Indianapolis and its surrounding communities are hubs of thriving art scenes. Made up of both emerging, independent, and veteran artists, the city offers an array of well-known visual art from galleries to museums.
The home to one of our very best art collections is Kuaba Gallery, a contemporary gallery located in Carmel. Curated by owner Jayne During, the gallery features a range of paintings and sculptures by both international and locally-established artists.
The gallery’s diverse selection is largely inspired by the owner’s heritage. She was born in Ghana and later moved to the United Kingdom where she spent her formative years. During later found herself in Indiana so she could attend Purdue University and study business.
“I’ve always been interested in art,” During says. “I did not major in art. I’m drawn to the art.”
Corporate employee turned gallery owner
Post-college, During entered the corporate world. After working for USA Group for a few years, she traveled to Ghana for a quick trip back home. While there, she was introduced to a handful of local artists over the course of her stay.
After returning home from her trip, During felt inspired to show other art connoisseurs that there was more to African art than just wood carvings. So, she scheduled time to speak with a curator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art to figure out how to make that happen. The curator encouraged During to bring some of the artwork she viewed in West Africa to the Circle City for a showcase at the Indianapolis Art Center and Indianapolis Artsgarden.
“I liked the response that I got from the showcase,” she says. “However, I had a job. So, I went back to my work.”
However not long after, During ended up losing her corporate job and decided now was as good a time as any to pursue her passions—so she opened her own art gallery.
In June 2001, During introduced Kuaba Gallery to the downtown Indianapolis community. When she opened its doors, located on Mass Ave. near the Coca-Cola building, there were only three other businesses on the block. Ten years later, she relocated her gallery to a centrally-located space near Monument Circle, which she called home for eight and a half years. In 2019 she relocated again, this time to her current building in Carmel.
Her gallery initially featured artists from Ghana and Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa, but now During incorporates artists from around the globe and even Indiana—she’s not picky.
“I really enjoy doing it because it gives people that insight into what else is happening on the continent, those new, vibrant, contemporary art that is hip on the scene,” During says. “It’s not very well-known in this part of the country.”
During works with artists globally to curate her diverse collections. She values the importance of loving all kinds of art from an assorted landscape of nationalities. That’s reflected in Kuaba Gallery’s artist list, which includes individuals from Paris, West Africa, Brazil, and even the Netherlands.
Whenever she travels to a new city or country, she prioritizes visiting a local museum, so she can learn more about its culture through its art.
“For me, I prefer universal language,” During says. “It’s so important for me, personally.”
She’s able to find such a diverse list of arts thanks to her curiosity and habit of visiting so many galleries and museums.
“If I find an artist that I’m interested in, I don’t mind going to see them,” During says. “I always like to see an artist in the process, working. I learn a lot from that, too.”
During describes how she doesn’t set out to work with any particular artist; rather, she chooses the artwork that speaks to her, adding that “art will speak to somebody else differently.”
“The most important thing is if the artist is interesting and generates conversation,” she says.
Now, as she’s built a global reputation, During has the luxury of having artists seek her out, too. This international attention has allowed her to work with and feature renowned Black artists like Chika Idu and Dominic Benhura.
Idu is a mixed media painter from West Africa. His heavily textured paintings are largely centered around women and children, such as The Secret Place and Connected.
On the flip side, Benhura is a sculptur with roots in Zimbabwe. His preferred medium is natural rock from his homeland: springstone, a type of serpentine that has a consistency similar to granite. Similar to Idu, Benhura’s work depicts the importance of family and nature, while complementing outdoor landscapes.
Some of the local artists During has featured include Marilyn Glick and Christine Drummond, a well-known artist with roots in Brazil. She connected with Drummond when she and her family relocated to Carmel for a little while.
Another notable artist to make During’s list is Patrick Turkson-Tagoe, who’s also from Ghana. He uses flip-flops he’s found from beaches around the world to create vibrant tapestries.
And as for the biggest artist she’s been able to work with, it’s El Anatsui, a sculptor from Ghana.
During has been fortunate enough to snag two of his works, which she says are “really, really, really expensive.” We’re talking millions of dollars, folks.
“I do have a plethora of artists that I work with,” she says. “And it’s amazing how they are all from different places, different races, but their work goes so well together. It always gives me peace when I see it.”
When comparing herself to the larger Indy art scene, During views her gallery as being different from the others.
“Mine is small and eclectic,” she says. “You get to learn more about the cultures of the different artists that I represent. The interest is there, you learn about the country and how the artist communicates whatever is going on in the environment through whatever medium they choose.”
Similar to other businesses, Kuaba Gallery adhered to local regulations and closed down during the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, it’s followed other business models and transitioned to some remote features. In 2021, the gallery hopes to continue with regularly scheduled showcases, but time will tell.
For now, Chika Idu, Christine Drummond, and Dominic Benhura are all slated for showcases at Kuaba Gallery throughout the year. During also hopes to host some workshops with different artists in between, but plans have not been finalized yet because of COVID-19.
“I think it’s a great addition to the state of Indiana to have those galleries and it’s been interesting meeting a lot of people, too,” she says. “I think it adds to the fabric of the state because it’s diverse, different, and that’s what the states and the country want to be. It’s a diverse country but sometimes we don’t always show it.”
As for the future of her gallery, During simply doesn’t know. She’s always open to new ideas and possibilities and prefers to work without borders.
“I don’t limit myself; I’m very open to art,” she says. “So, we’ll see what the future will bring.”
Samantha Kupiainen is a regular Indy Maven contributor.