Simi Launay is British Nigerian artist, economist and entrepreneur, educated at Queen Mary University in London.
She is an artist and collector, collecting works by Cheri Samba, Moke, Steve Bandoma and Phillipe Pasqua as well as ancient African sculptures. As a practicing artist, inspired by her own cultural duality, Launay gained commissions for her portraits, but experienced difficulty when approaching galleries for representation. In 2017 Launay moved from London to Cascais, Portugal where the idea for Ungalleried was conceived, a part digital, part physical art gallery that represents emerging and contemporary artists on an international scale, carefully curated by a group of experts.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
My name is Simi Launay and I am the Founder and CEO at Ungalleried. I studied Economics, trained as a headhunter and have always nurtured a passion for the arts so I made my dream job my obsession and decided to launch Ungalleried. I felt that there are huge impacts that I can make in this space as an advocate for art, for artists and collectors alike. I love art, galleries, people and travelling. This year, I have visited over 20 countries, some multiple times.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
This is always an ironic question! I have Nigerian heritage there is a commonality amongst many children of migrants whereby you have your career path dictated to you and you only really have four options; Medicine, Law, Accounting or Engineering. I missed Medicine by a whisker, wasn’t in love with my Economics degree and I already had the travel bug before I finished university. My parents meant well but the world has changed and barriers to entry are being vaporised. One can now become established, respected and financially secure in a plethora of fields that weren’t as apparent to the generation before us as they are today. My first real job was as a model whilst I was studying. After graduating, I became a head-hunter focused on sub-Saharan Africa as I was able to travel, meet people, impact communities and economies and learn so much every day. A few years ago I decided to pivot my career and focus on my art as I had always nurtured a talent for painting and that was the beginning of the journey to Ungalleried. Ungalleried is the perfect storm for me; I love art, people, interiors and to be surrounded by beauty. My ambition was always to build a business that impacts the lives of real people and I couldn’t have planned what is happening now, 10 years ago.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Several. When I started to paint I was told that as I did not have a degree in the arts I would struggle to gain credibility and I found it difficult to find gallery representation as a result. This is a common challenge that self-taught artists face and it inspired me to create Ungalleried. It dawned on me that there must be so many other artists who need gallery representation to validate their experience as an artist and to give themselves that confidence to label themselves thus. This, and also the notion that in creating the institution that I wanted to represent me, I would be creating a gateway for myself and other artists to occupy an international stage to showcase and share art. A place that makes art more accessible to those who love it in its purest sense, without being encumbered by archaic traditions and outside of gallery walls
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Launching Ungalleried. I feel like this is the culmination of my life’s work, my travels, my passions, my skills and my interests.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Deciding that I wanted to live a life that gave me the freedom to craft my own identity and this was catalysed by me moving away from the UK to Portugal over two years ago. The move gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I really wanted to do with my life and most importantly, who I wanted to be.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I love the idea of mentoring. I have been fortunate enough to have many role models so far, my parents, siblings, my cousin, my husband – all of whom are professionals and are successful in their own right, they are all tenacious, feminists (my father was the first feminist I ever met) and driven. I would love to be in a position where I have achieved so much that I too can mentor someone else as its important to see oneself reflected in the pantheon of successful leaders as you evolve.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
More seats at the table for women so that we can empower each other more in the workplace and in business rather than competing for the same positions. We face enough competition from men, so amongst women it would be so great to experience more comradery.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Don’t worry if you don’t fit in, you are destined to be different.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Truly establishing Ungalleried as a force in the online art world. I want to represent artists from more geographies, to nurture more emerging artists and give them the exposure to become more established and to open the world of collecting art to more people.