Creative Corner: How a museum curator finds balance in the art world

We chatted with Alexandria-based curator Leslie Mounaime about how her career translates to her individualized style on a daily basis.

woman in black shirt and checkered skirt
Leslie Mounaime stands in the corner of the Target Gallery within the Torpedo Factory, while exhibiting My Queer Valentine. (Photo by Jess Feldman)

Leslie Mounaime never expected she’d be where she is today. She studied art history at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, focusing on Greek and Roman mythology, but realized her senior year that she longed for a more creative outlet. Eventually, Mounaime found that a career path within contemporary art was a much better fit. 

Mounaime currently serves as an exhibitions curator at Old Town’s Torpedo Factory Art Center, and she spends her days working with emerging and mid-career artists to curate 11 different galleries at the site. Within each space, the goal is to develop a cohesive feeling or emotion through the artwork, moving the eyes of visitors through the gallery. 

“That’s done through color, shape, size … Every piece of work needs to hold its own weight, while also being complementary to the one next to it,” explains Mounaime of her creative process. 

As Mounaime seeks structure in the spaces she curates, the same can be said of her style. Bold, but put together. Enticing, but cohesive. Throw black, gold and a little glitter in the mix, and she’s sold (as long as it’s organized).

Below, the 31-year-old curator shares how she finds a sense of self in the arts world, the pressures of the industry, recent obsessions and more.

This post is a part of our ongoing Creative Corner series, highlighting the style of artistic Northern Virginians. Read our profile on painter Ann Marie Coolick here.

jewelry and a scarf.
Leslie Mounaime’s favorite way to add flare to an outfit is through her accessories. (Photo by Jess Feldman)

On personal style: “People say I have that witchy energy … I like to wear bright eye makeup and black lipstick and I wear a ton of black. I’ve also always been really interested in astrology and tarot cards. When I was younger, for every birthday people would just get me astrology books. I’m a Gemini but I recently got my chart read and I have a lot of Capricorn in me too. That’s where my hardworking side comes from.” 

On creating a safe space: “With exhibitions, I always have to think about who will be viewing the work and what we are trying to articulate. I want the work to be accessible for people. With this one [My Queer Valentine], we haven’t had an exhibition that was LGBTQ-focused and I thought it was something that was lacking in this area. I felt it was needed. I want people to feel like the art center is a safe space for them. My goal with this space and this exhibit is to connect.” 

On home design: “In my own home, I’ve gotten myself into a trap. I have a lot of artwork at my apartment, which is not super big. There is art literally all over the walls. I’ve tended to collect in the color palette that my room is, so I’m in this conundrum where I don’t have a ton of wall space but if I am interested in something and it doesn’t fit the colors, I can’t do it. I just can’t. I have a lot of blue, green and jewel tones; I try to create a calm environment. There are plants everywhere too. It’s my tranquil space where I can decompress.” 

On how she presents herself to the world: “The way I move about the world is I always like things to flow organically, with how I write, how I curate and how I pick out my clothes. With my style I like having a piece of color or a pattern but it always has to make sense. It’s always a structured look. I tend to go out there sometimes because you know, if you work in the arts, we all have a wild-crazy side. For example, I have a holographic sweatshirt that I’ll whip out sometimes, but typically I do things that will complement each other.”

On the pressure to look a certain way: “I think it’s nice working in the arts because you can have tattoos and your hair can be pink—that won’t make you look less professional. It’s one of the fields where you don’t have to be limited in how you express yourself through style. But on the other side of that, I do think, for me especially, I am younger, so I want to make sure I look professional. I try to not go too crazy for gallery openings, but it all depends on the event. Also, Alexandria is classic, but there are certain places where I’m like, ‘This is a black lipstick and glitter-filled event’. But if I am planning on meeting other peers and women in the field, I’ll do a more sophisticated look.”

On the power of Instagram: “What’s interesting is artists don’t need gallery representation the same way they used to, so galleries are adapting to that. I think it can be good and bad … but in reality, we want people taking pictures of the artwork because half the reason they go to see things now is to take a picture of it and document that they’ve been there.”

On her style evolution: When I was younger I was experimenting. I went to a private school for high school so I was super preppy, then I went to art school and it was hipster-y, then I was working part-time art jobs and it got funky. I’ve never been too big on pattern mixing. I have really strong features so if I wear too much it will be overwhelming, in my personal opinion.”

On fashion trends: “I’m normally in black bases, but I’ve been wearing a lot of pink and rose lately, trying to change things up. And I’m always obsessed with my big jewels.”

On current obsessions: “One artist I’ve been consistently impressed with is Miki Beyer. Their work is very thoughtful, personal, intimate and beautiful. They recently had a solo show at Olly Olly art space and it was their work and self-portraits of them and their partner. It was all about being true to themselves and both them and their partner are nonbinary. It was all about validating this recognition of love; it was so moving. 

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