Michael started working in African art in 1979. He opened his first gallery in the heart of Manhattan’s West Village in 1985 and soon expanded to open galleries in SoHo, the Upper East Side, and Toronto, Canada.
His journey in the art world was arduous and far from typical. He emigrated from New Delhi, India in the 1970s, where he worked in his father’s lumber and coal yard. “I worked with my father in the day, and at night I would sing and work on my paintings. This was my favorite part of the day,” Michael recalls, “My love of art started from there, and when I was finally exposed to African art, I felt a deep connection to it. It is hard to explain. It always has resonated with me spiritually. When I came to this country, I didn’t have much money. I went door-to-door selling African art. I began every morning downtown and walked miles until I got uptown. Slowly, I gained a following. Years later, I took a chance with my first space.”
Michael was the first collector to bring shona, art from Zimbabwe, to New York City. He was also the first Indian immigrant to break into the city’s African art world, and one of the few in the fine art world altogether. “It was not easy being a minority in this city in the 1980s—and even more so in the art world,” he explains.
But Michael prevailed. The 90s saw York’s Shona Gallery hosting clients from around the world, including celebrities such as Spike Lee, Danny Glover, Walter Cronkite, and Eartha Kitt. In 1997, the gallery was profiled in the New York Times.
Michael made his gallery feel more like home by working with his family: his father, wife, sons, and daughter, Tina, who took a keen interest in art. “My dad took me to work with him almost every weekend. I colored in the back room with my grandfather while my dad worked. My dad sometimes surprised me with gifts like African dolls and toy beetles to play with. I loved it. When I got older, I started to notice how passionate he was about his work. He furnished our home with African art, and sometimes I noticed him gazing at a sculpture for a long time with a cup of tea in his hands.”
Tina felt a strong connection to creative enterprise, and graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2010. She went to work in the world of luxury goods, including stints at Gurhan and David Yurman, before leaving her job to relaunch the family business. “It all happened very organically. I truly am my father’s daughter,” she says with a smile, “I was always inspired by the way my father inspired his clients to love African art. He saw a void in the art world and seized it. As his daughter, he set an aggressive and bold vision for me.”
In November 2017, York’s Shona Gallery relaunched as an online art gallery and is managed by Tina “My father prevailed as an outsider in the art world and I’m in awe of everything he has accomplished. He loves African art with his heart and soul, and passed that onto me. Nobody has more faith in me than my father, and he is my truest champion. I’m honored to carry on his legacy.”