Curator and Advisor Sadaf Padder Celebrates Global Artists, Cherishes Her Grandmother’s Jhumka Earrings, and Dreams of Growing a Forest

We asked the curator, writer, and founder of Alpha Arts Alliance what she values most in art and life.

Sadaf Padder. Photograph by Diane Wah.

So much of the art world orbits around questions of value, not only in terms of appraisals and price tags, but also: What is worthy of your time in these times, as well as your energy, your attention, and yes, your hard-earned cash?

What is the math that you do to determine something’s meaning and worth? What moves you? What enriches your life? In this new series, we’re asking individuals from the art world and beyond about the valuations that they make at a personal level.

Sadaf Padder is an amplifier. She draws out the creative talents and thinkers in the world around her with grace, intelligence, and humor. The Brooklyn-based independent curator, writer, and community organizer is the founder of Alpha Arts Alliance (A3), an arts agency focused on artist coaching and curatorial services, with a focus on championing women artists for South Asian and Caribbean heritage. Padder founded A3 in 2019, after leaving an eight-year career as a teacher and an administrator in the public school system. 

Installation view "Botany of Desire" curated by Sadaf Padder at Swivel Gallery, New York. Photograph by Cary Whittier.

Installation view “Botany of Desire” curated by Sadaf Padder at Swivel Gallery, New York. Photograph by Cary Whittier.

She brings that nurturing quality to all that she does, with a unique ability to locate talent in overlooked corners. That keen eye is on full display in “Botany of Desire” a new group show curated by Padder, now on view at Brooklyn’s Swivel Gallery (through November 11). The exhibition, inspired by Michael Pollan’s book of the same name, explores the ways plants have adapted to gratifying human desires through the work of nearly two dozen artists. Previously she has curated exhibitions in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Martha’s Vineyard, and Philadelphia, among other locations, often with focuses on mythology, ecology, and futurism.  

Currently, this multifaceted art-world leader is preparing for a fundraising exhibition in benefit of Grown in Haiti—a cause dear to her heart—at NYC Culture Club in the World Trade Center on November 28. 

During her snippets of free time, Padder is an avid gardener and rollerblader, who can be glimpsed whizzing by on the streets of Brooklyn. Recently we caught up with Padder to find out what she values most in art and life—and why.   

What is the last thing that you splurged on?
I treated my mother to our first trip together. We went to Berlin. Core memories with Mama—priceless!

What is something that you’re saving up for?
I am slowly and steadily saving up to build a community center and artist residency in the mountains of Haiti where I retreat in the winters. I am a team member of Grown in Haiti (GIH), a reforestation organization, where we have established four regenerative food systems and distributed 10,000 trees of 90+ fruit-bearing species since our inception. My collective, Alpha Arts Alliance, has been fundraising alongside GIH for this center since 2020. 

Sadaf holding jackfruit grown in the forests of grown in Haiti.

Sadaf holding jackfruit grown in the forests of Grown in Haiti.

What would you buy if you found $100?
A massage. 

What makes you feel like a million bucks?
When a former student I taught or an artist I coached shares their progress. When I place a work by a deserving artist with a collector who will cherish it. When one of my plants sprouts a new leaf. 

What do you think is your greatest asset?
My connection to the community I live in. My persistence. My memory. 

What do you most value in a work of art?
When a work can transcend borders to provoke emotion and relatedness.

Who is an emerging artist worthy of everyone’s attention?
There are so many…I’ll start with Farah Mohammad: a print-maker and installation artist who blends her experiences between Pakistan and New York. Her observations of space are acute and her grasp of various print-making techniques is prodigal. We had her debut solo exhibition at Nyama Fine Art last year, which resulted in the acquisition of five works to the Baltimore Museum of Art. I’m also really excited about Rajni Perera, who is based in Toronto. She makes these phantasmagorical works that deal with climate change, the migratory body, and ancestral memory. If you went to Armory this year, you can’t have missed her epic sculpture and painting at Patel Brown Gallery.

Rajni Perera at Patel Brown Gallery, Armory 2023.

Rajni Perera at Patel Brown Gallery, Armory 2023.

Who is an overlooked artist who hasn’t yet gotten their due?
​​Mahmoud Hamadani. He is a resident at Elizabeth Foundation of the Arts. His drippy drawings remind me of tree roots and Rorschach ink blots. I would love to see him exhibit more in New York. 

What, in your estimation, is the most overrated thing in the art world?
VIP openings.

What is your most treasured possession?
The monstera and coffee trees that I planted in Haiti. The monstera just bore its first fruit! And my grandmother’s gold jhumka earrings. They are one of my only family heirlooms from pre-Partition India. 

Sadaf Padder's grandmother.

Sadaf Padder’s grandmother.

What’s been your best investment?
I hired an assistant this year and it has been a game-changer. 

What is something small that means the world to you?
Starting conversations with “How are you?,” and meaning it. 

What’s not worth the hype?
NFTs. I said what I said. 

What do you believe is a worthy cause?
Authentic artist development. It’s so important for artists to have allies that they know are not directly profiting off of their sales. I believe in establishing relationships that have longevity and symbiosis. I want these connections to last for life.

What do you aspire to?
To seasonally transition out of the city, buy land with my loved ones, and grow a forest. The seeds are there. 

Sadaf in sunflower field in Martha's Vineyard. Courtesy of Timothy Johnson.

Sadaf in sunflower field in Martha’s Vineyard. Courtesy of Timothy Johnson.

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