In 2012 Olivia Maëlle Breleur founded Maëlle Gallery, a gallery supporting contemporary art on a national and international scale. In 2021, it moved from central Paris to a third address in the Greater Paris area, to KOMUNUMA, Romainville, enabling it to increase its exhibition space fivefold. Over the past few years the gallery has also featured in various international fairs: ZsONA MACO (Mexico), Untitled (Miami), AKAA (Paris), Art Paris (Paris) to name but a few. In addition, Maëlle Galerie is an active member of the Paris Gallery Map and the Comité Professionnel des Galeries d'Art.
A DOUBLE BATTLE FOR MAËLLE GALERIE: DECONSTRUCTING ITS SYMBOLIC ENTITY AND REINVENTING ITSELF IN TODAY’S WORLD
In 2004, Gaston Kelman wrote an ironic pamphlet “I’m Black but I Don’t Like Cassava“, a powerful and ambiguous statement that deconstructs the stigma of being black in France. A stigma that not only comes from the white gaze but also exists within the black community fuelling stereotypes of “their aesthetics”. If we extrapolate this sentence to the art world, it is possible to say: “I’m black and I don’t like voodoo”, “I’m black and I don’t like Basquiat”, “I’m black and I don’t like Beyoncé” or worse: “I’m black and I’m not a post-colonial victim”.
When first read these statements look like divisive postulates in the face of icons of the black community, in the face of symbols of resistance, but they are nothing more than gestures of liberation and deconstruction to allow other ways of thinking to infiltrate, to flow like fresh and multicoloured liquid in this rock called negritude.
Maëlle’s struggles are based on this counter-discourse. A discourse that avoids victimization, a discourse that avoids giving the public what it expects from a black gallery owner, a discourse that challenges exoticism, a discourse that is aware of what it is to speak from Paris and generate an articulate flow free of any predetermined concept. To understand these complex dynamics, it is important to identify the person behind the scenes. Olivia Maëlle Breleur, a young woman with a dual background, both a graduate of the Beaux-Arts in Martinique who also studied art market management at a leading Parisian school directs Maëlle Galerie. She grew up in the Caribbean listening to conversations between her father, the artist Ernest Breleur, Edouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau. So, her undertaking is a balance between being a Caribbean woman and being a Parisian gallery owner; neither is a clearly defined role and that is her strength.
As a Parisian gallery, it is not a question of Maëlle Galerie building a ghetto and becoming a refuge for black artists with a “traditional Caribbean aesthetic”. The intent is more complex, you could say a contemporary construct based on Creole logic and expression. This allows the gallery to combine a Mexican American artist with a Venezuelan artist, to represent an artist from metropolitan France whose research focuses on the medieval androgynous body, or a queer artist from Reunion Island without worrying about jeopardising its profile. To construct contemporaneity based on Creole logic implies having an extremely clear awareness of this world contrary to what it represents today, to construct archipelagic thinking formed of silent discourse in the face of hegemonic aesthetic, to assume post-feminism as a possibility to assert the body, pleasure and beauty. To understand nature from an animist and exuberant logic, to understand celebration as a criterion for reinventing order, to recognise infinity and global from the union of fragments, a union where the culture of carnival and mass media can be as important as voodoo culture.
This diatribe goes beyond the purely aesthetic domain to enter the realm of micro-politics. Each of the actions developed by the gallery is interpreted as a silent war against the absolute truth of the real world and the inequalities of today’s world. All this places Maëlle Galerie at an intermediate point between a promotional gallery and a platform for the defense of minorities. With Maëlle Galerie, the objective is not only to show a selection of artists who operate within a Creole logic, and who deserve to have a place in the market. Here, each exhibition is a manifesto on encountering differences and resistance to power.
Today, the gallery is revving up its engines for a new challenge: to change scale, abandoning its small space in Belleville to occupy a large gallery within KOMUNUMA. Without intending to, the gallery has become a bastion of resistance, quite different from the big galleries that champion black artists who are recognised widely in the art market… Of utopia, typical of youth, Maëlle Galerie resists the system and hedges its bets on another potential future, other relationship poetics and another way of being in the world.
A short version of Maëlle Galerie’s manifesto written by the curator Rolando J. Carmona in September 2021, published in its entirety in the issue devoted to “Révoltes silencieuses” (Silent uprisings) in the magazine AFRIKADAA.