A chat with Mimosa House’s Founding Director and Curator Daria Khan
Mimosa House is an independent, non-profit gallery originally located in the heart of Mayfair. Just last year it moved to a new space in Theobalds Road, Holborn. The gallery encourages experimentation and collaboration with a particular focus on dialogue between intergenerational women and queer artists.
Before founding Mimosa House, Daria studied the history of art, writing a thesis on Mark Rothko, before going on to gain an MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art. She then embarked on a career in curating contemporary art, with projects exhibited at the Austrian Cultural Forum, London, Photographers Gallery, London, Freiraum 21 International, Vienna, and the 5th Moscow Biennial, along with curatorial residencies at Palais de Tokyo, Paris and Museums Quarter, Vienna. Daria is currently undertaking the MPhil/PhD Art Programme at Goldsmiths University, London.
From its opening in 2017, and its first exhibition Growing Gills, an exploration of psychedelic plants, alchemy, volcanic swimming and witchcraft, Mimosa House has set out its stall as somewhere radical artistic ideas can be freely explored. We spoke to Daria about what Mimosa House has already achieved and what her plans are for the future.
Was a career in the art world always on the cards for you?
Yes, I always wanted to study art history and fine art, as I’ve been painting since I was little and then decided to study art history for my BA. My first internship and job was at a big modern art gallery in Paris, which was a great introduction to the basics of the art world and the art market in particular.
Did you spend a lot of time visiting galleries when you were growing up?
I started to visit galleries actively from when I was about 18. In my 20s I had a period of intense exposure to museums, art galleries, as well as various art fairs around Europe.
What was the spark that decided you to start your own gallery?
My main motivation was to curate exhibitions, as there have always been so many artists, contemporary and historical, I wanted to work with, and so many subjects I wanted to explore. Setting up Mimosa House has given me the possibility to be independent in my choices and to establish a feminist and decolonial agenda.
Would you describe yourself as an artist as well as a curator?
I consider myself a curator, and I continue to explore what being curator means and how it is manifested in my work with artists, in writing about their work, and in running a feminist institution.
Do you want Mimosa House to fill a specific gap in what galleries offer in London?
Yes, I want Mimosa House to be a safe and empowering space where artists can realise their ambitious ideas, and the audience can engage with various urgent and radical concepts. Mimosa House is instrumental in creating knowledge and discourse on feminist and queer methodologies and histories as well as on inclusivity in the arts.
Why the move from Mayfair to Holborn?
Our lease in Mayfair since the beginning was planned to be temporary while the building was prepared for demolition, so we started to look for a new space a couple of years before the move.
Are there any galleries you rate highly in London?
Absolutely, plenty of them. I love the programmes at Autoitalia South East, Gasworks, Cubitt, Showroom…
What’s your day-to-day role at Mimosa House?
I work as director and curator, which means that I curate the exhibition and events programme, work on securing various partnerships, report to our advisory board and trustees. I also do a lot of tours for the visitors.
What impact has Covid and its associated lockdowns had on the gallery over the last year?
We’ve been closed for most of the past year, but during this period we came up with a few new ideas that we will carry on developing after the pandemic. We launched Mimosa Art Kit which is a bi-monthly series of art kits created and assembled by different artists that we sent to peoples’ homes. It’s a very beautiful project which allowed us to reach out to new audiences outside of London.
We also started to commission artworks for the facade of our new space in Holborn, with the first artwork being by the Australia based artist TextaQueen. The joyful, colourful and powerful artwork outside allowed us to communicate our presence to people in London even when we were closed.
What have been your personal highlights of Mimosa House’s first few years?
The solo show of Tomaso Binga – Italian poet and artist. The new film commissions – the queer erotic film by Zoe Williams and an exploration of syncopes in On the Offbeat by Chooc Ly Tan. The Self Defence class for women and queer people of colour, the ongoing Mimosa Art Kit project… It’s really hard to choose as I’m equally invested in all of the projects we’ve done and continue doing.
Whose work would you most like to see at Mimosa House?
I’m really looking forward to our next group exhibition Cosmic Mothers which for the first time in the UK will show the groundbreaking and mesmerising painting by Polish artist and astrologist Janina Kraupe-Swiderska (1921–2016). I’m also overjoyed to be working on an exhibition on Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, a radical Dada poet and artist.
What plans do you have for the future of the gallery?
I’m planning to register Mimosa House as a charitable organisation (we are currently a Community Interest Company), and continue working on the experimental and radical programming. I also plan to be applying and amplifying feminist ways of working as an institution, which are manifested in not only what we show, but also in how we work as a team and what working conditions we provide for our team and for the artists we work with.
– Portrait of Daria is by Lars Bronseth
– Kraupe-Świderska, Strefa Słońca (Sun Zone), oil on canvas, 2001, courtesy the artist’s estate
– 4 photos from Mimosa House exhibitions (provided by Mimosa House)