Aindrea Emelife: Art Critic and Curator
Working in an industry that has traditionally (and stubbornly, even today) been dominated by white, privileged, older male figures, Aindrea Emelife brings a fresh and exciting perspective to her work.
Her enthusiasm for art and passion for using her voice to engage with wider, diverse audiences is contagious. Having written for and worked with the Royal Academy of Arts, the V&A Museum, the Courtauld Gallery, The Guardian, Vice, Tatler, and many more, she is an inspiring example of a savvy young woman who knows what she wants and how to get it, clearly showing that youth is no hindrance to a relentless and happy pursuit of your goals.
We caught up with the freelance art critic, curator, and presenter to discuss how she’s come so far, so fast, and what she’s looking forward to in the future.
HER BACK STORY
Tell us about your childhood: where did you grow up? Were there any fundamental moments that shaped you into the person you are today?
I was brought up in Kensington and lived there for most of my life. We travelled a bit, but mostly I was in London. Some of my most memorable moments were going to galleries, though the decision that directed the course of my life was studying art history at A Level. Without that opportunity I wouldn’t have done a degree in art history and would be a different person today. In fact, it was a teacher at university who encouraged me to follow art history as a career path. I was always going to galleries as a child, with a notebook, but I didn’t know it could be a job!
What one lesson or skill did you learn growing up that you still use in your work and adult life today?
Just keep going. I got really bad GCSEs, but it taught me that one disappointment or setback cannot be allowed to dictate the course of your life. You can’t change the past, so instead channel your energy into the present and future. And don’t obsess over how other people are doing: concentrate on yourself, right here, right now. A lot of people compare their careers to those of other people, especially when you’re a similar age, but that’s unhealthy, unnecessary, and a waste of time.
What sort of career aspirations did you have growing up?
I wanted to be a fashion designer. I did lots of doodles and took some fashion illustration courses. I was convinced I was going to be the next Galliano! But I realised later that instead of creating things I’d rather comment on them, which is when I turned my attention to magazines and television.
What were some of the first jobs you had? How do you think they were useful for you?
One of my first jobs was an internship at Tank magazine. I was actually fourteen and lied about my age on the application. I learnt so much about how a magazine is run and realised I definitely wanted to be a writer. I also did a brief internship at the BBC, which was a great introduction to the world of broadcast journalism.
HER BIG BREAK
How easy (or difficult) did you find the transition from student to working woman?
Actually, not difficult at all! Even though I loved my course, I was always balancing university assignments with my own projects and part-time work. So finally being able to focus on just one thing was great. It’s amazing being able to sit down and think about things I want to write, without worrying about other deadlines.
You work for so many different people doing so many different things. When did you first think, “I’ve made it”?
I wrote a piece for The Financial Times about surrealism – a movement I really love. It got me a lot of attention, especially as I was a new voice in a world where a lot of the voices are the same. Most art critics at the moment are over 50, ex-Oxford, white men. I like to hope I have a different perspective per se, but I also like to think that just by being me I do too.
What’s been the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career so far?
Being self-employed is a big risk. I always worry that there won’t be any work. Luckily that’s not been a problem so far, but it’s definitely something that keeps me motivated: I need to go out and make my projects happen!
What do you wake up looking forward to – and dreading?
I look forward to being able to think about, and engage with, what’s going on at the moment. I love reading about everything that’s happening in the art world and contributing to it with my opinions and my voice.
Conversely, I’m sure I’m not alone (especially at this time of the year) when I say I dread taxes. Oh my! And making sure I stay motivated. As a freelancer I could just lie in bed all day every day if I wanted. It’s a bit of a reality check when you first leave university because you have to get stuff done and no one is there to boss you around. But I’ve realised that I have to treat my work as a 9-5.
HER SUCCESS SECRETS
How do you personally measure success?
I have such high standards, which is both good and bad, as it means I aim high but don’t always give myself enough credit for reaching certain milestones. So I’m trying to enjoy the goals I’ve met and pat myself on the back for each achievement.
What is the biggest contributor to your career happiness?
When people email me about something I’ve written – I get about eight reader emails a month. Personal feedback is amazing, and I love seeing how people have engaged with my opinions. I’m passionate about introducing the public to subjects that they might not otherwise have encountered.
What do you think are the biggest challenges right now for women in your industry, and do you have any tips on how to overcome them?
Whatever you say as a female art voice, there will always be comments on whether you’re ‘too feminist’, or conversely whether you’re engaging with the feminist perspective enough. It’s wildly frustrating. The only way to overcome this is to develop a thick skin and keep on writing objectively. It’s important to communicate in a way that’s comfortable and suits you, rather than feeling you have to imitate a specific voice.
HER FIVE YEAR PLAN
How do you see your career evolving in the near future?
I hope to continue building my credibility by displaying greater cohesion – in the way I write, the way I think. A consistent dialogue that’s recognisable as me, kind of like Caitlin Moran at the moment.
What’s the next thing you’d like to accomplish?
I want to write a book. I think it’s important for more female art critics to have a voice because we’re not very well represented, today or throughout history. I’m also in the middle of making a TV documentary and can’t wait to see how that turns out.
Have you made any mistakes to date? How have the lessons learned informed what you will do in the future?
When I first started writing, I didn’t spend much time thinking about what I wanted to say overall. I’m now way more considered: I think about past writers and history, and consider the power of my words. I’m much more sensitive about what I want to do with my writing.
What goals have you set yourself, as a woman and as a professional, over the next five years?
More of the same! Though realistically I will probably still be writing my book in ten years time, not five.