EMERGEAST is an online art gallery that represents contemporary artists from the Middle East. Co-run by Dima Abdul Kader and Nikki Meftah, EMEREGEAST not only champions emerging artists but also encourages and educates young people to buy and collect art. I spoke to the girls to talk art, auctions and careers.
GG: What sparked you to start EMERGEAST?
DA: As young urban professionals in our early 20’s, we wanted to start our very own art collection, specifically art tied to our roots’ culture, history and background. However, as soon as we embarked on the prospect of this – we realised there was no immediate place to acquire art by Middle Eastern artists particularly at prices a 20-something urbanite can afford. Cue the beginnings of emergeast.com!
NM: We chose to strictly be online as it gives us the chance to reach a wide international audience who are not necessarily aware of the region’s up and coming talent. Technology is powering the volume of interest, which is why we set up the first online gallery in the Middle East dedicated to inspiring artists/aspiring collectors.
GG: You met at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London), one of the most diverse universities in the world, what impact do you think your studies had on your future career?
NM: I obtained a Double Major Bachelor in Persian Culture & Business Management. Of course, I had no idea where I would end up few years later but at the time these were two subjects I felt highly passionate about. An in depth insight into Persian Culture allowed me to explore the writings of Iranian poets from different eras (from Rumi, Hafez and Khayyam to Forookhzad and Sohrab Sepehri) all of which highly influence Iranian contemporary artists today. Simultaneously, the business side offered knowledge on how to run and manage a business. After my Bachelor, I went on to study Middle Eastern contemporary art further as well as gain experience in an Iranian art foundation. I would say EMERGEAST is a direct result of my studies at SOAS, to which I am highly grateful!
DA: Having completed an MSc in International Management for the Middle East and North Africa – this definitely set the necessary fundamentals for my knowledge on the economic, political and social framework of the Middle East from a business point of view. Coupled with the multicultural surroundings SOAS offers, this experience certainly afforded me with an in depth and well-rounded approach to our globalized generation.
GG: How do you find and nurture your artists?
DA: We are very much on the ground visiting artist studio’s across Tehran, Beirut, Dubai and Doha and wherever our leads take us to scout, interview and get to know potential artists. Many of the artists represented on emergeast.com have also come from direct submissions through our website – who have gone through a rigorous selection process sending them to the fingertips of our young collectors.
We nurture our artist’s by placing them in exhibitions, auctions and esteemed collections.
GG: Where is the most exciting place for contemporary art in the Middle East right now?
NM: Dubai has definitely cemented itself as the Art capital of the Middle East. Aside from holding the largest art fair in the region, Al Serkal Avenue has rapidly become a thriving hub for established galleries, emerging galleries, installation spaces and all things creative. Given Dubai’s rapid development, it is home to many esteemed collectors as well as the yuppie generation who are interested in catching the art bug. Dubai definitely caters to all!
Tehran’s contemporary art scene is also exploding right now. There are over 500 galleries, the majority of which have surfaced in the past 10 years. Given Iran’s situation, artists are turning contemporary art into a prevailing social force acting as a voice to the international community.
DA: I would say it’s a mix between Dubai and Doha. Both cities are propagating the development of art culture. Whilst Dubai is incubating a gallery and art fair ecosystem, Doha is building on an institutional approach through the rise of the museum culture in the city – laying the foundations for a sound and sustainable art and culture environment as well.
GG: You are predominantly an online platform but you also hold auctions and events, what are the benefits of buying art online compared to in an auction setting?
DA: Both avenues of art buying have their benefits in the realm of EMERGEAST. Buying online has proved to be a comfortable, educational and enjoyable process of art browsing, artist discussion and consequent purchase. Our collectors feel at ease in knowing the artworks are at an affordable price tag and there are consultants on hand to assist with their first time purchases.
Similarly, the auctions serve as an educational platform to an alternative way of buying art – our collectors get to experience the thrill of lifting their paddles to bid for artworks at affordable prices, this simultaneously provides for a comfortable and exhilarating experience. It’s safe to say the online sphere and our specific auctions setting work hand in hand in providing new / young collectors with an unintimidating environment to learn about and acquire art.
GG: Do you think our age of ‘digital culture’ on social media is having a positive impact on the art world?
NM: This digital shift has acted as a catalyst to the art market and we have seen a notable change in the structure of the art landscape. Galleries are shifting their resources to online, auction houses are competing for their online market share and we have seen tons of online galleries popping up on the web. This rapid exchange of information accessible through digital opportunities has opened the doors to a globalized art world. I would say it has definitely had a positive impact, especially for young collectors who are typically too intimidated to go to a gallery, they can now browse via instagram and the online avenues and can access all the information they need! Quite a large portion of our sales comes from instagram. There was also a recent story about a Christie’s dealmaker who sold a $24 million Basquiat piece through instagram, this definitely speaks for itself!
GG: The artwork you sell is, relatively speaking, affordable. What are the benefits of making the ownership of contemporary art accessible?
NM: Many people think art is sectioned off to the 1% of art collectors who can afford to splurge at auctions and buy art from blue chip galleries. Our aim at EMERGEAST is to break down these notions and showcase high quality artworks at affordable prices. Encouraging art enthusiast and first time art buyers to acquire their first artwork not only creates cultural dialogues between people but also directly contributes to the career of emerging artists to produce further works.
GG: What is your relationship like with the artists that you represent?
DA: Since EMERGEAST’s inception we have certainly built a solid relationship with our artists. Throughout our journey, which involved both of us embarking on the online sphere together, a bond has been created, whereby Nikki and I can call our artists as some of our closest friends. As we say to each one of our new artists, welcome to the family!
GG: What does it mean to you to be young women in the arts?
DA: To be a young woman in the arts in the current arts and culture climate in the Middle East can be described as a privilege. To be supported by the art community as well as have access to the many turning points of artists’ careers in the region’s art and culture turning point at large is an invaluable experience. Further, being a young woman in the arts has afforded us the ability to relate to both our young collectors as well as our emerging artist roster – the trust and support has proved to be empowering.
GG: What is in your personal art collection?
NM: Most of my collection is made up of Iranian emerging artists, both from EMERGEAST and the ones who I hope to get on EMERGAST. My favorites include a
large scale polaroid by Iranian artist Cyrus Mahboubian and a surrealist artwork by EMERGEAST artist Elham Etemadi.
DA: I have a mix of artworks by Western artists acquired at the beginning of my art journey and recently more Middle Eastern emerging artists such as Anas Homsi. I tend to gravitate towards new media such as light and video works.
GG: If you could own any piece of art, what would it be?
DA: Anything by the Palestinian artist Abdulrahman Katanani no doubt!
NM: ‘Here and then Gone’ by British conceptual artist John Lantham. His recent retrospective at the Serpentine blew me away! And of course an Ali Banisadr.
GG: What’s next for EMERGEAST?
DA: Our next endeavor is our first group show to be held in Doha, Qatar’s new platform Art 29 by the W hotels. The exhibition is the first of it’s kind in Doha as it gathers 8 emerging female contemporary artists from all corners of the Middle East. The show, titled ‘Currents’ is an homage to the current art and culture landscape in the region, where one of the main catalysts to the development is the incubation of art and artists. And in general…what’s next for EMERGEAST is being the ultimate go to gallery and one stop shop for all your art needs!