As she’s been curating for her own space, she says she’s been able to offer her artists, who include Hassan Hajjaj, Murjoni Merriweather, Dan Lam and Wendy Red Star, something that some other gallerists are not always able to provide: understanding.
Beyond the joy of not tokenizing or being tokenized (she rejoiced talking about Brielmaier, her first-ever Black boss: “what a difference it made”), being a gallerist who implicitly understands her artists also offers a competitive edge. Curation extends beyond putting pictures up on the wall. In many cases, she’s collaborating with artists as they make the work, offering perspective and guidance. One such piece in Hues is “dhund (translation: fog)” by Pakistani sculptor Misha Japanwala. It’s a bright blue casting of the artist’s shoulders and breasts. In not having an agenda, Traore said, she can “give the artist more autonomy in the work.” I had never considered that curators participate in the creation of their artists’ work. But in this case, for an artist for whom showing her breasts is a real subversion in her culture, trusting the curator—how she’ll display, contextualize and represent the work—is vital. After our meeting, Traore wrote to clarify a comment she’d made about the piece with a quote from the artist herself—another instance of advocacy in action.
Traore also wants to challenge what a gallery is and what can be in it. “A lot of the time in the art world we like to make sure that our artists are only artists,” she says. “And I think that’s ridiculous, because people are complicated and have talents in many different fields.” Upcoming exhibitions include the first gallery show for Camila Falquez, traditionally a commercial photographer, and a hybrid show where a sculptor will also be showing her fashion collection. This boundary-crossing is already in evidence. As well as showing art by Hassan Hajjaj in the current exhibition, the gallery currently welcomes visitors to relax on chairs that he designed.
Being the boss does mean making certain concessions, one of which is limited time to explore her own art practice. She was an art minor in college, with an interest in pottery and photography. “It’s definitely taken a back seat since I started working on the gallery, and since college,” she says. “One thing I have done in my house is bookbinding, which I really love. If I’m stressed and I make time for myself to make art, that stress goes way down.”
After all the help she received, Traore is keen to become a mentor and a role model in her own right. “I would love to be someone who people look to, because there were a lot of amazing Black women who I looked to,” she says. Though she can rattle off a dozen or so Black women gallerists in New York City, in an ideal world, that number would be higher, that influence more established. For all the aspiring young gallerists, she has three key tips: “Ask for as much advice as possible. Do what you can—you don’t have to open a huge space on the Lower East Side. And trust yourself.”
It’s that trust—true belief in the work she’s doing—that unites her many ideas and the art throughout the space. Every few moments, she mentions yet another show she’s mounting—the year is already blocked out, filled to the rafters with possibility. “I absolutely love that when someone comes to me and says, ‘We want to do this,’ I don’t have to ask anybody. It’s between me and me.”