Name: Tahir Carl Karmali
Campus: Les Roches Bluche, BBA in International Hotel Management with specialization in Marketing, 2009
Current job: Visual Artist, Artistic Director at limeSHIFT (Brooklyn, NY)
“You gain a good perspective on the world through hospitality.” A degree in hospitality may be an unusual background for an artist, but alumnus Tahir Carl Karmali shows that there’s more linking the two fields than meets the eye. Recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30: Art & Style list, Tahir has developed a successful career as a mixed-media artist. The Kenyan-born, Brooklyn-based Les Roches graduate is also Artistic Director at limeSHIFT, a creative agency that provides art innovation consulting.
An Aspiring Artist Drawn to Hospitality
As a teen growing up in Nairobi, Tahir already knew he was passionate about art. “I was thinking about going to art school,” he remembers, “but then I realized that if I went to art school straight after high school, the experience might be too insular, too sheltered. Without seeing much of the world, what would I really have to say about life?”
So Tahir considered other options. “I love cooking, so when I found out about Les Roches, that got me interested. I also really liked the idea of working somewhere else for six months at a time. It gives you a better understanding of the world — you’re part of the global economy, faced with very different economic situations. You gain a good perspective on the world through hospitality, and you learn what work means.”
At Les Roches Switzerland, Tahir discovered “a community of all sorts of people from different parts of the world.” The Bluche campus, he recalls, was “a meditative place to be — you’re surrounded by this very epic landscape.” Internships took him from Switzerland to Singapore. In the final year of his degree, Tahir specialized in marketing: a field that combined his interests in art and communication.
Early Career Steps
After graduating from Les Roches in 2009, Tahir returned to Nairobi and began working for EatOut Kenya. “I was developing content on the Nairobi food scene that was designed to make food more accessible. The idea was to promote restaurants and make dining something that everyone could enjoy and discuss.” At the same time, Tahir was refining his artistic practice in a studio at visual arts center Kuona Trust. Then, a few years later, he decided to pursue a Master in Digital Photography at New York City’s School of Visual Arts.
New Beginnings in New York
When Tahir arrived in New York, he thought that he might be somewhat alone in the new city.
“In fact, at least every month I see someone I know from my time at Les Roches.”
New York seems to be a place where paths cross. It is also a city where Tahir’s background in marketing has come in handy: “New York is a PR city. It’s a city that relies on a social network.”
In the US, Tahir has completed artistic residencies in places like MacDowell and BRIC Visual Artist Residency, while he has also had exhibits throughout Africa, Europe and South America. Exposure to different walks of life has been vital to his artwork, which explores the identity of underrepresented communities.
Merging Art and Hospitality
Tahir balances his work as an artist with his job as Artistic Director at limeSHIFT — a fulfilling role that he discovered thanks to his hospitality experience. “Though hospitality management, you learn how to deal with people,” he says. “At limeSHIFT, I work to connect artists with clients and to manage expectations.” The agency uses art as a catalyst for organizations to become more creative, productive and connected.
By working with human resources departments, limeSHIFT examines the needs of companies and organizations. Then, the agency introduces activities, like creative workshops and collective art projects, that bring employees together and result in a lasting visual reminder of the experience. Working at limeSHIFT has been a perfect fit for Tahir’s background in art and marketing — his first major project as Artistic Director was the rebranding of the agency.
“There is something very entrepreneurial about being an artist,” Tahir says. “It’s about taking risks. You try things. You might take new material to embed in glass, and it might melt or turn into gold.” To current Les Roches students, he has the following words of advice:
“Remember who you are in public and at work. Don’t lose yourself as an individual, and stay true to who you are.”