Ibrahim eventually fell in love with another art form—advertising—and studied communications at Middlesex University in London. Upon graduating, she worked for a marketing agency in Paris, but quit when she felt unchallenged. She left for a three-year stay in Somalia, where she created an NGO to help gain UNESCO World Heritage recognition for the ancient cave paintings of Laas Geel on the outskirts of Somaliland.
Back in Paris, Ibrahim knew she wanted to help promote artists of African descent. Yet she never officially worked within the gallery circuit, as she felt estranged from spaces she encountered. “I think I would have been molded into a type within a space I was not comfortable being in,” she said. “I was actually looking for the anti-gallery experience.”
Ibrahim struck out on her own. Two years after her husband’s job with Boeing brought the couple to Seattle, the dealer founded M.I.A. She recalled: “The opening really came from an instinct of almost survival. I said, ‘If I don’t open that space and put in artists I’m craving, either it’s not going to happen or somebody is going to do it for me.’”