L aila Gohar wears many hats, depending what day of the week or where in the world you catch her. Based in New York, she designs unique eating experiences, installations and pop-ups within the spheres of art, design and fashion – just don’t call her a food artist. Her popular Instagram feed @lailacooks is a taster of her ever-eclectic practice: think a cake made out of sausages, a pillowy concord grape and fig leaf pavlova, or an abstract bento pillow made of silk taffeta, lace and dried anchovies (an homage to the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro no less).
Design is an important strand of Gohar’s practice. She previously created a table with Belgian design duo Muller Van Severen inspired by Egyptian pigeon houses and will soon be launching a capsule collection of over 25 objects – from bowls to tablecloths, ceramics, vases and plates – with Danish design brand Hay. Her extensive client list includes fashion labels such as Comme des Garçons and Simone Rocha and – as if she didn’t already have enough on her plate – Gohar also contributes a monthly HTSI column called How to Host It, based on imaginary holidays she dreams up.
Laila's Picks From Contemporary Curated
In 2020, she launched a Surrealist-inspired tableware universe, Gohar World, with her sister Nadia that ‘reimagines everyday rituals for the present’. It’s a family affair in every sense of the term – designed from her New York City studio, the tabletop objects are created in family-owned ateliers around the globe and celebrate disappearing craft traditions. Gohar World’s fine cottons and linens, sourced in Egypt, are sewn in the Gohar family's Cairo atelier.
This autumn, Laila Gohar is the guest curator for Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale in Paris. We caught up with her ahead of the sale series to find out more.
What drew you to curating this sale for Sotheby’s?
I’ve never done anything like this before and it’s always exciting do something new. I’m also excited but in a community sense, it’s nice to recognise other artists’ work and not necessarily have the focus be on my practice.
Your inspirations are as eclectic as your practice. How did you approach selecting works for Contemporary Curated?
When I see something I know right away if I respond to or if I don’t. I always know exactly what I want and what speaks to me visually. I think that influence or inspiration isn’t a linear process. Sometimes I feel that people talk about inspiration as though it comes from one place – but I don’t think it works like that. It’s more a web of things that leave little impressions in your brain. Later, you subconsciously revisit those impressions and memories they will have an effect on your output. Inspiration can come from anywhere – a big part of it for me comes from nature and everyday, ordinary things.
"With Surrealism, there is a feeling of magic that I’m fascinated by and that I try to evoke in my work"
You’re launched a Surrealist tableware brand, Gohar World. Why does Surrealism resonate with you and how do you incorporate it in your practice?
My work has always felt the influence of Surrealism to an extent. It almost makes people feel like children when you see an object or subject taken out of an ordinary context, or the play with proportion, for example.
Do you remember the first time you encountered a Surrealist work?
I remember a significant one, years ago, when I was in Cadaqués in Catalonia, Spain, and went to Salvador Dalí’s house – there was giant egg on the roof. I remember every detail about that visit even though it was a very long time ago. Being in that space, I truly felt like Dalí’s life was his work and his work and that his art touched every aspect of his life. I really identify with that.
It sounds like your day-to-day is very unorthodox. How do you navigate the unpredictability of it all?
There’s definitely challenges. I tend to be very hectic and chaotic in my personal life, but in very organised in my professional life. You always have to count on something going wrong. There aren’t giant disasters because we plan things so far out – there’s a way to salvage something going wrong and do damage control.
"I’m hard-headed, and don’t really take no for an answer. I keep going at it."
Do you have any pearls of wisdom for young creatives starting out?
I’ve had a very nonlinear career path. I essentially made it up – what I do wasn’t a thing. Now there are more young people that are interested in working with food in this way that don’t necessarily identify as chefs. In terms of advice – I’m hard-headed, and don’t really take no for an answer. I keep going at it. There’s no shortcut for success, there’s no hack. I think that people succeed because they work really hard and tirelessly. I often get asked how I get attention for my work: well, your work will become better because you spent a lot of time doing it and people will eventually recognise that. I wish there was a pill, but there isn’t.
What else do you have in the pipeline?
I am working with this perfumer to do an event at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. It’s a very beautiful place that has one of the largest archives of plant information and botany records. They know when the first pineapple came to France, or when a certain kind of tree started to be native to certain parts of the world. It really is amazing.
(ALL IMAGES COURTESY LAILA GOHAR)