Adarsha Benjamin, Co-Founder of MAMA Gallery
As the Co-Founder of MAMA Gallery, Adarsha Benjamin is at the forefront of the Los Angeles art scene and one of the pioneers of the Arts District. Also a mother and curator, this is the mama you want on your side.
An Interview: What It's Like Running The Gallery Everyone Loves
WORDS BY: ZARNA SURTI | PHOTOS BY: DAVID BOLEN
From the first time we met Adarsha in a purple jumpsuit for coffee to filming her video while singing Justin Beiber with her daughter, we’ve always found Adarsha to be polarizing—in her opinions, style, and aesthetic. Love it or hate it, this is Adarsha Benjamin.
What was the first show you had at MAMA?
The first show we did was actually called Erection, and we were pretty cheeky here. I wanted to have a title that reflected the space being erected—it was mildly sexual, but there’s always a mild sexual innuendo in all of our shows. I always think about keeping it fresh and keeping it human. It was a group show that we pulled it together so fast because we just opened and hit the ground running. There were twelve Los Angeles-based artists in that show and we took over the whole 20,000 square foot building.
Why did you pick this space? Cause when you guys moved here when there was barely anything in the neighborhood.
I actually have a lot of history with the neighborhood. I was producing parties, events, and various different things down here for years—ten years ago when it was really nothing. Ultimately, we wanted space. I didn’t wanna move into a little storefront or something. There wasn’t really a question, I wanted to be in the Arts District proper. When I walked in to the space, it just felt right—it was completely raw but I just loved it.
Where did the name MAMA come from?
It came from many, many days and hours of coming up with a name. I was really specific on wanting something that was graphically simple and also just aesthetically pleasing. That was really my first instinct, it was less about what it meant or where it was from—I wanted to be able to look at it and feel that. I also wanted to be simple, straightforward, and memorable.
After playing around with a lot of names, I thought about “DADA” because it was an art movement, and I was like, “Well, what is the now Dada? Dada happened, that was a movement, what is it now?” There’s all this talk about “the future is female” and just girls are taking over—which I hope boys and girls are taking over together (I don’t really believe so much where girls should take over boys)—but I just thought, MAMA! It’s grown into so many other things because MAMA is fostering artists, we’re nurturing their careers, we’re nurturing ideas, we’re bringing life into the world.
Did you always know that you wanted to open up a gallery? Tell me a little bit about your background too. When did you first really get into art and really connecting with it?
I have grown up around it my whole life through family and my godmother and friends, but I kinda went through many different incarnations. I was in film and publishing and started working with an artist when I was 25 or 26, and then started working on projects that brought me into the art world and I sort of fell in love and didn’t want to leave. I didn’t know I was gonna open a gallery. I was also a photographer and doing film, but I’d always had a dream for having a space that I could provide these sort of experiences in.
What do you love about New York? And Los Angeles?
New York is intoxicating. When you’re there, you just think, “Oh my god, I need to move back. I love it.” The food and the vibe—obviously it’s changed, but everywhere’s changed. In some ways I love it a lot more. It’s more my speed in a lot of ways—you can walk everywhere and there’s so much going on in a small space.
Los Angeles has a magic that nowhere else in this world has—as tragic and crazy as it is, there’s a community here that’s incredible. The city itself is built on dreams—no one’s supposed to live here, there’s no water, there actually were no trees here 100 years ago. We’ve completely brought everything in to make a city be what it is. And everyone’s ideas are basically made out of nothing. Think about what film, or art, or anything that’s flourishing here—these are all just ideas that we make happen.
Tell me a little bit about that balance of being a mom and also being an entrepreneur.
It’s really difficult, but also incredibly rewarding. I love that she’s growing up with a mother who’s doing something. Having a kid, your whole being is involved in it all the time and they require so much of your energy. I can’t believe I ever even used the word busy before these last few years. I don’t even know what I was doing, I think I was just on vacation until the last 3 years.
But, this is her place. During the day she comes in, she knows where to go, she has her stuff, her books—she’s in charge. She’s grown up at MAMA, because we moved in here when she was 6 months old. This is like another home for her. She knows her way around a gallery or museums better than most kids.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur and not work the 9-5?
Yeah. I dropped out of high school, I was not good at being told what to do. Still not good at being told what to do. I’m fiercely independent—I have a hard time with having to be in a place unless I’m choosing to be in that place.
I think that reflects in the shows you put on. It’s not always the most traditional approaches and I think that’s the best part.
For better or worse I have a lot of different interests and I’m not interested in one particular type of art or type of artist. For me, there’s something about them and what they’re trying to say. It’s the conversation that they’re bringing to the table and I’m really interested in different points of view. That doesn’t always respond well—not everyone’s gonna respond the same way to everything.
I know you said you were into photography and other things. Are those things you ever wanna pick back up?
I’m more interested in cultivating ideas—even my own. I’m hoping to open a hotel which is obviously focused on arts and also producing/co-directing some film projects with some of the artists we work with. Just a lot of things that already exist, but re-invigorating them with different point of views and continuing to push the envelope and do more interesting shows—definitely expanding this space to not only be in Los Angeles. The goal of MAMA is to be global and whether that’s with pop-ups, or fairs, or publications, film. I do see the gallery as more than just being an art gallery that represents artists. I really see us evolving into being something that facilitates ideas on every level.
Adarsha's Guide To Mexico City
WORDS BY: ARIELA KOZIN
Mexico is becoming known for so much more than its warm climate and spicy margaritas. More specifically, Mexico City lush culture has turned it into o a top destination for art aficionados. Since Adarsha is one of the capital city’s admirers, she mapped out her very own list of must-see museums, sites, and of course, the tastiest tacos.
The Gallery: Now Playing At MAMA
MAMA gallery showcases one awe-inducing artist after another, and this December’s show is no exception. Jordan Sullivan‘s solo exhibition, The Divine Nothing, is a transcendental experience. Adarsha’s walls will frame earthly photographs with surreal kaleidoscopic colors, and soft paintings and poetry. The end result, however, is just one step in his artistic journey.
Jordan elaborates on the exhibit’s message:
“It’s personal work, but there’s something universal about it. In the back room of the gallery I’m showing paintings on canvas and clay which have a similar palette to the photographs – colorful nebula’s on canvas and clay and made with house paint and dirt. The paintings are accompanied by a sound collage I created with the violinist Ari Balouzian. I paired Ari’s violin compositions with NASA’s recordings of the solar system. So these real intimate violin pieces and outerspace sounds weave in an out of one another, creating this space that is at once personal and cosmic.
At its core this exhibit is still all about looking at the world, exploring our internal lives, our feelings, and all these strange and beautiful things around us. A lot of my personal history goes into these pieces, but viewers can approach the work without a lot of context and still feel something, or at least experience, for a moment, some brief wonder and calm.”
THE DIVINE NOTHING RUNS DECEMBER 10th-JANUARY 21st