Buro 24/7 Middle East Interview: Emergeast
An exciting new digital art platform
Buro 24/7 first met Dima Abdul Kader and Nikki Meftah at Art Dubai, after they explained their new project – and a long, inspiring breakfast ensued. Dima and Nikki are hungry – Eggs Benedict aside – and they are on a mission to make a change, to create something that will last and bring inspiration and beauty to the region and beyond.
The young girls are on the cusp of launching their new concept Emergeast – an online platform promoting and selling contemporary art by emerging Middle Eastern artists. The project is not only unique in that it is digital, it has different qualities in its ethos and approach. Emergeast is an interactive hub, which engages a new audience to embrace and advocate contemporary art by building a narrative through their own art collection.
By disseminating a cultural discourse expressed via the Emergeast artists' dynamic works, the platform will raise awareness of the compelling themes shaping the present day Middle Eastern art scene. In turn, this dialogue aims to create an appreciation of the arts relating to the young and urban professional, as Emergeast refer to them "the Urbanite" producing a cultural exchange between artist and audience.
This two-fold interaction aims to awaken and enrich a contemporary wave of collectors vis-à-vis a dynamic gathering of new generation patrons, artists and practitioners alike, offering accessibly through Emergeast a supportive insight into the Middle Eastern art world.
Nikki and Dima don't have their eyes set on world domination, they have their eyes set on their piece of the pie, and it is there's for the taking. Join us as we discover more about their inspiring new project...
Tell us about Emergeast, what is it and why did you decide to create it?
Nikki: We are an online platform that promote emerging artists from the Middle East, they are not necessarily based in the Middle East but they are all from Middle Eastern backgrounds, working from all over the world – for example we have Palestinians and Iranians working with us from San Francisco and Paris, it doesn't matter where they are situated as long as their work speaks to our young urban professional audience.
Deema: We are trying to educate a new wave of people, trying to get them to embrace art, it's not just for those private groups – it's for everyone, we're trying to break down those barriers. We really want people to connect with these artists.
Where did the idea come from?
Nikki: We were both living in London, and both individually interested in art and involved heavily in the art scene, we wanted to find pieces of art for our own homes, and because we worked in the art industry a lot of our friends would ask us where they could buy a piece of affordable art which is Middle Eastern or by a Middle Eastern artist.
So is it affordable art?
Nikki: It is moderately priced, so we are are targeting young urban professionals who have a career, have just bought or rented their new place here in Dubai or anywhere in the world and want to decorate it. All of our artist are incredibly talented and have taken part in either solo shows or group shows so they have collections and they are quite highly priced, but whilst you are starting out you can just buy small pieces of their art, which is a start for our new collectors. We are breaking down this perception that because they have exhibited in the galleries they are super expensive. The art we have ranges from $400–$10,000 well, actually there is no limit – but thats what we have experienced so far.
Deema: We want people to know that it's not pretty art, it's not decorative art that you can put in your home like a poster, but it's more about embracing original art. We have shown a lot of our friends our works online and they have asked questions like "what is this made of", and "what is that made of?" and I tell them, don't worry, were going to teach you what the process is and what materials were used. We choose interesting art, things that will catch a persons attention and make them question it. You'd be surprised, we've been in the art industry for a while, like a quite a few years now, but we are still so new.
What did you both do before Emergeast?
Nikki: I was working for Magical Persia, which is a charity organisation in London and they promote art from Iran, including Iranian artists who are established and emerging. They threw auctions in collaboration with Christie's and also funded a lot of residencies for emerging artists along with extensive work experience in Middle Eastern art, artist liaison and public relations in London and Dubai. Deema was working in the contemporary sector.
Deema: I curated corporate collections for western multinationals and private liaison. I also did a consultant role in the contemporary arts society, but before that I was in banking, I was from a finance and economics background. So when I moved to London after I graduated from Montreal something drew me to the world of art – I would go to art galleries every weekend and I taught myself honestly, starting from scratch.
So neither of you have art history backgrounds?
