Magnus as an incubator for cross-collaborations, Jonathan Allen collaborated with Joe Pan of Brooklyn Arts Press to co-curate an evening of readings of original works of fiction by young writers. During the run of his show, we also hosted a performance -- a collaboration between Allen and his wife, dancer and choreographer Joanna Kotze. They were inspired after their travels to France, where they rehearsed and performed with choreographer Kimberly Baritosk, a performance that debuted in the U.S. at Danspace Project for which they received a write-up in the the New York Times.
Through the eyes and the work of artists, we can learn more, question more and understand more of the world around us. As a young entrepreneur in the early stage of my business, I am not able to give as much as I'd like to monetarily; instead I give my time and effort. I serve on the University of Virginia's museum advisory board where I'm working with a group of fellow alumni to create a NYC-based UVA collectors group, the Mad Toms, which will directly support and raise awareness for this budding art museum and its programming. Most recently I was asked to serve on the advisory board for the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) at the Springside Chestnut Hill (SCH) Academy in Philadelphia. Although I have no direct ties to the city, I was drawn to the idea of mentoring high school students, especially those with an interest in entrepreneurship. Building a business can be a lonely and difficult path, but young students with an entrepreneurial spirit could benefit greatly from an opportunity to jumpstart the development of skills required to start and lead a successful business. Richard Hayne, the founder of Urban Outfitters supports this and has given a significant donation to fuel the current programming for CEL at SCH Academy.
I had my most formative year at the age of 16 while enrolled in School Year Abroad in Rennes, France. I moved to a country where I didn't have any family or friends. I knew no one who had studied abroad before me and lived with a foreign family that spoke little English. I took five classes in a language I didn't speak and never could have imagined how rewarding and challenging the year would be. I wanted to discover more about myself and the world. If students are both motivated and encouraged to take a tougher path to discover and learn more, the impact gained at such a ripe age is priceless.
As an entrepreneur, I have grown accustomed to navigating the world and making decisions without the support of a more traditional business structure. I have learned for myself, the hard way, many lessons I want to now share with others. I will be traveling to Philadelphia to share my experiences with the students of SCH Academy, and at times some of the artists I represent will join me -- to cultivate the next generation -- to connect, to share and to inspire.