We are honored to introduce Kat Irannejad, the visionary force propelling TOTALLY REPS, a visual artist representation agency nestled in Brooklyn, NYC. Join us as she shares her remarkable journey, ascending to prominence within the dynamic realm of the creative arts industry.
In our conversation, Kat delves into TOTALLY’s unwavering commitment to diversity, her unique approach to artist selection and the empowering haven she has cultivated for women in the traditionally male-dominated industry.
TOTALLY stands at the vanguard, sculpting the future of visual art by championing authenticity. Kat passionately encourages artists to unapologetically showcase their personalities alongside their work. Rooted in the belief that meaningful interactions pave the way forward, TOTALLY is dedicated to nurturing and advocating diverse and brilliant artists while cultivating long-lasting client friendships.
Thank you again for this opportunity! Kat, please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Kat Irannejad- I’m the owner of Totally Reps- a creative agency repping brilliant visual artists in the commercial art realm. I’m a first-generation Iranian American- my parents came to America with nothing in the late 1960s and provided a supportive and loving space for me to follow my heart and get into the art world- which I know felt very scary and risky to them, so I’ve always had the drive to prove it could work out ok. I went to Boston University on a painting scholarship for my undergrad BFA, then got my MFA in Painting and MS in Art History from Pratt Institute. Spent a few years doing odd jobs in the art and design realm, and fortunately fell into being an agent for artists in 2010 and have been doing that ever since!
TOTALLY places a strong emphasis on advocating for diversity. Can you share your approach to promoting diversity among artists and clients?
For Totally, building the roster has been a labor of love- and having artists whose work moves me in some way is just as important as having the roster represent the world around me. I’m a child of middle-eastern immigrants, I felt like an outsider for most of my life, my appearance- my name- most especially in my youth- so it’s personal. It’s something I’m always going to be cognizant of and checking myself on, because there has historically been a lack of diversity in this realm and I am in a position to actively decide whether I can be part of it changing for the better. With regard to clients, some of that is out of my hands, in terms of who reaches out to us, but on my end, my hope is that by actively marketing more diverse artists, or edgier and more experimental artists even, that it will encourage clients to be more open about who they may commission.
What criteria guide your artist selection process, and how do you empower artists from underrepresented backgrounds?
I have to like the artwork- or even simply see potential in it. Artists who have a point of view and style that I can identify, who are also actively working on putting themselves and their work out in the world. That’s a must. But truly, being able to work with artists whose work makes my heart skip a beat, it’s a blessing I don’t take for granted. And I don’t care about years of experience or the number of Instagram followers- I just want to see work that is true to the artist and that they’re in it with me and understand this is ultimately a collaboration. We don’t work ‘for’ eachother- we work as a team, full stop. I think we all empower eachother at the end of the day, I’m just in a position to provide a platform that’s targeted to potential clients, with professional relationships I’ve cultivated over many years to hopefully broaden their appeal.
In your experience, what unique strengths and perspectives do women bring to the creative field, and how does TOTALLY harness these qualities to empower women-identifying artists?
Women still only represent something like 10% of Creative Directors and something like 1% of agency owners, which is shameful. The industry has to make a bigger effort to give women, cross-generationally, more positions of leadership and authority- and make more of an effort to commission via women and minority owned agencies beyond a quota of some sort. They’re already there, there is no shortage, and it’s not a hard thing to do. For my part, I’m going to keep being loud about my own role, cheering on other women and women-identifying friends in the industry who have started their own agencies as well. It has been so inspiring to see- and wasn’t like this just 10-15 years ago, so it’s promising. For my roster, I just want to make sure everyone feels heard and seen, and that I will absolutely always have their backs, which I believe they do know. Even artists I used to rep and no longer formally work with still come to me for advice, and that means the world to me.
As a leader in a traditionally male-dominated industry, what steps have you taken at TOTALLY to break down barriers and create a more inclusive and empowering environment for women?