Nikki: Well we have both taken courses and studied so we both have certificates, which we didn't get together, we did it completely separately, which is bizarre.
How did you two meet?
Deema: We were both friends we met at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and we were both doing our own thing and we just merged really. We were having lunch one day and we were discussing how we both wanted to get into the art scene and how much we loved it and how much we both love art. But the challenge was that we were both in London at the point so the way we got around that was, "lets do it online".
Nikki: So thats really how it started...
Deema: We started this whole concept and idea in London about a year ago, so it has been around 9 months in the making, and it really has not been easy.
Nikki: It is really hard to find artists at all.
Deema: You can find them via word of mouth of course, through friends and practitioners. But it's hard to connect with them, especially when they are all over the world and you have the time difference issues.
So is that why you made the move here to Dubai?
Nikki: That is definitely why we moved here, to be more emerged.
Deema: The thing is, they are artists at the end of the day, they are creative people and they need their time and space.
Nikki: I mean sometimes it's crazy they disappear for weeks and we don't hear from them sometimes, which would be frustrating for some people but we always have to think that they are in their creative headspace and we know that they need that time for inspiration. They have become our friends as well now, which is amazing because we have built such great relationships with them.
Deema: All of our artists are incredible and we love them, but some of them before they came to us were huge in the art world already and almost like celebrities.
Nikki: Whilst we were looking for these artists there would be some of our favourite artists that we would always joke around and said "imagine if he came on board", they were our personal celebrities and now they are our friends and they are so encouraging and we work together so it's really cool. One thing about our company is that we have tried to create this culture, this friends culture, so we are friends with the artists, and people in the industry. One advantage of Dubai is that everyone is so young and you can do things like this, whereas if you were in London it's so hard to get up there to talk to someone at the top whereas here it's our friends and people we know, people our age like you guys at Buro 24/7 that we can relate to – so it's really nice.
How do you choose your artists?
Nikki: We have chosen our artists because they are so different and unique. Sometimes it is really hard for Deema and I to select the artists to partner with because there are so many great ones. Especially because the word is out about Emergeast now, and so we get approached a lot too.
Deema: We get inundated with a lot of profiles from artists wanting to work with us.
Nikki: What we try and do is keep it unique, I mean there are a lot of sites these days like Artsy.net and Artspace in the West, which are amazing websites but they have so many artists, so what we are trying to do is keep the number of artists more select and really concentrate on each artist and their portfolio and their private page.
So what do you do exactly for the artists?
Deema: We bring them to the forefront.
Nikki: We focus on their story, we are really trying to personalise their portfolio's, so – for example – Artsy and Saatchi have their art works and the prices and the dimensions, but we are trying to create a story around each piece. We want the audience to connect with that piece personally. We want you to find that one piece that you love.
Deema: We are reconnecting the artists with each other and the industry as well. We have had artists that used to live with each other and have lost contact and now they are back in contact through the site. It's crazy because most of them have no clue whats going on in their own industry because they are so focused on their work.
Nikki: So internally they have a relationship with each other and externally with the audience as well.
Are you planning to host events in order to showcase your artists?
Nikki: We plan on holding events after the launch, which will hopefully be at the beginning of May.
Deema: Yes, we plan on having pop ups across the region. Which will be select, exclusive pop ups for the young collectors.
What do you love most about your job?
Deema: We love finding new artists and creating new relationships with them, and finding out who they are and what their story is.
Nikki: It's great because we would have been doing this anyway, even if it weren't a business, we have a passion for art so it makes our job so much easier because we are doing something we love.
Do you ever disagree on which artists you want on board?
Nikki: Of course because we both have different taste in art which is the same for everyone.
Deema: We have had small disagreements but we always have to think, our audience all have different taste to us as well, so something we may not like personally, who are we to not share it with the world? Our art is about the story as well, there have been some pieces which we haven't really understood until we heard the story behind it and then we fall in love with them, once we know the depth.
Pictured: Monther Jawabreh, Sara Shabnazad and Dariush Nehdaran available at Emergeast soon. Find out more here.