This May, Japantown welcomed a new resident: 3F Gallery. At only 11 square feet, it is easily one of the smallest galleries in the city, or pretty much anywhere. But what 3F lacks in square footage, it more than makes up for in ambition.
“It was a space that was created to meet the needs that we saw in the community,” says founder Imran Najam.
Those needs were simple: San Jose artists needed support.
“I’ve kind of been upset by the trajectory that San Jose has taken regarding the art scene,” Najam says. “They’ve been sponsoring a lot of projects recently that aren’t by San Jose artists, like the Santa Clara bridge with the light-up circles. The new [city] logo was designed by a firm in Kansas City. These are big money projects. I think those resources should be allocated to the community.”
Najam (who uses they/them pronouns) figured that if the city wasn’t going to support local artists, they might as well give it a shot themselves.
Inspired by indie videogame Moonlighter, Najam began to think about opening up a storefront. After a trip to LA where they visited the Last Book Store’s community workshop space and the nearby Fold Gallery, Najam came back with an idea.
“I really wanted to open a store, and I started thinking the best way to do it was to help all my friends sell their art,” they say. “There really isn’t that space that you can just walk in and be like, ‘Oh, this person is from San Jose. Is it possible to sell my art?’ Again, we were kind of seeing a lack of that in San Jose.”
By the time they thought of opening a physical store, Najam was already part of an artist collective. Consisting of lifelong friends and like-minded peers, the collective had formed around the development of a student newspaper at De Anza. Eventually, the paper evolved into a magazine, whose staff comprised the 3F collective.
“That’s what kind of introduced us to the art scene in San Jose,” Najam says. “We interviewed the folks of DDEF (Dream Daringly and Execute Fearlessly), and talked about their collective and what they’re doing in San Jose. We talked to a lot of local musicians. We had a lot of fun with this project, but we were all thinking about what we wanted to do with our lives.”
Initially, they considered forming a design house. Then, over the summer, Tam Tran, owner of Japantown’s Classic Loot, began soliciting pop-up shops for her second location next to the former Wing’s Chinese Restaurant on Jackson Street. Najam told her about their plans for an art gallery of local artists.
“Basically, we bonded over this idea, and she liked it so much she offered to rent it out to us. It started as an experimental, one-month pop-up, but we hope to be there as long as possible.”
On opening night in May, 3F’s walls featured works from 27 local artists. Works ranged from portraits, photos and conceptual pieces to paintings of local landmarks like the Western Appliances sign at Bascom and San Carlos, as well as zines and postcardsvirtually all of them by San Jose artists.
Now, the gallery (whose name stands for “Form,” “Function,” and a third “F” for “whatever each artist brings to the space”) is preparing for its first artwork rotation. For the months of July and August, 3F will be featuring 14 new artists. In an effort to bring in as much up-and-coming local talent as possible, the gallery remains open to submissions year-round.
“There’s so much untapped potential in the art community in San Jose,” Najam says. “I may sound like a city official when I say this, but it’s basically a ‘stArt up space.’ That’s kind of a joke I had from our opening.”
127 Jackson St, San Jose