As we plough headfirst into the digital age we find ourselves surrounded by creative platforms, digital galleries and www.exhibitions. As rich and exciting as this wealth of expression is it can often make us feel even further away from touching, seeing or owning the work itself. But amongst these collectives there is something distinctive evolving. EMERGEAST is a Dubai based online gallery specialising in the showcasing of work from emerging artists from, or with roots in, the Middle East and in September 2015 #OCCUPYARABART was invited to their inaugural exhibition ‘Like’ in London’s ARTSPACE.
EMERGEAST boasts an extensive online archive of over 40 artists and offers an insight into emerging talent from the Middle East, providing unique and affordable art aimed at young collectors. For the ‘Like’ pop-up exhibition EMERGEAST turned to their virtual followers in order to create an exhibition essentially curated by its audience. EMERGEAST exhibited the works that received the most likes, shares and clicks and collectively unveiled 13 new artists allowing first time viewers to gain an insight into the diversity of work on offer.
Directors Dima Abdul Kader and Nikki Meftah gave #OCCUPYARABART a curator led tour and explained the birth of EMERGEAST. As two friends who shared a passion for contemporary art from the Middle East the multi-cultural and diversely travelled pair decided it was time to create an accessible online platform for emerging collectors and artists alike. After achieving much success in the inaugural Dubai Emerging Art Auction in March 2015 Kader and Meftah felt it was a time to bring EMERGEAST home to London, the city of its inception. The chosen venue for this homecoming was ARTSPACE, the organisation, founded in Dubai in 2003 promotes contemporary Middle Eastern Artists and ARTSPACE London, opened 2012, aims to continue the drive of Middle Eastern art internationally providing the link between East and West.
‘Like’ introduced London to 20 works by 13 international artists and in its essence offered a platform for the discussion and expression of identity. The artists took to their mediums of choice to depict their personal experience and to instigate a dialogue rooted in the idea of ‘home’. For some it was the experience of living post-struggle, for others it was the challenge of perception and meeting the expectations of globalisation.
Ibrahim Al Atiyah b. 1977 an emerging artist from Kuwait inspired by the language of his mother tongue, tracing it back to the renaissance of the Arabs in poetry, modernism and eloquence.
Monther Jawabreh b.1976. Born and raised in Al Arroub refugee camp – Bethlehem. Jawabreh’s work reflects memories relating to the notion of origin, identity and roots through a variety of multimedia including painting and video.
Ghada Al Muhammedi b.1987 from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia paints in oil to explore the history of Arabic architecture and symbolism whilst taking inspiration from the impressionist pioneers.
Anas Homsi b.1987 from Syria is a member of the Syrian Plastic Artists’ Union, his vibrant canvases burst with energy. The seemingly human shapes that characterize his paintings come to life conveying subtle emotions.
Amir Ershadi b.1990 is an emerging artist from Tehran. Making a stamp in the regional art landscape through his intricately hand painted calligraphic artworks.
Janet Hagobian b.1967 is of Iranian and Armenian origin. As a resident of Beirut, Lebanon – her background and environment infiltrate her geometric artistic production. Her seemingly abstract shapes and forms are direct correlations to questions of identity and perseverance provoking the viewer to relate to his/her own questions of place and time.
Manou Marzban b.1962 art is infused with popular symbols from his native country of Iran. Manou reinvents Persian icons: an old dynasty infused with a fresh pop culture take, makes Manou’s work exude energy and provocation.
Elham Etemadi b.1983 from Tehran takes a theoretical approach to her work by creating links between visual and imaginary elements. Her paintings delicately create impulses through a game of colours, both subtle and expressive.
#OCCUPYARABART were given the opportunity to have a conversation with two of the artists exhibited.
Mo Negm b. 1981 is a British born Egyptian painter and many of his expressionist paintings draw influence from the Egyptian revolution. We spoke firstly of the experience of being a British Arab artist and the barriers associated with this culture.
…“There’s not always that culture of awareness towards Arabian artists, though appreciation is changing the artists I know still struggle to make a living from art, and speaking from my own experience, even though my father is a graphic designer and has always encouraged my paintings at times, I have still had to overcome that feeling that art is just for fun. Being in that environment and trying to create isn’t always valued, also by the wider community”
Moving on to art as revolution …..