I think there’s a tacit or even ingrained thing in a lot of women to behave or be “good.” Be perfect, show you’re agreeable. Make everyone comfortable. It starts early, in childhood. I know it’s something I struggled with, especially coming from a more culturally strict family with gendered expectations. Then something clicked, maybe it was when I was in my teens and fell into punk and Riot Grrrl, where I thought, “fuck this!” LOL. By the time I started Totally, after 25+ years of work experience, I thought- I’m just going to do whatever I want, however I want to do it, not having to seek approval from anyone. It has been revelatory and so rewarding. Make myself accessible, even to artists I don’t rep to offer advice when I can. I don’t believe in enforcing hierarchy- which I think is a weird power and ego-driven thing that unfortunately even some older women I’ve worked with succumbed to- which I’ve always attributed to experiencing men doing that all their lives, so now it’s ‘their turn’ once they have some power, and they repeat that toxic nonsense.
I think it’s more progressive and healthy to learn what NOT to do based on past experiences, and aim for a more supportive system where we all actively work to change and improve both the industry and how people are treated in it, to stop seeing people as threats/competition or as people who are somehow in service to you. Radical, collective decency! It’s so much nicer and more productive and empowering, and it’s contagious, in the best way.
Who are some women, either within or outside of the creative field, who have been role models or sources of inspiration for you personally, and how have they influenced your approach at TOTALLY?
Oh wow, there are so many- artists, musicians, writers- going back to coming of age during Riot Grrrl, that was incredibly formative and inspiring to me- the DIY aspect of it, the unapologetic and relentless creativity, the “girls to the front” mentality- that’s what we still need more of today. I sort of worshipped Kim Gordon from the time I was, like, 15? Even with Sonic Youth going on, she was creating her artwork, getting into disrupting streetwear in the 90s that was so dude-heavy with X-Girl, doing Free Kitten on the side- there’s a sort of cleverness and irreverence I’ve just always admired in her and still do. She’s still pushing and trying different things, she’s just a true artist, and that’s how I hope to be. And my mom, as cliche as it may be, is truly my hero. She had my brother at 17, left Iran to start over in a new country where she didn’t know the language, ran her own hair salon, took care of everyone, and was always so loving and supportive. She never tolerated me complaining, or victimizing myself, teaching me to just get my chin up and plow forward and to stop making excuses. She’s always been relentlessly loving and warm, even when she is absolutely SCHOOLING me or reading me to filth, hahaha- and I’m just always in awe of her. She’s just always been a force that I look up to and learn from, and even now- when I’m having a wobble, she sets me right.
In your opinion, how do you see the role of visual art evolving in the creative industry in the coming years, and how does TOTALLY aim to be at the forefront of this evolution?
I think visual art has to be accessible- and AI ain’t it. We instinctively respond best to work that has the genuine essence of each artist- not an amalgamation or a weak facsimile. So many of the artists I’m lucky to represent are so much a part of the work they’re creating. Their personalities are intertwined in the work- and it’s beautiful. I think the more we can encourage artists to unapologetically put themselves out there alongside their art, to show they are not replaceable (and neither is their work). Positive evolving sometimes can mean correcting a path, not necessarily pushing a path forward.
Are there any upcoming projects or developments that you’re excited to launch in the near future?
I’ve just got my head down at the moment, hustling hard and getting Totally thriving- and it has been so rewarding and fun. There have already been some fun projects you can see on our Instagram, and there’s some biggies coming soon, but I’m not allowed to say! 😉
A question we ask all of our interviewees, what is your interpretation of a Raw Femme?
A Raw Femme, to my mind, is anyone who identifies as a woman and openly, loudly, and joyfully celebrates who they are, everyday. Raw Femmes won’t tolerate ignorance and will always support their Raw Femme sisters because we thrive on creativity and lifting others around us, and we collectively big-up each other, always.