The rise of new independent art galleries in recent years has been a refreshing change for an industry steeped in elite traditions, which often makes it difficult for artists outside of these exclusive sets to succeed within it. However, Aurelia Islimye, the founder of Bluing, a London-based independent online art gallery, is passionate about changing that narrative. “As new galleries move forward in representing a diverse roster of emerging and established artists,” she says, “their audiences are still primarily made up of a select few seasoned art collectors who have the means and the confidence to to buy art”.
Challenging the status quo and calling for a more inclusive and diverse art world is something Islimye has been doing since she started her business in 2019. And, while a pandemic wasn’t something something she thought the company would face in those early days of growth, she quickly adapted and found new ways for her audience to connect with her growing roster of artists. Like many new galleries, Bleur’s story began with a disillusioned individual who, as an aspiring art buyer, found herself tiptoeing into the art world before giving up and to turn instead to mass-produced prints. “It wasn’t until I realized that for a similar price I could have invested in an emerging artist early in their journey,” she recalls, “so I started thinking about how art could be reinstated in the consumer landscape.”
While younger generations often feel disconnected from the art world itself, and many art buyers spend little time discovering and buying works by living artists, emerging talent struggles 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,” continues Islimye. “I want to challenge an art world that I didn’t feel welcome in and frankly didn’t want to join.”
While “making art accessible” has become the motto of many new online art platforms, Bleur certainly doesn’t stop there. Its mission is to reinvent our experience of art by finding new and innovative ways to bring it closer to people and to fight against the non-consumption of art. By uniquely combining the power of online content and immersive experiences, Bleur’s approach bridges the gap between the digital and the physical. During the 2020 and 2021 shutdowns, the platform launched a series of ‘Home Takeovers’ in which it partnered with creatives across the UK to hold small exhibitions in homes, which could then be viewed via video content and live conversations with the artists directly. “In a society that constantly consumes content,” says Islimye, “our content production takes on a new perspective: demystifying art and giving our artists a platform to drive change.”
Bleur’s List artists grows year after year with personalities to watch such as Beth Fraser, Emmanuel Unaji, Jemima Sara, Denisha Anderson, Nicole Chui, Rhea Gupte and Joanna Layla. Bringing a new perspective to what an “independent art gallery” is, Islimye is a strong advocate for a more diverse and environmentally friendly art world. In an industry where plastic is often the packaging of choice and contained in most art materials, the gallery shines a light on greener alternatives and supports artists experimenting with new materials like Blandine Bardeau, who uses waste from vegetable skins and natural pigments for color. .
“Being a female-led gallery in an elite white male-dominated space is also a challenge,” Islimye reveals when discussing Bleur’s selection of 23 up-and-coming artists. “I actively seek out underrepresented artists with high potential and try to restore gender balance with our portfolio, which includes over 65% of self-identifying female artists.” This statistic far exceeds 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 Foundationof the artists represented by the capital’s major commercial galleries, 68% are men, although the majority of creative arts graduates are women. Sotheby’s also revealed in 2019 that of the $196.6 billion spent on art at auction in Europe and North America, works by women accounted for just $4 billion, or about 2%.
While changing these stats won’t happen overnight, Islimye says she’s determined to leave her mark. “Our name is already associated with a strong ecosystem that actively supports the artists we represent,” she reveals. “By investing in the exceptional talent behind the work, we can enable art to become a lived experience for the many, rather than the exclusive possession of a select few.” Recently celebrating its two-year anniversary, Bleur is poised to go from strength to strength. And, with Islimye’s passion and enthusiasm driving it forward, it’s a positive sign of real change afoot, fueled by a genuine desire for a brighter future and positive outlook for all.