The rise of new independent art galleries in recent years has been a refreshing shift for an industry steeped in elitist traditions, often making it difficult for artists outside of such exclusive sets to find success within it. However, Aurelia Islimye, the founder of Bleur, an online independent art gallery based in London, is passionate to change this narrative. “While new galleries are making headway in representing a diverse roster of emerging and established artists,” she says, “their audience is still mainly composed of selected few seasoned art collectors who have the means and confidence to buy art.”
Challenging the status quo and asking for a more inclusive and diverse art world is something Islimye has been doing since she set out on her venture in 2019. And, while a pandemic was not something she thought the business would face in such early days of growth , she quickly adapted and found new ways for her audience to connect to her growing roster of artists. Like many newcomer galleries, Bleur’s story began with a disillusioned individual who, as an aspiring art buyer, found herself tiptoeing into the art world before eventually giving up and turning to mass-produced prints instead. “It wasn’t until I realized that for a similar price point I could have invested in an emerging artist at the start of their journey,” she recalls, “hence I began contemplating how art could be re-established within the consumer landscape. ”
With younger generations often feeling disconnected to the art world itself, and many art buyers spending little time on experiencing and purchasing art from living artists, emerging talents have found it difficult to establish viable career paths, especially those who may not have had the privileges or exposure to the art world in its traditional formats. “I founded Bleur to bring a new generation of hesitant art buyers into the conversation,” Islimye continues. “I didn’t want to challenge an art world that I didn’t feel welcomed in and that, frankly, I didn’t want to buy into.”
While ‘making art accessible’ has become the motto of many new online art platforms, Bleur certainly doesn’t stop there. Its mission is to reimagine how we experience art through finding new, innovative ways to bring it closer to people and to tackle non-consumption of art. By uniquely combining the power of online content and immersive experiences, Bleur’s approach bridges the gap between digital and physical. Through the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, the platform launched a series of ‘Home Takeovers’ in which they partnered with creatives across the UK to curate small exhibitions within homes, which could then be viewed through video content and live conversations with the artists directly. “In a society that constantly consumes content,” Islimye states, “our content production takes a new standpoint: to demystify art and give our artists a platform to drive change.”
Bleur’s list of artists is growing year on year with ones to watch including names such as Beth Fraser, Emmanuel Unaji, Jemima Sara, Denisha Anderson, Nicole Chui, Rhea Gupte and Joanna Layla. Bringing a fresh perspective to what being an ‘indie art gallery’ stands for, Islimye is ardently advocating for a more diverse and environmentally-friendly art world. In an industry where plastic is often the chosen packaging and contained in most art materials, the gallery is putting a spotlight onto greener alternatives and supporting artists who are experimenting with new materials such as Blandine Bardeau, who uses waste vegetable skins and natural pigments for color .
“Being a female-led gallery in an elitist, white-male dominated space is also challenging,” Islimye reveals as she discusses Bleur’s selection of 23 emerging artists. “I actively seek out underrepresented artists with high potential and I am trying to redress the gender balance with our portfolio, which includes more than 65% female identifying artists.” This statistic far outweighs the industry average with recent studies showing that 78% of London-based galleries represent more men than women and only 5% represent an equal number of male and female artists. According to a report commissioned by the Freelands Foundation, of artists represented by major commercial galleries across the capital, 68% are men, despite the majority of creative arts graduates being women. Sotheby’s also revealed in 2019 that of the $ 196.6bn spent on art at auction across Europe and North America, work made by women accounted for just $ 4bn — approximately 2%.
While changing these statistics won’t take place overnight, Islimye says she is determined to make her mark. “Our name has already become associated with a strong ecosystem that actively supports the artists we represent,” she reveals. “By investing into the exceptional talents behind the work, we can allow art to become a lived experience of the many, rather than an exclusive commodity of the selected few.” Recently celebrating it’s two-year anniversary, Bleur is set to go from strength-to-strength. And, with the passion and enthusiasm of Islimye driving it forward, it is a positive sign of real change taking place, fueled by a genuine desire for a brighter future and a positive prospect for all.