Introducing Mashonda Tifrere , the renaissance woman
Renaissance woman, art curator, mother, singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur Mashonda Tifrere is a portrait of courage and a change agent.
“We are all products of a program that was projected onto us at birth and during childhood, and whether or not our inherent beliefs are formed by nature, nurture, or somewhere in between, it is inevitable that we will all lose some portion of our truth along the way.” says Tifrere. “Through intimate portraits and abstract art surveying personal truths of emotional intelligence, the artists examine a journey back to their truest expressions of self while imploring viewers to turn their gaze inwards to seek the parts of themselves they’ve hidden.”
Lauren Pearce, artist showing at Truth About Me exhibitionLauren PearceIn addition to her organization ArtLeadHer, Tifrere further embarks on her entrepreneurship journey by returning to music, creating another artist incubator, and working on a second book. We sat down with her to speak about her love of helping women artists and how she envisions her legacy.
Dominique Fluker:How did you go from being a music artist to studying art at the prestigious Christie's and graduating with a degree in art business?Mashonda Tifrere:My music journey started in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at a small Pentecostal church that was run by my godmother Rita Yard. She was the preacher there, and she overheard me singing at home as a child. One day she forced me to go to the front of the church and sing with her, and I was terrified. Once I got up there, and I sang and saw how people were receptive to it and loved it, it made me feel like I was sharing a part of myself with them, which was the beginning of my love for music. headtopics.com
I started writing songs at a really young age, as writing for me as a child was therapeutic. When I moved to Harlem, I started going to recording studios. Some local producers had a vocal booth set up in the bathroom to record. That's all we could do as young kids from the hood. The recording studios were our sanctuary, and it's what kept us out of trouble. I can honestly say that music saved my life in many ways. In 1997, I received a publishing deal to write songs. As a young girl coming out of the hood in Harlem, now with this new start and this money to create, I knew that music was where I wanted to be.
I went on to work with every big artist during the late 90s, early 2000s, doing the background vocals and ghostwriting for Jay Z, Eve, DMX, LL Cool J, Mya, and more. Which led to me signing my second record deal with Clive Davis at J Records. After I recorded a full album in 2005, I was exhausted from the music industry. I was tired of being the only woman in the room amongst all-male producers and artists and being told what type of music I should make. Back then, it felt like I never could create anything I truly loved artistically. I decided to put music on pause to focus on creating a family and baby. During that period in my life, I made money in the music industry, traveled a lot, and connected with the art world as a collector.
Fluker:Partnering with Beyoncé’s BeyGOOD and Gucci’s Chime for Change, you launched ArtLeadHER on International Women’s Day in 2016. What led you to create ArtLeadHer?Tifrere: I spent a lot of money on art, building a collection, connecting with artists and gallery owners, all while learning the art business. I noticed the disparity when it came to women artists. It was really hard to find women that created art. The galleries and museums mainly showed male artists. Once I started doing the research, I realized that more women are graduating from art school than men are, but they're not being represented. They're underrepresented. That's what brought ArtLeadHER to life. I leveraged my amazing network and my money to fund this company and to help these women artists. I put a proposal together. I built out a website. I connected with my network, to help me fund the launch, which included Beyonce’s BeyGOOD team. Their team funded my first ArtLeadHer exhibition, in 2016.
Fluker:ArtLeadHer looks to increase the representation of women in the visual arts by presenting a forum for emerging female artists to exhibit work among established industry names. Speak more about ArtLeadHer’s purpose and your main goals for this organization, and how it ultimately helps emerging women artists. headtopics.com
Tifrere: ArtLeaderHer’s focus is to take the underserved, the underdog, the raw talent that exists, and give these women artists the same wall space as any established male artist. We also focus on connecting the emerging and established artists together for every show. For example, when you come to see a Shantell Martin piece, because we all know Shantell Martin's work, you're also seeing a Lauren Pearce work who is a brand-new person. So you have no choice, but to notice both. So that's my strategy, right? It's like having a well-known singer put a feature on the song of a new artist. I want to give new artist shine and to create equal opportunities for them. Part of ArtLeadHer’s mission is to educate artists, let them know that they have options, and they don't have to fall under the wing of any gallery or any institution that they may not feel respected or treated equally as their male counterparts. We also do a lot of workshops for young girls, artists-led workshops, residencies, to hold space for new artists to create, grow and evolve.
Fluker:What makes you passionate about helping these women artists at the end of the day?Tifrere: I’ve been surrounded by very strong women my entire life, and it's because of them that I feel empowered and resilient. I noticed that as women who create, we are very nurturing, and we want to give continuously, and sometimes we forget about our own superpowers. I'm that battery on the back for some women, and I find a lot of peace for myself in doing that work.
