Born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa, Ian eventually found his way to La Jolla, where he opened Africa and Beyond at 1250 Prospect St. Ian met his wife Julie while she was a customer at the gallery. Each year, they travel to Africa to handpick new merchandise for the gallery and later share their travel and acquisition stories with patrons.
“I buy what I like and hope everyone else agrees,” said Ian. “I’m not a salesman, so I have to love what I carry in order to sell it. I have to feel passionate about it.”
Each item in their shop is accompanied by background information on its history and function so the artwork is fully appreciated, much like visiting a museum.
“Everything has a story behind it, and we tell our customers about it,” said Ian. “You can look at the objects from an aesthetic standpoint, but when you learn about the culture and what it was used for, it brings another dimension to the object.”
The Allens procure most of their merchandise through museum deaccessions and fair-trade projects in Africa. They often hold special events such as book signings, lectures and hat or jewelry shows to raise money for charitable organizations. Much of their work now is focused on supporting fair-trade projects, which they say is gratifying for everyone involved.
“We buy directly from the source,” said Ian, “and we know where to go. Most of our repeat customers have been to Africa but never saw anything like this during their trip, or they paid a lot more for it because they didn’t know the best place to get it.”
Africa and Beyond sells masks, jewelry, beadwork, furniture, textiles, ceramics, sculpture, books, music, dolls, collector’s items and more.
“To me,” Ian said, “this is what makes Africa rich—the art, culture and heritage — it’s all very rich. Unfortunately, a lot of this artwork dies out with the culture, so now it’s a lot of imitations that are made to look like the originals.”
The Allens are scheduling a trip to Africa this summer, after which they plan to hold a divination exhibition at the gallery sometime in the fall. They’ve been collecting artifacts for years that tell the stories of traditional healers and the objects they used to conjure up spirits.
“Africa and Beyond is more than just a shop; it’s an adventure,” said Ian. “People are transported into another world, and we want everyone to leave with a deeper appreciation and understanding of Africa.”
Africa and Beyond is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit africaandbeyond.com.