Art news  •  Women in Art

Exclusive Interview with Curator Rania Elafifi

This week, we spoke to Rania Elafifi, a London-based independent curator who has previously worked at the Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. We are extremely pleased to collaborate with her on our International Women’s Day partnership event! Here, we talk about her journey as a curator.

Could you tell us about your artistic background and what made you decide to become a curator?

I’ve been really fortunate as I’ve been exposed to art since I was really young. I come from an artistic family. My grandfather was a painter and my father painted as well before he became an architect. I’ve always been tagging along to galleries, museums, and was lucky to have been exposed to this world since I was young. 

I started in architecture myself and then moved over to fine art. When I thought about my dream job I realized that I’ve always wanted to be in that dreamy world of the arts. After studying architecture, I studied fine art and curation at Kings College London and then started my art career. I’m lucky to be working in my dream job!

Rania’s recent project in 2019: Mall of Dubai x M woods Museum China collaboration

How would you describe your work to someone outside the art world?

It’s about discovering and enabling artists to have a platform as well as exposing the public to art. I think art is as crucial as anything else. It’s like that quote from Dead Poets Society:

“And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits, but poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for”

Dead Poets Society

Could you tell us about how you build relationships with the artists you select for your exhibitions?

When I worked at the Tate I was acquiring art, exchanging it, and sometimes placing works of art in different museums. It was like a really fun game to play in a way because you sometimes have to compete with other museums in acquiring a piece of art, especially if you’re creating an exhibition. And you really need that piece, you know, so it was thrilling, and also very satisfying at the same time. 

Nowadays as an independent curator, the traditional ways I’ve been discovering artists have been through graduate shows, gallery openings, or agents. However, during the lockdown, my husband suggested I look through Instagram. I was so delighted to discover so many new artists there rather than the traditional way! It’s also great for the artist because they certainly don’t need a formal agency anymore. I’m very happy to keep discovering and engaging online through Instagram — I’m not a millennial so this is all new to me!

Rania’s recent project in 2019: Mall of Dubai x M woods Museum China collaboration

What project are you currently working on?

Firstly, I’m working with a hotel in Egypt that is not having a lot of business at the moment, of course, because of the COVID situation. They’re taking the time to update their art collection because they’re really not having any tourists or visitors at the moment.

Secondly, I’m working on a private collection for a couple in the UK. They’re really young millennials, and they want to start collecting art. They don’t necessarily have a big budget. But that in itself is really interesting because there are so many artists out there who are in a mid-price range. So I’m really happy to help them like to start the collection. Hopefully keep working with them and grow it in the future.

Private residence, Hampstead Heath London 2020

What artists, writers, academics, curators and other creative thinkers have influenced your curatorial practice?

First of all, I have to say to my grandfather, I know it’s cliche, but he really is my greatest inspiration because he pioneered the modern art movement in Egypt, in the 1950s, and 60s. Christine Macel, head curator of Centre Pompidou also inspires me, and Maria Balshaw, the first-ever woman director of the Tate galleries group.

How do current COVID events influence your work? Do you think the art world will ever be the same again?

I think I will continue to grow my social media platforms to discover more artists to work with. Then for this partnership with Singulart, this is the first time that I’m curating an exhibition online. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s very, very interesting because, in the future, it would give so many people who cannot travel access to art all around the world.

TD Bank Group Art Collection 2019 

What are your future plans?

I’m going back into education to study a course about art and technology in the Sotheby’s Institute of Art. It begins in March and I want to learn about digital art and digital art technology, blockchain arts, cyber arts, all of that. It’s very scary, but I’m curious about it. I think this is a whole different platform and I want to understand it because I plan to work in the arts for a long time.

What made you want to take part in a curated collaboration with Singulart?

The team! The whole team is very approachable and friendly. You know, I feel like Singulart is full of young people that are very clever and very professional. As a platform, it’s very chic and the amount of art there is varied and eclectic.

Singulart is also very different from other online platforms on the internet because you have a variety of really established artists and really, really young emerging artists at the same time. The variety and the price range, and just the whole stylistic endeavour of the company, is very, very pleasing.

Do you have a favorite collection or work of art on Singulart?

I love the piece The cello player, violinist and the ballerina.

I chose it because it’s about the pandemic, but in a very human way. The figure on the right is wearing a mask with the ballerina and the cello player there are so many beautiful things about it such as the artistic style, and the fact that he touches on the humanity of what’s happening right now. 

The current events are not a piece of art, but I think many people would love to purchase works right now because no one wants to remember so much of this year. That said, I certainly would acquire Thimkaeo‘s piece because it’s iconic. It’s a moment in time and it was done very, very beautifully. No cliches.

Could you talk a bit about the theme for this curated online exhibition and the importance of giving a voice to women artists?

Among the artists I’ve been working with through Instagram, the ones who stood out were women. They were all doing amazing, exceptional, beautiful work full of color and feminine expression, and feminine energy. When I was picking the artists for this exhibition I thought to myself, well, I mean, this feminine voice came so strongly to me this year. 

Art, like so many other endeavors, has always been dominated by males. It’s just like, the balance was always in favor of the male voice and even the woman portrayed in artists from the Renaissance to Picasso, we’re all from the male gaze.

Women artists now are doing something very interesting. They’re expressing the feminine and the woman in a personal and different way in so many different forms. motherhood to sexuality, to even bisexuality to so many voices are coming not just one feminine voice is the feminine voice as an umbrella.

It was brilliant on your part for making the sale on the International Women’s Day.

What made you choose mainly colorful and abstract works for the exhibition?

I mean, they happen to have a lot of colors, but also since this year especially has been very bleak and very caged in for so many people. That’s why I’m looking to add some color and happiness to people’s spaces with this online sale. Like so many of us have been stuck at home for various periods of time, we’ve all had this home enclosure, and we need to add art to it. I think color brings more happiness to everyone’s life. There are certain colors that are more calming, but the color itself just lends itself to positive psychology. Especially because this year has been so bleak.

Who is your favorite woman artist of all time?

Jordan Casteel, whose based in New York. She had a recent exhibition at the new museum in New York. She’s a woman African- American artist who is producing some groundbreaking work. My favorite painting is called Yvonne and James. The painting shows a couple holding hands and looking at Casteel as she paints them, or rather looking at the viewer. It’s soft, so tender, beautiful, and expressive at the same time. And so normal. She’s amazing!

“Yvonne and James” (2017) Jordan Casteel

Who are your favorite women of all time?

Diane von Fürstenberg, the Belgian fashion designer best known for her wrap dress. She is just the everything that women in the feminist movement wanted to be she just became that woman in the middle of the 1970s. And of course Simone de Beauvoir, the French writer! 

Who inspires you the most?

My mother! My mother is also a feminist and she was in the feminist movement when she was growing up. I know it sounds really cliche, but she really, really believed in me and give me confidence and power.

Discover the International Women’s Day partnership event here!