Fluker:Could you speak to ArtLeaderHer's business structure? How was your organization contribute economically to women artists?Tifrere: Unlike the traditional gallery structure where it's usually a 50-50 spilt of proceeds, and artists are left to pretty much figure out their shipping and their legal advice and all these other moving parts when it comes to presenting work or having a show, ArtLeadHer gives artists 60% proceeds. We also focus on publicity, making sure that each artist gets an opportunity to be seen and shown, creating panel discussions for artists to get their voice heard and even their face so people can connect to them. We focus a lot on marketing for the artists, legal advice, and connecting artists with other curators. We want to ensure that our artists are not just showing work but creating the foundation for their entire career.
Fluker:Speak about your recent partnership with Donna Karan. You both have a history of using your public platforms to foster cultural initiatives within and beyond the arts. What inspiredTruth About Me?Tifrere: Donna saw something in me during a time where I knew it existed, but I needed encouragement. She gave me a space, a platform, and she let me run with it. She believed in me because she believes in women artists. This is my third year showing with her at this space for Women's History Month, and it just keeps getting better. Being able to say that I'm putting these amazing women artists in a space (Urban Zen) that belongs to an icon like Donna Karan, who has supported women and graced us with some of the most iconic clothing for decades, is a honor. headtopics.com
The exhibit came about on November 23rd, 2020. During 2020, we were all going through something in trying to figure out who we are and what our purpose is. I had a moment in my kitchen. I just cried. I pulled out my phone and I recorded it because I was talking out loud to myself. In that audio recording, I said, “What is my truth? I don't even know my truth. What am I doing here?” I found that to be profound because I know my purpose and truth. I'm a mother. I have this incredible organization that helps so many women. But as humans, we're just constantly asking ourselves that question. And when I thought about this show, I wanted all the women to ask themselves that question. I wanted them to dissect human condition and really go deep within and paint what they felt in 2020.
Fluker:What was your process in curatingTruth About Me?Tifrere: My process for curating any show, always starts with what I like. Would I hang that on my wall? And even if I don't like it so much, do I see a story and depth in it? I spend a lot of time researching artists on Instagram and Googling and finding works and artists that I like. Once I can see the work, get to know the artist, then I start thinking about how these works and how these women are going to co-exist in one space together. And then I paint like a picture in my mind. Before I install the show, I envision what the room is going to look like and how it’s going to feel based on my conversations. That’s the most important part of organizing a show is being able to tell a story based on the work, and not making it about yourself or your essay on the curation. The show should be about the artists, their journey and their art.
Fluker:Pivoting back to ArtLeadHER, what are your business goals for your organization? How do you envision scaling within the next three to five years?Tifrere: For ArtLeadHer, I will continue to work with women in art in this way, but I also want to start focusing on working with men as well, and that’s what my new venture, the Art Reign Collective is about. I want to bring all artists together to help build their careers as well, as their partner. For Art Reign, I’ll be focusing on all three industries that I've played in, which is music, writing and art.
Fluker:Speak about your upcoming ventures, the Art Reign Collective, new music, and the upcoming book deal.Tifrere: The Art Reign Collective is a venture that I'm very excited about. For the first time in my career, I’ll be able to bring all three elements of myself together in one space and work with creators’ practice in each genre, music, writing and visual art, and to have one space where I can house three residencies for each one and have them also exhibit their work, perform their work. Having a writer's residency is something I always wanted to do for writers. The Art Reign Collective is a space that I yearned for as a young creator. I do believe it will be my legacy.
Music, is my baby and number one passion. I got back into the studio in early 2020. I had everything ready to go in and create an EP but COVID-19 caused a pause in production. Now I’m back in the studio getting those songs ready and looking forward to releasing the six-song EP. I’m so excited for my new book to come out. Although I can’t provide too many details, my fiction novel will highlight experiences that I’ve witnessed my lifetime in one story.
Fluker:What do you want your legacy to be?Tifrere: Honestly, when this universe takes me back, I want people to remember me as someone who went out of their way to heal, to evolve, and to help others. I don't like titles. I don't like being called a curator. I'm doing the work that I'm supposed to do. When you put a title on yourself, you allow this part of ego to attach itself to it. I focus on the work.
I am a San Francisco Bay Area content strategist at Glassdoor. I’m passionate about diversity and inclusion within the workplace and dedicated to encouraging millennial… Read MoreI am a San Francisco Bay Area content strategist at Glassdoor. I’m passionate about diversity and inclusion within the workplace and dedicated to encouraging millennial women of color to make an impact within their organizations. Learn more about me here: http://www.werquedominique.comRead more: Forbes »
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