As entry-level professionals in the New York art world, Cristina Cruz and Neha Jambhekar bonded over gallery openings, spending each Thursday night together enjoying wine and art at receptions across Chelsea. Now, after nine years of friendship, the two have finally staged an exhibition of their own, launching a new curatorial platform, Jambhekar/Cruz, to promote the work of emerging artists of underrepresented backgrounds.
“It’s a culmination of all the fun we have in New York, all the people we’ve met, and how we feel when we see art,” Jambhekar told Artnet News.
The duo’s inaugural show, titled “ From,” features a mix of Southeast Asian and Hispanic artists, plus one Chinese artist. It is being held at the NYC Culture Club, a nonprofit space at the World Trade Center Oculus run by brothers Parker and Clayton Calvert that offers artists and curators free exhibition space in partnership with Westfield World Trade Center.
The idea for a curatorial collaboration was something Jambhekar and Cruz had been tossing around for a year or two, so when the opportunity came to stage an in-person show at minimal cost, they seized it.
“We realized this is something that we both feel super passionate about. There are not enough people out there who are highlighting artists of color, which is crazy because New York is such a diverse city,” Cruz told Artnet News.
The exhibition title is a play on a question that most people of color are all too familiar with. Sure, you may live in the U.S., but where are you from?
“I usually say I’m from Florida. For Christina, it’s the Bronx,” Jambhekar, who was born in India, said. Cruz’s parents are from Nicaragua. “These artists are showing us who they are through their practice and their work.”
Cruz and Jambhekar met through their jobs at (full disclosure) Artnet, where Cruz got her start as a gallery liaison, and Jambhekar was hired as an auction house success specialist, fresh off of finishing her masters at the Parsons School of Design at the New School in New York.
“I remember thinking here’s another brown person—that was something that was super rare,” Cruz said. “Artnet was one of my first jobs in the art world, and it was nice to meet somebody who looked like me who I could connect with.”
One day over lunch in the office kitchen, Cruz proposed a night of gallery-hopping to visit some of her clients. Soon, Jambhekar had transferred to the gallery department, further solidifying their Thursday night routine. (Artnet has promoted Cruz several times, most recently to a product owner role; Jambhekar left Artnet late last year for a job at another high-profile art world business.)
After years of pounding the pavement on the gallery and art fair circuit, as well as connecting with artists on Instagram, Cruz and Jambhekar had a long list of artists they were interested in working with when it came time to put together the exhibition. They compared Instagram likes, set up studio visits, and were delighted—if surprised—to find the artists eager to come on board.
That even included Jaishri Abichandani, by far the most established artist in the bunch, a talented feminist painter and sculptor from India who had an impressive solo show at Los Angeles’s Craft Contemporary museum in 2022.
Her massive painting, (2023), fringed in feathers, is an undeniable showstopper, strategically placed at the entrance to draw passersby into the gallery. (It’s the most expensive work in the show at $20,000; the rest are between $800 and $9,000, with most $4,000 and under.)
The range of works on view is impressive.
There are colorful, delicate sculptures from Max Benjamin Sarmiento inspired by his childhood memories and his visits to Ecuador, and a claustrophobic painting of the view from a moving subway car by Angel Cotray. Zeehan Wazed contributed dreamlike canvases based on photographs his sister took in Bangladesh, while Pranav Sood is showing two acrylic paintings that incorporate cartoon faces into abstract geometric designs.
Other artists to watch include Misha Japanwala, who makes resin and bronze casts of women’s body parts, and opened a solo show at New York’s Hannah Traore Gallery earlier in May.
“It’s about how Muslim women are so oppressed and covered up, and she’s trying to break those stereotypes,” Jambhekar said.
But most of the participating artists—the full list includes Aiza Ahmed, Kantinka Huang, Freddy Leiva, Melanie Luna, Visakh Menon, Anjuli Rathod, and Aparna Sarkar—have had few prior opportunities to work with galleries.
“We want to create a place for brown people so they can say ‘I’ve been in a show,’ just to give them some confidence for their career. And we also want to make it easier for the emerging collector to buy works,” Jambhekar said. “Basically, we wanted to do something for our friends who are artists, and our friends who are collectors.”
Staging an in-person show was undoubtedly a monumental task, especially while both women were working full time—moving forward, Jambhekar/Cruz will focus on online exhibitions, with perhaps one in-person outing per year. But the experience was also proof that their many years in the business had paid off.
“We have been working for so long with galleries and we understand this world,” Cruz said. “Once we fought those feelings of impostor syndrome, we realized we do have the expertise for this.”