Meet the stylish 27-year-old Toronto expat who opened her own art gallery in New York City during the pandemic.
Fashion and art have always had a special relationship. Like JLo and Ben Affleck, they just can’t seem to keep away from each other. Toronto-born gallerist Hannah Traore understands this more than most. While the 27-year-old opened her own gallery in New York City during the pandemic, she made headlines for her statement fashion choices. Think multi-coloured leather pantsuits, graphic black-and-white dresses and shiny red ballgowns fit for a modern-day princess. Here, she spoke with FASHION about her Canadian roots, her time at the MoMA and why she firmly believes fashion can be considered art.
How did Toronto influence your artistic journey?
“After getting a BA in art history from Skidmore College in upstate New York, I returned to Toronto and worked for art collector Dr. Kenneth Montague. He hired me to co-curate an exhibition and really became a mentor to me. Recently, he had his book signing at my gallery — it was a full-circle moment.”
Walk me through your time at the Museum of Modern Art
“There’s an intern in every department at the MoMA, and I was with the affiliate group The Black Arts Council, which helps fund the acquisition of art by Black artists at the museum. I was there for a year, and I really think the connections I made through this community gave me the strength, support and confidence to start my own gallery.”
Why did you want to start your own gallery?
“Personally, I have always felt comfortable in artistic spaces, but I know that people who look like me oftentimes don’t. I wanted to battle elitism and elevate BIPOC voices in the art world. My favourite part of the job is when artists tell me how much it means to them to be included in a show, because they’re usually not.”
Was it difficult to launch the Hannah Traore gallery during a pandemic?
“In some ways, the pandemic made things easier because I had so much free time and I hit a sweet spot in New York real estate. Of course, the hard part was the uncertainty of ‘When am I going to be able to open?’ but I wanted to make the space as accessible as possible. Accessibility isn’t only about the gallery being free; it’s about asking the question ‘Does it feel accessible to everybody?’ So to make the space warm and welcoming, we put in curvilinear lines and softened all the corners to make it feel like a hug. I also chose warm lighting and yellow-white paint for the walls.”
How did you decide what pieces to feature?
“It’s more of a feeling and an instinct. But I realized the other day that there are five things I subconsciously look for when selecting art: The piece has to be beautiful or conceptually interesting. It has to be technically impressive or make me feel a certain way. And it has to be something I’ve never seen before. A piece can be all of these things or just one of these things, but if it’s none, then to me it’s not good art.”
Do you think fashion is art?
“Definitely! Many people in the art world would say no, but I think that’s a very old-school opinion. Zara isn’t art, but if you look at designers like Schiaparelli or Maison Margiela, they make art with fabric the same way that some artists work with clay. And I express my creativity through fashion — not necessarily through the actual clothes but how I put an outfit together.”
How has your Canadian and Malian background shaped your sense of style?
“I find the patterns from Mali and West Africa generally really inspiring. I grew up seeing my aunts and uncles in these fabulous fabrics and outfits just going about their typical day because dressing up is ingrained in the culture. So definitely that, but then in a more contemporary sense, there are so many amazing African designers I love, like Maimuna Cole from Aajiya, Andrea Iyamah and Pepper Row.”
In the gallery below, Hannah Traore shares her top tips for art collecting for beginners.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s September issue. Find out more here.