Mashonda Tifrere’s Art Collection Reflects Her Commitment to Support Living Black Artists
Portrait of Mashonda Tifrere in “The Beginning of Legacy” at Art Genesis, 2022. Photo by Beau Gaines. Courtesy of Mashonda Tifrere.
The art advisor, curator, and collector Mashonda Tifrere credits her decision to pursue a career in the arts to two key things: growing up around Black artists in 1980s New York and her godmother’s dazzling art collection that filled an Upper East Side brownstone. Today, both are apparent in Tifrere’s own art collection that she’s built with the goal of supporting living Black artists.
Patricia Solomon, Tifrere’s godmother, was the first person to introduce her to the importance of building an art collection that you not only live with but one that reflects your interests. “I remember going to her apartment with these beautiful Erté and Gustave Moreau [works],” she said in a recent interview. Solomon’s collection felt like an escape; it would inspire Tifrere to not only start collecting, but to fill her personal space with the rich experiences of the community around her.
Installation view, from left to right, Lord Ohene, Fading Love, 2022; Dana-Marie Bullock, Dystopia, 2022; Dana-Marie Bullock, Scotus’s Inferno, 2022; Megan Lewis, Life Brings You What You Need, 2022; and Megan Lewis, What a Lovely Experience, 2022 in “The Beginning of Legacy” at Art Genesis, Los Angeles, 2022. Courtesy of Mashonda Tifrere.
Over her two decades as an art collector, Tifrere has also set out to support underreocognized artists and fellow art professionals. These efforts include ArtLeadHER, an organization that addresses gender bias in the art world world by providing opportunities for women and nonbinary artists and curators around the globe. In 2021, Tifrere started a new project called Art Genesis that showcases the work of minority artists through residencies and exhibitions. Art Genesis’s second show, “The Beginning of Legacy,” is currently on view in Los Angeles through August 18th and features work by 12 artists, including Chantel Walkes, Megan Lewis, Lord Ohene, and Sisqo Ndombe, among others.
Tifrere began collecting around the age of 20 with the money she made from her early career in the music industry as a singer and songwriter. “When I started out there was no one doing [what I was doing] who was also a Black woman,” she said. The first piece she purchased was a framed silver gelatin print by Ansel Adams. Tifrere referred to that photograph, Oak Tree, Snowstorm (1948), as a “nostalgia buy,” in that it reminded her of childhood winters in the northeastern United States.
Installation view, from left to right, Patrick Alston, Concrete Boyz 002, 2021; Jerome Lagarrigue; Malik Roberts, Blue for Many Reasons, 2018. Courtesy of Mashonda Tifrere.
Tifrere describes her art collection as existing in two parts, which reflect, in her words, “two different lifetimes.” The first part, which foregrounded blue-chip artists like Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Sam Francis, was built from 2000 to 2010 with her then-husband Kasseem Daoud Dean (a.k.a. Swizz Beatz). In 2018, Tifrere sold this part of the collection in order to buy more work from emerging artists of color. “A relationship dissolves and you don’t want to look at that stuff anymore,” she said. “I had a really hard time parting ways with my Keith Haring, but I was like, someone else can appreciate this work now and I was using that money to [collect more] art.”
Tifrere continued, “My goal was to take the money that I got from that work and embark on a new journey of collecting [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.
Tifrere’s path to finding these artists reflects her community-oriented approach to the art world. For example, she discovered Lewis’s work through curator and arts advisor Anwarii Musa, who used to help her with art handling. 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 show and met Nate and told him that I needed to collect his work and so I did,” Tifrere said.
In 2021, curator Larry Ossei-Mensah introduced Tifrere to Alston’s work, which was featured in a solo exhibition he curated, titled “Let There Be Light” at Ross + Kramer Gallery. “That is the community that I am talking about. The work is by us and it should be for us. And that can only happen if we’re the ones showing the work,” Tifrere said. She discovered Chatmon and Pearce through 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 a part of someone’s early beginnings,” Tifrere said.
Installation view Tawny Chatmon, Cylvia, In Honor of Her Grandmother, 2019/2021. Courtesy of Mashonda Tifrere.
Installation view Lauren Pearce, The Softness of the Unknown, 2022. Courtesy of Mashonda Tifrere.
Given these personal relationships and her background in interior design, Tifrere puts great care into the installation of the collection. Her bedroom is particularly important in this regard as it features work by women artists who focus on portrayals of women, nature, and children. The room features a stunning gold-leaf photograph by Chatmon, entitled Cylvia, In Honor of Her Grandmother (2019/2021). This quiet photograph features a young Black girl in profile with several elegant black long braids obscuring her face. On the opposite side of the room is a painting by Pearce, entitled The Softness of the Unknown (2022). The work features a young woman meeting our gaze amid a backdrop of honey-colored lilies. “Most of my collection is quite intense, so it’s nice to unwind in a space with soft gazes and reflections,” Tifrere said.
Across collecting, curation, and advising, Tifrere has helped women and artists of color navigate these spaces while crafting personal, meaningful relationships along the way. Largely influenced by her history in the music industry, she was appalled seeing the same inequalities that were impeding women in that space affecting women in the art world as well. “I’m just happy that we are finally taking up space and that we are being appreciated and respected,” she said. “I don’t do it for the money, I do it for the culture. It’s all about protecting the culture.”