The arts are thriving around the Arabian peninsula. From Doha to the smallest state of the United Arab Emirates, museums and galleries are making an ambitious mark on the Middle East’s cultural landscape. The Middle Eastern art scene is extraordinarily vibrant, diverse and often unique. Drawing on the rich artistic heritage of the region, it has been thrust into modernity as a generation of artists rises.
Another new addition to the art landscape is EMERGEAST, launched in May 2014 by Dima Abdul Kader and Nikki Meftah. EMERGEAST is an online art gallery promoting and selling artworks by emerging Middle Eastern artists. Through a diverse roster, the digital platform offers a young urban audience the chance to collect artworks by the region’s up and coming contemporaries. al.arte had a talk with the young inspiring founders of EMERGEAST.
Can you tell me more about EMERGEAST?
We want to acquaint each Urbanite with our artists’ inspirations and influences behind their art, creating that intimate connection between artist and user for a true understanding of and familiarity with art. We provide users with a unique gallery experience, where young collectors are invited to browse through the artworks at ease while also accessing our art collecting tutorials and tips. Catering to art enthusiasts, young collectors and first time buyers alike, we make sure to curate accessible artworks for our Urbanites. In one line we can say EMERGEAST is a vehicle for the culturally inclined, bringing our audience the current shapers of the Middle Eastern art scene.
Why the need for an online gallery?
An online gallery facilitates the accessibility of art to clients, users and consumers alike worldwide. We believe in advocating and spreading the multitude of talented artists from the region internationally – the world wide web allows us to fulfil our mission without being confined to the constraints of a physical space.
The art market has also virtually taken a permanent seat where clients have found purchasing art online to be equal to, if not more resourceful than physical gallery browsing – our globalised generation is likely to respond more to the speed and efficiency that the online realm can bring forth. We’re sure you’re wondering how we tackle users feeling art needs to be seen – that’s why we have included a return policy!
What are the benefits of an online gallery, and the downsides?
Being accessible to users anywhere in the world literally at their finger tips provides the unique selling point of an online gallery – whereby browsing, reading and scrolling at one’s own pace will allow the user to take in, understand and hence appreciate the artist’s work and become well acquainted with what they would like to collect.
A downside is perhaps the idea that buying art online has still not infiltrated fully into users’ mindsets as a way of buying art. Experienced collectors worldwide have taken to the online sphere to buy and even participate in auctions online – our job is to disseminate this mentality to the majority.
How do you select your artists?
The hardest yet most exciting part of our job is curating the selection of artists and their work. We choose artists who speak to our audience and who are at turning points in their careers and whose talent we are confident will be catapulting them to promising and successful positions as artists in the future.
Which artists inspire you?
Nikki: The artists which I consider to have been an inspiration to me are artists which allow critical thinking. I have always been drawn to art that conveys powerful messages such as Parviz Tanavoli’s ‘Heech’, a work which has come to represent questions of spirituality and existentialism to an international audience. I am also huge fan of Shirin Neshat’s work. I was very moved by the ‘Unveiling’ and ‘Woman of Allah’ series which are both a raw and emotional representation of identity and women in Islam.
Dima: My inspirations have been the contemporary masters of our of modern era, I am moved by the colour palette of Willem de Kooning, the subject matter of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the abstract formations of Cy Twombly. It’s with these inspirations I am drawn towards today’s Middle Eastern artists’ works – we find many of our artists are inspired by many from the Western art landscape, where the likes of Frida Kahlo and Willem de Kooning have served as almost ‘heroes’ and mentors for their artistic production.
What’s your background?
Nikki: As a London-based Iranian, I’ve always been intrigued by Iranian cultural heritage. Paying regular visits to Iran throughout my childhood, I grew more and more infatuated by the history, poetry and culture of Iran and the Middle East; which is what I went on to study at SOAS University. My studies led me to work at Magic of Persia, an organization promoting Iranian art and culture through auctions, art prizes and artist residencies. Two years later, it was time to focus on younger, emerging artists which is when EMERGEAST came into play.
Dima: I come from a corporate background with professional experience in finance, yet post- work gallery visits are an underestimation of my devout inclination to the arts! After my experiences I made the move to the creative industry starting with an art advisory and consultancy role at London’s Contemporary Art Society. EMERGEAST was very closely behind forming its place in my life.
What’s integral to the work of Middle Eastern artists?
Integral to the work of Middle Eastern artists is that it’s as wide and varied as the countries representing the Middle East. Themes, concepts and discourse are far ranging and cover a variety of subject matter – there is no common denominator. Yet, unsurprisingly given the political, economic and social strife that has swept over the Middle East in our past, present and undoubtedly the future, many creatives have taken to his or her canvases to reflect each social fabric.
It’s safe to say that political, social and economic conditions unique to every country in the Middle East bring about equally different influences and inspirations to artists. Gathering such intricate results under one umbrella, or ‘Artists’ web page in this case, presents a dynamic and palpable story of our present Middle East society as a whole.
Do you want to play a role in society?
Yes definitely, facilitating and assisting in the notion of art collecting to a new wave of collectors is our current active role.
What’s your favourite artwork?
Nikki: I’ve had many Iranian artists’ works in my favorites list but I have to say Iranian artist Elham Etemadi’s works, a recent discovery, have definitely taken first place.
Dima: Hmm, that’s a tough one, there’s so much to choose from – but I wouldn’t mind all of Jaffar Al Oraibi’s works in my house!
What makes you angry in the art world?
Nikki: When an artist doesn’t get the attention he or she deserves. There are so many mid-career artists who have had to trade their passion and immense talent for 9 to 5 jobs. Hopefully with more initiatives like EMERGEAST we can collectively shine a light on these artists.
Dima: When people say: “This is not art, I could have done that” …to which I always love to say “but you didn’t!” I think this encapsulates the lack of understanding of conceptual and contemporary art and why the artist has chosen to express themselves in the eccentric way they have – part of our mission at EMERGEAST is to break down these barriers.
What are your future plans?
Our future plans include international pop-ups and accessible art fairs. We want to convert people from culturally inclined to art enthusiasts to art collectors. It also goes without saying that a collector embracing and contributing to an artist’s career is essential for the growth of an organic art industry.