“Contract roles and short-term assignments give me the flexibility I desire” – Maryam Lawal on managing life as a lawyer and art entrepreneur

Maryam Lawal is a specialist financial regulatory lawyer and was one of the first lawyers to join Re:link, Linklaters’ new premium contract lawyer platform. Magic Circle-trained, Maryam focuses on complex domestic and cross-border financial regulation work, and recently completed a Re:link assignment at a leading pension fund. In 2018, while still working in private practice, Maryam founded The House of African Art (HAART). HAART is holding its latest exhibition “Seeing Sounds”, an exploration of the connection between sound and visual artwork at the Copeland Gallery in London from Tuesday 1 until Monday 7 October. In this interview, we speak to Maryam about the exhibition, balancing her twin careers as a lawyer and art entrepreneur, and why giving a platform for emerging artists from Africa and its diaspora is so important.
“Seeing Sounds” is no ordinary, traditional art exhibition. “It is a fusion of different art forms” explains Maryam. “The overarching theme explores how sound and music can influence the imagination and creative output, framed against the context of contemporary art by artists of African origin. Examining how the same stimuli can affect people in different ways through connected mediums, the exhibition aims to break away from the traditional gallery experience. There will be various events throughout the seven-day show including talks from music psychology professors, spoken word poetry and a listening party. In the evenings, we will also be hosting a DJ and have a line-up of jazz, neo-soul and Afrobeats musicians. Highlighting the relationship between sound and art, our aim is for guests to engage differently with the exhibition depending on the day or time that they choose to visit.”
It sounds fresh and exciting. But there’s a serious point to it as well. “In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of dedicated sales of contemporary African art held at leading London auction houses and galleries focusing on the continent. However, African artists are still largely underrepresented in the global art market with less than four percent of sales attributed to artists of African origin. HAART aims to provide a platform for some of these artists, showcasing the breadth of creative talent emerging from the continent and its diaspora.”
“I have always had a strong interest in art”. “Growing up, I frequently visited art exhibitions at various galleries in London and overseas. When contemporary art by artists of African origin was being shown in these spaces, I noticed how Africa (or African people) were often represented in a very stereotypical, traditional style. Being British-Nigerian and regularly visiting Lagos, for several years I had been exposed to the more striking, innovative work being created in the region. Back in 2016 I had the idea of providing a platform for some of these artists in London, which ultimately led to the creation of HAART.”
“Contract roles and short-term assignments give me the flexibility I desire”. “The opportunity to work as a consultant or take on contract roles allows me to split my time as a practicing lawyer with managing HAART. This is the primary reason why I left private practice earlier in the year - I now have the ability to strike the right balance for my new lifestyle. Nowadays, I think that there is an increasing number of people that don’t necessarily want to work at one law firm for 20 years of their life. Freelance working allows you to gain a variety of work experiences and build and develop different skills and interests.”
Re:link provides premium quality work. “I take my legal career very seriously and I am offered the same quality of work as when I was in private practice. This allows me to continue to develop my skillset whilst offering a premium service to clients. This was one of the driving factors that attracted me to Re:link as I looked to pursue contract style arrangements.”
“Throwaway comments inspire me to act” explains Maryam. “I wouldn’t say that I have one single inspiration. People sometimes make throwaway comments which can spark a reaction and inspire me to drive change. Whilst working as a lawyer in private practice, one of my colleagues said, “lawyers don’t become entrepreneurs”. That comment remained with me and I wanted to show that this isn’t the case if you set yourself goals and aim to achieve something.”
As with any start-up organisation, there have been various challenges.
“You are consistently trying to balance different roles and responsibilities. I am Head of Communications, Head of Marketing, Head of Operations – managing these competing demands can prove extremely challenging. On top of that, I remain focused on my career as a practising lawyer so keeping my knowledge up to date on that side also remains a priority.”
Finally, you don’t want to miss “Seeing Sounds”. “For me, highlights include the panel talk with leading music psychology professors from Goldsmiths University of London and practicing artists on the Thursday night. I am also excited to see how people engage with the theme and what impact different genres of music and sounds have on them. Ultimately, my aim is for people to enjoy the experience. Discovering a new artist they haven't heard of before or a new style of work is of course an additional benefit.”
Seeing Sounds by The House of African Art is being held at the Copeland Gallery in London from Tuesday 1 October until Monday 7 October. You can find out more about the exhibition here on the HAART website.