“I see painting as part of the revolution, this work has a political undertone but it is not as overt as some of my previous paintings, with this for example I am thinking of a taxi as a metaphor for a country, like Egypt, broken and bruised for decades but it is still somehow moving along. That’s why I picked the taxi, but also people identify with it, if you want to get the mood of a nation talk to the taxi drivers”.
We moved onto the concept of connection to a country of origin that isn’t ‘home’ ….
“A lot of British Egyptians hadn’t really engaged with Egyptian politics until recently, but like myself and friends from similar backgrounds we would go to Egypt for summer holidays, our parents try to keep us connected to the culture, language, and we would struggle. However when you are an ‘outsider’, you get a sense of what is working in the country and what is not, I saw corruption but until people saw the revolution they didn’t see that things can actually change, there was a real sense of hope.”
Nic Courdy b.1990 is an American artist of Palestinian descent. Currently based out of Salt Lake City, USA he received his BFA in Fine Art Painting. Despite a traditional fine art background, his recent works use digital media to explore ideas of compilation aesthetics. Courdy presents his audience with highly imaginative works that create a hybrid of past and present art forms, producing a new contemporary realisation.
We asked Courdy if like Negm ‘identity’ impacted his work;
“I think yes, for a lot of Americans too they don’t really have a cultural identity, everybody comes from different areas and everybody holds on to a ‘I’m a fourth this or something’. It’s something I definitely think about or thought about, I am half middle Eastern so I’m always drawn to that, like the orientalist artists but my ideas are very idealised imagery I pull different things from everywhere. I make my work on computers, it’s all digital, I will make videos and pull stills from videos”
On the Koons piece…
“I was really interested in traditional art, learning to render form, I kind of got to this point where I felt all the work that was bring produced in that sphere was kind of boring, there was no conceptual basis, it was just portrait it looks really good, so I really got into contemporary art again, looking at that and what makes it such a statement and then it was a juxtaposition of what the market used to be and what it is now. I call it ‘New Rome’, so it’s a Panini painting of course, a cathedral in Rome and then you have Koons, that it basically the bane of American capitalism, this idea of worship of consumerism, especially within the art market, this is where my interest lies.”
The beauty of ‘LIKE’ lies in its diversity. Where Negm takes immediate inspiration from the social and political aspects of the Arab region and ties in a personal exploration of identity, Courdy on the other hand takes a more abstract influences from his heritage, “this piece, is a little bit more poetic, I feel like the composition and symmetry is probably inspired by Middle Eastern geometrical forms, that’s where that comes through, the poetic nature of it, I pull all different images and it’s cross cultural”
I asked both Negm and Courdy how they felt about being exhibited as a collective in a group exhibition such as ‘LIKE’ where the thing that ties these artists together is their heritage.
“With the stigma that you were talking about before, with Middle Eastern art it can be overtly political or the other end of the spectrum is that it can be purely aesthetic, so having a collection like this, it can be a gamble”
“It’s a really strong exhibition, when you put it together, you can lose a narrative but together it works really well. It’s really important to project different narratives of the Middle East, you never know what influences, what will challenge preconceptions”
“I don’t think because you have a middle eastern heritage your work has to be about struggle, its good that we have that but I don’t think it’s necessary, it’s almost an expectation of the region. I think I even expected it from myself, it didn’t feel like something I wanted to continue, I wasn’t a statement that was mine to make”
“You can be an artist and other things as well, people can try and place you, I am a painter I am also a Muslim, and an Arab and British I don’t feel the need to compartmentalise it, but I’m not going to reject it”.
Aside from the diversity and quality of work on show, what #OCCUPYARABART found most exciting about EMERGEAST was its determination to be interactive. From the curation of the show itself to the ‘LIKE’ stickers that were on hand for visitors to peel off and plaster the walls around the pieces they liked the most. In breaking the expected untouchability of exhibition space there is a tangible invitation for the viewer to be part of the experience. This idea is tied to the world of social media and online space, and becomes part of a movement where barriers are broken by technology.
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