Hannah Traore’s New York City Gallery Shines a Light on Marginalized Artists

The Malian-Canadian curator wants to challenge the art world status quo
Hannah Traore (photography: Hannah Traore Gallery)

Hannah Traore spent her childhood at art galleries and museums with her mother, a collector and artist herself who imported West African art to Canada. Now, the 27-year-old, who grew up in Toronto, is living in New York City, where she recently opened her eponymous gallery.

Traore studied art history at Skidmore College in Upstate New York and got her start in curation working for Canadian art collector Kenneth Montague in Toronto. “Ken is so influential because he shows the art world that Black people are out here doing the important work,” she says. Back in New York, she interned at big-name galleries—including The Museum of Modern Art and Fotografiska—that she describes as predominantly white institutions. “I knew from there that I wanted to do my own thing,” she says. “You can’t go full throttle on your vision in someone else’s space.”

The Hannah Traore Gallery opened its doors in January with a focus on artists who are from under-represented communities and teeter on the line between commercial art and fine art. This spring, it hosted the celebrated Jamaican-American photographer Renee Cox’s first solo show in more than 15 years.

A photo of Hannah Traore's gallery in NYC after a recent opening with people in the street
The gallery’s most recent opening was so packed, the party spilled out onto the street and halted traffic
A photo of inside Hannah Traore's gallery with Camila Falquez's photography on display
Currently on display: photography by Camila Falquez

It took Traore 18 months to launch. Much of that time was spent creating a business plan and hiring a team, including branding experts, interior designers, an art lawyer, a bookkeeper and a publicist as well as financial consultants who helped her determine pricing for artworks. “I don’t have a business background,” she says. “But I knew I could give a lot to the conversation about what is considered gallery-worthy art.”

Despite being in its infancy, the gallery is already attracting large crowds of art lovers. The gallerist’s MO is to translate the buzz into sales. Thanks in part to the past two years’ bigger cultural shift of centring artists of colour, Traore is already seeing appetite from investors.

But she also wants her gallery to be a space where those who can’t afford to start a collection can still come and admire the works. “Exposure is so important,” she says. “When I look back in 10 years, I want to know that I’ve been an integral part of helping gallerists and curators of colour take up positions of power.”

  • Making room
    The 280-squaremetre space is divided into two galleries: one for short-term exhibits and the other for bigger, immersive installations.

  • Curve appeal
    Traore was keen to avoid the “white cube” look of traditional galleries, so she rounded entryways and used a palette of warm neutrals.

  • Good neighbours
    The gallery is located on the Lower East Side, just down the street from NYC foodie staples Katz’s Delicatessen and Russ & Daughters.