Kareem Stanley

Introducing: Kareem Stanley, our February Member Spotlight. Kareem Stanley is co-founder of the Black Artist Fund (BAF), a nonprofit organization combating systemic inequity in art by providing grants to Black artists in the United States. Fotografiska partnered with BAF to curate and exhibit a new installation titled Tracking Down Intimacy, on view now through May 2nd. We spoke to Kareem about his work with BAF, as well as his career goals and aspirations in the renewable energy sector.

Kareem, you and Claudia Eng founded the Black Artist Fund (BAF) in 2020. How did you meet and develop the concept for the organization? 

Claudia and I were undergraduate classmates at Columbia. Claudia is the definition of an impressive person; there are few people I’ve met that manage the volume of work she does at that level of excellence. She had been producing 10011, an arts and culture magazine, podcast, and platform, since 2017. BAF was a spinoff of 10011 after we witnessed George Floyd’s killing and the subsequent events of that tragedy. We had to begin facilitating the routing of money to Black artists, who are traditionally underrepresented in the museum context.

My background is in engineering, and though there is an artistic element to engineering and it requires much more creativity than might meet the eye, I’ve never considered myself an artist per se. I’ve always felt art and supported it, though, so I wanted to do my part to advocate for underrepresented artists.

BAF is a prime example you don’t need many people to make a real impact. We’re a small organization, but everyone involved cares deeply about the mission and it’s truly a community effort. When we started BAF, we recruited a group of all BIPOC artists to select grantees. It was important to develop a deep connection with the artistic community. Through the voting process, the Voting Committee spends a significant amount of time thinking about and looking at the work of Black artists. It creates a sense of visibility and participation that goes beyond individual grants. And when grantees are chosen, they know their work was seen and recognized. To this point, we’ve been able to raise over $85,000 and distribute $40,000 of those funds, a testament to the hard work the team puts in.

Image Courtesy: Kendall Bessent, “Nadine and Sasha.”

“This is a photograph by one of the grantees in the Tracking Down Intimacy installation. This image is impactful to me because I’m partial to images that paint Black women in an imperial light. I attribute much of the man I am today to the lessons learned from who I call my 7 guardian angels: my mother, my grandmothers, my 3 older sisters, and my closest aunt. The media often paints Black women in a negative light and that is completely contrary to my experience growing up. I learned nothing but resiliency, strength, creativity, and compassion from the Black women in my life.”

That is fantastic! Is that your proudest accomplishment with BAF? 

Honestly, the $85,000 is great, but what I’m more proud of are the partnerships we’ve been able to build. My fondest experience so far, frankly, has been being noticed by and partnering with Fotografiska. When I visited Fotografiska, I thought to myself, “I don’t think I’ve ever been brought through a full range of emotions in such a short span of time before. This is phenomenal!” I was elated by the space in which the artists would be able to exhibit and publicize their work. We have also created valued partnerships with ArtMatic, Studio 525, and The Compound Gallery.

What do you think the impact will be on BAF though the partnership with Fotografiska? 

I’ve always felt that with platforms, comes visibility. During undergrad at Columbia, I was president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter and president of my chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. By virtue of those platforms I was able to implement visions I had for the betterment of society that I simply could not do on my own. With NSBE, I had the opportunity to reach many young students in Harlem and to teach them about engineering. With my fraternity, we were able to feed hundreds of housing insecure people in the city every holiday season. Without those platforms, I couldn’t have reached these achievements at that scale. I think BAF is amazing and we’ve done a great job at generating funding and brand awareness, but, by no means, could we start a museum ourselves. The platform of Fotografiska allows us to scale our impact and the relationship is mutually beneficial. I’m excited about the reach and publicity artists who have been traditionally underrepresented in these types of spaces will experience through this installation. I also see an avenue for mentorship and community building opportunities coming from the partnership. There’s so much about Fotografiska that speaks to me. During my first visit to the museum, I went with the intention of visiting the 6th floor to get a feel for the space where Tracking Down Intimacy would exhibit. I wasn’t prepared for the level of emotion the other exhibitions would provoke — Death Row Exonerees by Martin Schoeller was particularly moving. In my JD/MBA program we have been discussing the legal implications and arguments around death row. To see the exhibition and think about death row from the perspective of real life exonerees was incredible.

“A Walk for Education – East Harlem School.” Image of a talk the National Society of Black Engineers chapter gave at a school in Harlem about the various disciplines of engineering and the type of things engineers do in industry. “During that talk, we found out that 90+% of the students at the school were born abroad or children of immigrant parents — that resonated with me because of the unique experience (of which I’m intimately aware) of growing up with Caribbean immigrant parents. This was the same school that I developed a curriculum for and taught a computer programming class to some of their 7th and 8th grade students.”

We are so excited to work with you and Black Artist Fund for this installation. Along with your passion for art, you also have a passion for the energy sector, and specifically chemical engineering. Tell me about what attracted you to this industry.

My interest in chemical engineering has been catalyzed by this deep and overarching interest I have with energy. On a fundamental basis, energy is the way we create economic growth and community prosperity. I want to incite real positive change on this world. I firmly believe that you can make a meaningful impact on society while doing well for yourself and your family. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. My goal is to work in an investment or legal capacity within the renewable energy space, and to support transactions that are good for society as a whole. I would especially love to make an impact on the Caribbean and push beneficial projects forward there in a way they haven’t been in the past.

Do you have a personal connection to the Caribbean?

My family is from Jamaica. My parents came to the United States with my two oldest sisters, but my youngest sister and I were born here. I grew up watching my parents, both of whom didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, work extremely hard so they could give their kids opportunities they never had. The fascination with energy coupled with my familial tie to the nation led to my curiosity about its distribution grid. Jamaica’s grid is, by no means, as robust as the US’s, and they import much of their energy profile in the form of fossil fuels. Sustainable energy, however, could be extremely pervasive and beneficial to the Caribbean if there was more focus on it. I’m in the JD/MBA Program at Harvard, and I hope to use this combination of technical, business, and legal acumen to advance initiatives around renewable energy projects. I feel strongly that economic growth is borne out of accessible and affordable energy and that these nations would reap huge benefits from the change.

Thank you, Kareem, for being a member of Fotografiska New York and taking the time to speak with us. You can get in touch with Kareem through Instagram or LinkedIn, and you can view the Black Artist Fund x Fotografiska New York installation, Tracking Down Intimacy, through May 2nd.

We host Member Spotlights every month, and would love to hear from you. Please contact us at membership.ny@fotografiska.com to be featured.