Artistic institutions can offer a crossroads of cultures, and such is the case for the new gallery Hetvonulsen NH, which opened its doors at 119 North 1st Street. Hetvonulsen NH is a name with Dutch origins, and its owners, Lucas Lovejoy and Nidaa Ombali, come from varying racial backgrounds. The pair met as students at New York University. So the fresh Williamsburg gallery offers a cosmopolitan world view — and one that aims to celebrate Black artists beyond the confines of a single Black History Month. Here, Lucas discusses the founding of this joint project, the hopes for the space’s continued use, and the gallery’s premiere exhibition, “Open Up a Portal,” now on display through March 29.
Greenpointers: How did you and Nidaa Ombali, your co-owner, meet? When did the dream of opening a gallery begin?
Lucas Lovejoy: Nidaa and I met at our friend’s clothing store, The Canvas. They were showing my artwork at the time. While she was looking at my work, I noticed we were both wearing Vivienne Westwood jewelry, which I commented on, and our friendship began from there. In February, a local designer furniture store approached me with the stunning gallery space. Nidaa and I had been working as an artist/PR duo for a while, and we decided it was the perfect opportunity to open a gallery together.
Tell us about your first exhibition, “Open Up a Portal.”
Our first exhibition, “Open Up a Portal,” is about transcendence. The exhibition statement is as follows: We are a conduit for the creative source to shine on artists, illuminating them to the HNH community. Join us as we Open Up a Portal to the black journey and influence in America beyond Black History Month.
What’s the story behind the name of your gallery, Hetvonulsen NH?
I created the name Hetvonulsen with my best friend in high school. We were obsessed with Dutch art, the likes of Hieronymus Bosch, Piet Mondrian, and Willem De Kooning. I wanted my brand to pay respects to the masters who came before me. The NH comes from Nidaa’s first and middle name, Nidaa Hanifa. As a 24-year-old woman from Sudan, we wanted to highlight her Arabic African background and use her name in the title. Together we are HNH gallery.
The space is so airy and clean; what are your plans for it moving forward? Any insight into what the next exhibition will be?
Thank you! The way that sunlight floods the gallery each day is very special to us— we wanted to reflect that in our exhibition statement. Moving forward, building a strong community is at the core of our plans. There are so many talented neighbors around us, and we want to get to know them all. We plan to have our next full-length exhibition in May.
An impetus for the work at your gallery, or the specific exhibition, was to showcase Black artists beyond just Black History Month. For the artists you curated, how were those connections built?
Our impetus for the work curated was to create a conversation. In the same way that the exhibition is serving to open a portal for conversation beyond Black History Month, so does each individual artwork. Each of the pieces relate to each other thematically, just as a conversation between two people would flow. We connected with our artists through past gallery showings and NYU friends — the networks we build there are invaluable.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We’re grateful to be here. To us, Williamsburg is the most beautiful part of Brooklyn, and there’s nowhere else we’d rather found our gallery.