Founded in early 2015 and based in East London’s multicultural Bethnal Green, Art Represent is a social enterprise dedicated to the creative and economic empowerment of an ever-growing selection of gifted artists affected by conflict and social upheaval.
With the help of a small team, founder Baiqu Gonkar has developed a platform through which artists – many of which might traditionally have been marginalized by both the institutions and markets of the western art world – can share their own narratives of the issues they face, and can establish further control of their careers in the process. Gonkar herself came to London at the age of ten having sought asylum from her native Tibet, and laid her roots in Hackney: just a short walk from where the gallery is now situated.
Although the artists we represent are united by their exposure to the forces of conflict and social upheaval, we don’t want to fetishize their personal experiences or reduce these talented individuals to one aspect of their identities. Our artists are chosen on the basis of artistic merit, and despite often similar experiences, are producing strikingly different works.
The initiative kick-started with an exhibition of works by emerging Afghan graffiti artist Malina Suliman, whose practice has drawn death threats from the Taliban in her homeland. Another exhibition of prints considering the plight of Syrian refugees by UAE-based Syrian artist Imranovi, who himself was forced to flee to avoid conscription into regime forces, has received considerable attention from the likes of CNN and BBC.
Where Art Represent differs from other more conventional galleries is in its business model, which agrees contracts based on particular artworks as opposed to an artist’s entire artistic production. This allows artists to secure representation by other galleries, to pursue various projects independently and to sell their other works directly to collectors without Art Represent taking a sales commission on everything with which the artist is associated. Equally, the platform offers an infrastructure of support to its artists, helping them secure funding and residencies, attracting the attention of media outlets and encouraging the use of social media to spread the artists’ messages far and wide.
Whilst the artworks vary considerably in cost, a range of unlimited editions is also being developed to offer art-lovers some fantastic pieces at a more accessible price point.
Other artists on the gallery’s books include Sun Mu, a North Korean defector who once served as a propaganda artist in his homeland before fleeing to the South via China, Laos and Thailand: the subject of a recent feature-length documentary. Equally, the Art Represent team are planning a future exhibition with Ukrainian artist Maria Kulikovska, whose full-body soap sculptures were destroyed by pro-Russian militia at a Donetsk art center that became a makeshift military base during the conflict.
If you happen to be in London and wish to view a show or get in touch with the team, head to the website for contact details or to find out more about how to make an appointment!