Is It an Art Show? A Dinner Party? A Fashion Extravaganza?


The art gallery had barely closed for the business day when guests started wandering into the space on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Before them was a curiosity that made passers-by pause for a peek: amid the paintings on the walls was a long dinner table with place settings for 30 people.

Toward the entry way, Alex Delany, host of the Sound Radio show, was spinning 1970s-era Guinean and Ethiopian jazz and funk as invitees in Balenciaga, Prada and high-end Adidas sneakers mingled. And in the back of the gallery was the chef Roze Traore, spinning plates of poached lobster with tomato concasse and preserved lemons before a line of bowls filled with West African-inspired toppings.

The Thursday evening event was hard to describe without using a lot of hyphens. A West African-themed-dinner-party-exhibition-opening-fashion-extravaganza, perhaps?

“We’re merging food, fashion, art and going back to the motherland,” Mr. Traore said. “I’m bringing you into my world.”

Mr. Traore himself is a one-man band of chef, model and, more recently, owner of a gallery inside his Ivory Coast boutique hotel situated along the beaches of Grand-Bassam. The event was a private opening for Mr. Traore’s pop-up dinner exhibition series, which continues through Sunday on the Lower East Side before traveling the globe, meant to broaden the reach of artists in a residency he’s created in the hotel. It’s part of Mr. Traore’s mission to build bridges between Africa and the rest of the world, and in particular to show off Ivory Coast, where his family is from.

It’s a pursuit that aligns well with the Hannah Traore Gallery, which is hosting the pop-up and states its aim as drawing attention to artists who have been historically marginalized from mainstream narratives. The gallery’s founder, Hannah Traore, said Black art was sometimes depicted as merely having a moment in the spotlight yet it has helped define the artistic canon.

“People of color are taking up positions of power in the art world, and because of that, Black art won’t be a quote-unquote trend,” she said.

Hannah Traore and Roze Traore are not related — Traore is a common West African family name — but Hannah said she first sought out Roze several years ago because of their shared name, and they have since become friends.

On Thursday, she was a touch nervous; the event was a departure for the gallery owner, who doesn’t even serve wine and cheese at openings for fear of damaging the art on display. (There were no spills.)

Works from American, South African, Nigerian, Ivorian and Japanese artists in the residency hung in the back of the gallery and will be shown there through June 1 as part of an exhibition called “Returning to Bassam: Art That Money Can’t Buy.” Mr. Traore had rolled up the canvases and brought them himself from Ivory Coast. They are not for sale.

Kehinde Wiley, the celebrated artist whose unconventional painting of President Barack Obama hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, arrived decked out in wide-cuffed West African printed pants. He made a bee line for the pieces by Mayumi Nakao and Bahati Simoens, studying the paintings that surrounded Mr. Traore’s makeshift kitchen.

Mr. Traore’s Ivory Coast residency was patterned after Mr. Wiley’s Black Rock residency in Senegal, which hosts exhibition-opening parties that lure celebrities across the Atlantic. Mr. Wiley said he wanted to put West African cities on the map, hoping people would talk about traveling to capitals there the same way they talk about popping over to European cities.

The night’s banter made it feel as if that moment had arrived. Many of the guests were getting ready for a trip to Senegal’s capital, Dakar, for a biennial art show the government there recently announced had been postponed. But the parties were still on.

The artist Marcus Leslie Singleton, who completed his Ivory Coast residency in January, arrived and spotted Mr. Wiley.

“The last time I saw you was in Target,” Mr. Singleton said.

“You mean ‘Tar-jay,’” Mr. Wiley said, pretending to flip hair off his shoulder.

Mr. Singleton’s painting of a lunch he had in Ivory Coast hung behind them. Named “Fishbone,” for a choking hazard he had experienced during that lunch, it included a hidden message on the back from the artist’s memories: “We got to the beach later that day, the sand was so fine and soft it squeaked when you stepped.”

The painter Jose Duran, also a fashion designer and former interior decorator, was trying to round up guests to visit him in his Bronx neighborhood to eat thieboudienne, a Senegalese fish and rice dish.

“Everybody knows Little Senegal in Harlem, but this is different,” he said.

Dinner was about to be served, so the guests sat down at a table lined with giant centerpieces made of banana leaves and coconuts. Mr. Wiley squeezed between Mr. Duran and the artist Derrick Adams, whose work incorporates themes of Black joy.

The group talked about similarities between collage in art and sampling in music, another sign of a multidisciplinary evening.

“These sauces!” Mr. Adams proclaimed between bites of plantains spread across a neon orange dollop on a bright green leaf.

The lamb arrived, bathed in peanut sauce and kan kan kan, a West African spice blend. One guest dipped out to top off his parking meter.

Nearby, Kilo Kish said she still had a few finishing touches left on her new film, “Ephemerica.” Like most guests, her work is broader than just one art form; she is also a singer. How does she describe herself?

“I usually just tell people what I think they want to hear,” she said, seemingly half joking.

At the end of the table, the gallerist Cierra Britton and the fashion designer Edvin Thompson, creator of the brand Theophilio, were in deep discussion about the importance of gratitude. And that was before the rice porridge arrived topped with crisply roasted coconut and vanilla beans.

The chef stepped out to greet his guests who gave him a round of applause.

“I’ve always enjoyed creating what I want to create, not having any titles, being more than a chef,” Mr. Traore said. “That’s what matters to me.”





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