amani olu (b. 1980) is not hard to miss in an art crowd and that is usually because he’s one of the only few black faces there. Nattily dressed, sporting a hi-top fade, bespectacled, big laugh, and even bigger projects. A ‘sartorialist’ in every sense of the word. Philadelphia’s Native Son has become a tastemaker of contemporary photography in New York City, constantly curating independent projects, publishing collector’s guides and producing new talent. But one thing is certain: olu knows what he knows because of what he has learned and UPTOWN learns, throughout our chat that is better to know than to not know at all.
Definition good, solid collection:
A collection is not defined so much by the works of art but rather by the passion of the collector. Oftentimes people purchase works as statements of wealth, affluence or simply arrogance. In order for one to house a cohesive and well-versed collection, there needs to be a presence of diversity in terms of ideas, execution, range and dimension. No one wants a one linear, one dimensional collection of works that falls flat. There needs to be various entry points and one should include the collector thinking about the works even down to medium specific. Love what you buy and buy what you love!
Humble beginnings as a curator:
My start as a curator is somewhat accidental yet rather organic. It does not follow the traditional entry into the art world. Growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Philadelphia, I was always interested in aesthetics especially clothing. I found myself always judging what the next person would wear, how they accessorized, and the whole look. That was the next best thing to art for me; it became, no, it was my art. I always felt like a creative person but I never knew what that meant exactly. Sensing that if my family knew I had this desire it would be frowned upon, I ended up attending Temple University but dropped out to pursue a career as a break dancer. When that stint did not pan out, I founded myself dabbling in the publishing world with B. Informed Magazine which focused on all things arts and culture of the urban lifestyle. It was there that I was introduced to photography , via a photo editor who told me I had great eye for the medium, and that is how I became interested in wanting to learn more. After a few key management changes and my decision to move to New York City, my partner and I decided to fold the publication. Upon landing in New York City, I knew nothing of the art scene but thankfully I surrounded myself with a great group of individuals who taught me and ins and outs of the art scene. Also I took it upon myself to start reading and learning more about this field, how it operates, who’s who, etc. Thankfully, I was offered a job at a photo gallery to curate shows and that is when it all started to unfold and make sense. As a result, I found a partner and started the Humble Arts Foundation, which and the rest is curatorial history.
Influences, present or present, in the art scene:
I am not influenced by one particular artist or one particular type of trend. Usually what I am influenced by are artists and what they are trying to convey in their works. I will find interest in an artist’s work such as theme and try to find other artists who share the same ideas. Sure my friends and peers influence me but in a slightly different way.
Trends in the art world:
Social media has got to biggest trend to impact not only the contemporary art world but the world in general. Artists are learning to become savvier in using social media to help further their careers. The gallery business is changing drastically and a prime example is the most recent inaugural VIP Art Fair, which is an online interactive event that allows exchanges between gallerists, collectors, dealers patrons and the artists themselves all from the comforts of your home and at your own leisure. This is not to say that this is the end of the gallery as we know it but what it does say is that alternative, independent space are arising at a rapid pace. Democratizing the art world provides more choices, more opinions and more control over what we buy, view, promote and support.
Premise behind “MR. & MRS. OLU”:
Unlike The Humble Arts Foundation, which was founded as an organization that supports, promotes and showcases the new, now and next in contemporary photography, MR. & MRS. OLU allows me the freedom to specifically curate special projects that do not fall in line with the objectives of the former. I wanted to explore other forms of medium besides photography and MR. & MRS. OLU provides an outlet that looks towards my own perspective and ideas that don’t make sense so I created this entity to sort of combat that of humble arts foundation.
The state of today’s African American art:
I am pretty indifferent but I think African American art suffers from a lot of clichés that are not interesting like retelling our story in a trite manner. A lot of those works about the black experience are really just the same, boring recognizable images that we have learned to accept. We are more than just our past! There has to be a sense of progression in what we present to others about our self, our community, our history. But there are a few artists out there that are making strives to create and revive our stories from a modern perspective, through a fresher pair of eyes. At the moment, my favorites are Rashid Johnson, Mikalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas and Kendell Cater. Also, there’s another guy I like too Rashaad Newsome who is a force to be reckon with in the performance art arena. Yeah, he’s the real deal!