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Ayanna Dozier

Portrait of Mashonda Tifrere in “The Beginning of Legacy” at Art Genesis, Los Angeles, 2022 by Beau Gaines. Courtesy of Mashonda Tifrere.

Art consultant, curator and collector Mashonda Tifrere attributes her decision to pursue a career in the arts to two key things: growing up around black artists in 1980s New York and the dazzling art collection of her godmother who filled an Upper East Side brownstone. Today, both are apparent in Tifrere’s own art collection that she built up in an effort to support living black artists.

Patricia Solomon, Tifrere’s godmother, was the first person to introduce her to the importance of building an art collection that not only lives with you, but reflects your interests. “I remember going to his apartment with those handsome Erté and Gustave Moreau [works]”, she said in a recent interview. Solomon’s collection felt like an escape; it would inspire Tifrere not just to start collecting, but to fill her personal space with the rich experiences of the community around her.

Installation view, left to right, Lord Ohene, Fading love, 2022; Dana-Marie Bullock dystopia, 2022; Dana-Marie Bullock Scotus’ Hell, 2022; Megan Lewis, Life brings you what you need, 2022; and Megan Lewis, What a great experience2022 in “The Beginning of Legacy” at Art Genesis, Los Angeles, 2022. Courtesy of Mashonda Tifrere.

The beginning of the inheritance

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During his two decades as an art collector, Tifrere has also set out to support under-recognized artists and other art professionals. These efforts include ArtLeadHER, an organization that challenges gender bias in the art world by providing opportunities for women and non-binary artists and curators around the world. In 2021, Tifrere launched a new project called Art Genesis which showcases the work of minority artists through residencies and exhibitions. Art Genesis’ second exhibition, “The Beginning of Legacy,” is currently on view in Los Angeles through August 18 and features works by 12 artists, including Chantel Walkes, Megan Lewis, Lord Ohene, and Sisqo Ndombe, among others.

Tifrere started collecting around the age of 20 with the money she earned early in her career in the music industry as a singer and songwriter. “When I started, no one was doing [what I was doing] who was also a black woman,” she said. The first piece she bought was a framed gelatin silver print by Ansel Adams. Tifrere referred to this photograph, Oak, Snowstorm (1948), as a “nostalgia buy”, in that it reminded him of his childhood winters in the northeastern United States.

Installation view, left to right, Patrick Alston, Concrete Boyz 002, 2021; Jerome Lagarrigue; Malik Roberts, Blue for many reasons2018. Courtesy of Mashonda Tifrere.

Tifrere describes his art collection as existing in two parts, which reflect, in his words, “two different lives”. The first part, which featured top-notch artists like Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Sam Francis, was built from 2000 to 2010 with her then-husband Kasseem Daoud Dean (aka Swizz Beatz). In 2018, Tifrere sold this part of the collection in order to purchase more works by emerging artists of color. “A relationship dissolves and you don’t want to watch that stuff anymore,” she said. “I had a really hard time parting with my Keith Haring, but I was like, somebody else can enjoy this job now and I was using that money to [collect more] art.”

Tifrere continued, “My goal was to take the money I got from this job and embark on a new fundraising journey. [works by] Black Living Artists. She started this second collection in 2019 by acquiring a work by Derrick Adams. The collection now also includes key emerging artists like Patrick Alston, Nate Lewis, Lauren Pearce and Tawny Chatmon.

The path taken by Tifrere to find these artists reflects his communal approach to the art world. For example, she discovered Lewis’s work through curator and art advisor Anwarii Musa, who helped her with art management. Musa, who has also installed work for the Obamas, curated “Voices” in the fall of 2020 at the multidisciplinary art space Studio 525. “I went to that exhibit and met Nate and told him that I had to get his job back and so did,” Tifrere said.

In 2021, curator Larry Ossei-Mensah introduced Tifrere to Alston’s work, which was featured in a solo exhibition he curated called “Let There Be Light” at Ross + Kramer Gallery. “It’s the community I’m talking about. The work is by us and it should be for us. And that can only happen if we are the ones showing the work,” Tifrere said. She discovered Chatmon and Pearce via Instagram and began incorporating their work into her projects with ArtLeadHER. Tifrere helped both artists find opportunities for their first shows, and Pearce is currently included in the Art Genesis show. “It’s a blessing to be part of someone’s debut,” Tifrere said.

Installation view Tawny Chatmon, Cylvia, in honor of her grandmother, 2019/2021. Courtesy of Mashonda Tifrere.

Installation view Lauren Pearce, The sweetness of the unknown2022. Courtesy of Mashonda Tifrere.

Given these personal relationships and his experience in interior design, Tifrere takes great care in installing the collection. Her room is particularly significant in this regard as it features works by female artists who focus on depictions of women, nature and children. The room features a stunning gold leaf photograph of Chatmon, titled Cylvia, in honor of her grandmother (2019/2021). This calm photograph features a young black girl in profile with several elegant long black braids obscuring her face. On the other side of the room is a painting by Pearce, titled The sweetness of the unknown (2022). The work depicts a young woman meeting our gaze against a background of honey-colored lilies. “Most of my collection is quite intense, so it’s nice to relax in a space with soft looks and highlights,” Tifrere said.

Through collecting, curating and advising, Tifrere has helped women and artists of color navigate these spaces while building personal and meaningful relationships along the way. Largely influenced by her history in the music industry, she was appalled to see the same inequalities that plagued women in this space also affecting women in the art world. “I’m just happy that we’re finally taking our place and being appreciated and respected,” she said. “I don’t do it for the money, I do it for the culture. It’s about protecting the culture.

Ayanna Dozier

Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s editor.