PODCAST: Gallery Girl Meets Emergeast

In this episode of the podcast we speak to Nikki Meftah and Dima Abdul Kader of Emergeast, the Middle East’s first online gallery. We speak about how they founded their business, working with emerging artists and their advice for art lovers looking to start their collection.

1 EMERGEAST Team shot by Mai Moataz copy
Nikki Meftah and Dima Abdul Kader by Mai Al Moataz

Nikki and Dima met over 10 years ago in London through mutual friends, and founded Emergeast in 2014. “We started asking ourselves where we could buy Middle Eastern art and why there was no accessible platform for Middle Eastern artists”, says Nikki, “We noticed a gap in the market that provided direct access to emerging Middle Eastern artists as well as a platform for young collectors to come and gain more knowledge into the industry.” Emergeast launched with 14 artists, with many artworks at accessible price points. “We wanted to bridge that gap between the emerging artist and the emerging collector”, adds Dima, “To provide an outlet for people who didn’t know where to go and start a collection.” Today, Emergeast now includes 92 artists, which Dima calls family. The pair have grown their roster through organic and hands-on scouting, as well as through submissions and introductions from their artists. 

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Tous Ensemble by Elham Etemadi, 50 x 50 cm

But the artists are just half of the Emergeast story, the other side is the collectors, who the team describe as the “Emergeast urbanite”, someone who is a young professional and is culturally inclined. And, with prices beginning from $200, there is something for everyone, with Nikki and Dima helping their clients grow their collections. “The target collector has evolved over time”, explains Dima, “We want people to catch the art bug and snowball from there.”

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Lalaland by Amr Attamimi

And, where many galleries are scrambling to get online, Emergeast has an edge as they have made the internet their home from day one. Nikki likens Instagram to their shopfront, attracting young buyers through social media. And while many of their collectors are based in the MENA region, the pair are aiming to reach wider international audiences, with partnerships with places like ArtNet only broadening their horizons. The pair also has an advantage having been online for years and they recognise that they may have the upper hand where the rest of the art world is moving online in the age of coronavirus. “We saw a lot of brick and mortar galleries scramble to get online”, says Dima, “It was very time sensitive, especially with Art Dubai which was about to happen. But we already had that in place.” “It gave the general public a bit more confidence in this online sphere in general”, adds Nikki, “We saw skeptical people in the past become more open to seeing how this online thing works.” Emergeast even partnered with other galleries in this time to bring them online and shine a light on new artists. And speaking about digital art, Emergeast really advocates it. “We think it’s a new oil on canvas”, says Dima. The pair are really excited about where new media art is going. “We can’t negate the power of digital art”, adds Nikki, “Since we started the platform we’ve seen a surge of digital artists really taking from their canvases to the computer to do these CGI renditions and it’s been really interesting.”

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Emergeast auction at Ritz Carlton DIFC Dubai in 2015

But Emergeast has existed in the physical sphere too, with Nikki and Dima having hosted both auctions and exhibitions. The platform’s first live auction took place in 2015 at the Ritz Carlton DIFC Dubai, allowing collectors to experience the thrill of the sales room in real life. “It’s been really nice to bring people together and emulate a live auction scenario”, says Nikki, with Dima explaining that the events had a domino effect bringing more people online. The pair are also planning more events once the coronavirus pandemic has eased. 

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Emergeast’s Currents exhibition at the W Hotel in Doha

Speaking about the future, Emergeast is looking to expand their roster and expand their platform so that it is a one-stop shop for collectors. “We envision Emergeast to become a lifestyle brand”, explains Dima, “To go beyond the gallery experience and to become a cultural experience.” “It’s important to note that there is no platform right now for young collectors”, adds Nikki, “A lot of people see themselves as art enthusiasts and really enjoy viewing art but when it comes to actually participating in an auction or buying art for the first time, they don’t really have the confidence to do this. We see Emergeast also as a place where they can learn how to buy and collect art. To break down those barriers to the art market.” So, what advice would they give to someone looking to buy their first work of art? “You can start as small as you want”, says Dima, “It really takes that first artwork. That first jump.” Nikki agrees. “You have to be completely obsessed with what you’re buying”, she says, “At the end of the day trends change, the market changes. Even if you want to buy something as an investment, unless it’s a very established artist you’ll never be 100% sure. What we tell our artists is to be 100% emotionally invested in the artwork. Listen to your own instinct, to your heart.” “When you know you know”, adds Dima, “It’s that kind of moment that you’re going to experience.”

6 Helen ZughaibHommage A Mes Amis 2018
Hommage A Mes Amis by Helen Zughaib

And, speaking with two successful businesswomen working within the MENA art world, I had to finish by asking Nikki and Dima for their advice for young people starting out in the art world. “The four P’s”, they said, “Patience, perseverance, persistence and passion.”

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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