David Byrne, Maria Cornejo celebrate the latest art 'drop'

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David Byrne, Maria Cornejo celebrate the latest art 'drop'
Visitors vew an exhibition of pieces by the artist Lakea Shepard, which are based on slave masks, during a party hosted by Guilty By Association at the Ace Hotel in Downtown Brooklyn, Jan. 10, 2023. GBA, is a new art, commerce and lifestyle platform for underrepresented communities of artists. (Rebecca Smeyne/The New York Times)

by Brett Berk

NEW YORK, NY.- Last week, creative industry insiders filled the concrete and wood lobby of the Ace Hotel in Downtown Brooklyn to see the work of Lakea Shepard in the latest “drop” by GBA, a new art, commerce and lifestyle platform for underrepresented communities of artists.

The pieces, on display until January 30, are based on “slave masks”— devices of control and punishment used on enslaved people in the New World. Shepard assembles the masks with beads, gems, thread and ephemera, using traditional African basketmaking, embroidery and embellishment techniques to portray the challenges facing Black people in contemporary society. Shepard, 32, a sculptor, mixed media designer and milliner, grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and earned her degree from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

“I wanted it to have that sparkle. But at the same time, the closer you look, the grungier it gets,” Shepard said of the 10 pieces on display. “I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I can captivate an audience while also acknowledging social issues.”

GBA, also known as Guilty By Association, was founded in 2021 by Karen Wong, who worked for 15 years as an executive at the New Museum in Manhattan, and Derek Wiggins, who has developed mobile marketing platforms and created streetwear collaborations with Nike, Supreme and Adidas.

“I think for too long, both the academic world and the gallery system has provided a very narrow path to what people consider success,” Wong said. “Our hope is to look at how we can branch out and create more opportunities and possibilities.”

Wong and Wiggins hope to widen access by hosting events in more inviting spaces and to expand artistic representation by elevating the work of queer artists and artists of color from regional cities. The two will also provide artists with 75% of the retail fees for their work as opposed to the gallery standard of 50%.

“The goal is selling artwork by the artist, but ultimately it’s about getting the right people connected with the right people, showing the world what’s out there,” Wiggins said.

The crowd, which included artists, musicians and gallerists, was highly engaged with the work, which catalyzed conversations about attendees’ personal interests, collections and hopes for 2023.

Interviews have been edited.

—Margaret Zhang, 29

Editor-in-chief, Vogue China

Q: What are you into right now?

A: I’m excited about how much young people are excited about heritage craft. I think especially in China, where the craft is 2,000 years old or more, for young people to be excited about that and learning from the masters of these disciplines that have been passed down for generations in a very authentic and not surface-level way.

Q: What do you collect?

A: Tiny, strange ceramics from different parts of the world. It’s very visceral, a reaction to particular small ceramics, small vessels that are not very functional, but they remind me of something, or they’re just interesting and make you think.

Maria Cornejo, 60

Fashion designer

Q: What are you into right now?

A: I’m working on my 25-year anniversary collection, so I’m geeking out in my own archives. I’m discovering that I like myself from 25 years ago. I didn’t want to be in the fashion business. I was just rediscovering a way of creating things in my own way. And so it’s a very internal inspiration.

Stephen Markos, 39

Furniture gallerist

Q: What are you into right now?

A: I am obsessed with textiles. I’m working with a few different artists. One does these amazing chain stitch and needlework pieces in the most outrageous color palettes. Another makes these amazing, almost macramé hanging works, but again, in really amazing fabrics and yarns.

Q: What are you excited about in 2023?

A: I see a trend toward handmade objects, whether they’re big furniture pieces or small tabletop objects, but something that you can see the artist’s hand. There’s a story to tell in it that you can glean from the object, looking at fingerprints and even errors.

David Byrne, 70


Q: What are you into right now?

A: I’m reading a book called “When We Cease to Understand the World,” which is kind of a science history, but some of it is made up. And he [author Benjamín Labatut] doesn’t tell you when it’s made up. It mixes fact and fiction, which for some reviewers was a big problem. But the writing is really good, and you just kind of go with it, and then after reading, you go, “Wait a minute?”

Lutfi Janania, 33

Botanical sculptor

Q: What are you into right now?

A: I’m focusing my business on creating more objective sculpture work. I have done a lot of large-scale floral installations, but I want to take my practice into something that’s permanent, and not ephemeral, and that can carry on the fantasy that the works bring into the viewer’s home.

Q: What do you collect?

A: I collect things from nature. Botanicals, woods, all kinds of dried materials, preserved materials. I’ve been practicing how to get my plants and organic materials to transmute into realized versions of themselves. To make them permanent.

Kalifa (Khalif Diouf), 33

Musician/sound designer

Q: What do you collect?

A: Outlandish sneakers. And men’s heels. The best company for men’s heels is called Syro. They’re a New York-based company that makes the most eccentric shoes — you can get a black boot, or a pink suede, up to size 15.

Q: What are you excited about in 2023?

A: I’m excited about finishing an album for the first time in seven years. It’s about my identity as a Black gay person, and embracing a feminine identity as an African is something that I’ve been working on.

Asmeret Berhe-Lumax, 45

Nonprofit founder

Q: What do you collect?

A: Magazines and paper. As a first-generation immigrant, books were luxurious, a source of education and opportunity. My most recent acquisition is the next issue of our zine at One Love Community Fridge. It’s the youth issue, so all the contributions are from kids in our community. We deal with hunger and food insecurity, so it’s drawings and interviews and recipes and games, all made by the kids.

April Hunt, 41


Q: What are you into right now?

A: Moments like this hit for me when I get to participate in a gathering of my community. That’s a big deal. Joy is a big deal for me these days because we all need it. We all need a twirl, you know?

What do you collect?

A: Shoes. I’m wearing these Giuseppe Zanottis right now. It’s a statement shoe, but it’s also comfortable because he puts a platform in. I feel like a lot of designers don’t like to do platforms for women because they want that straight stiletto. But we need a little cushion.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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