Established in 2014, Emergeast is an online art gallery that represents dynamic contemporary artists from the Middle East, promoting and selling artworks at affordable prices under one umbrella. Co-run by Dima Abdul Kader and Nikki Meftah, Emergeast not only champions emerging artists but also encourages and educates young people to buy and collect art.
Through a carefully hand selected process, founders Nikki, who has an avid passion for Middle Eastern culture and heritage, and Dima, an arts and culture devotee who is wholly dedicated to a creative domain, endeavour to bring the region’s rising stars straight to your home. They see the importance of both an emotional and financial investment, catering to the young urban professional wanting to build their Middle Eastern art collection through the Emergeast platform.
Here we meet Nikki and Dima to gain an understanding about their interactive hub, which engages a new audience to embrace and advocate contemporary art, bringing inspiration and beauty to the region and beyond. We know how intimidating art collecting can be, and they share with us their tips for making a purchase, breaking down the barriers to an enjoyable art collecting process.
Tell us about Emergeast, what is it and why you decided to create it?
Emergeast is an online platform promoting and selling artworks by emerging Middle Eastern artists. We search for talented artists with a Middle Eastern background who we believe are the next shapers of the art scene from the region. The platform is dedicated to young collectors who want to build their own original art collection. We saw a gap in the market for artworks at affordable prices as unfortunately there were not enough galleries which supported emerging artists.
Where did the idea come from?
DIMA: As young urban professionals in our early 20’s, we wanted to start our very own art collection, specifically tied to our 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 Emergeast!
How did you two meet?
NIKKI: We met at SOAS university in London and had previously been introduced by a mutual friend. We can pretty much say that the Emergeast fate was decided there and then!
What did you both do before Emergeast?
DIMA: I come from a finance background with experience in banking and private wealth management. Throughout this experience however, my passions and hobbies were always in art and in my early 20’s I decided to follow my dreams of immersing myself in the world art and advocating the notion of art collecting.
NIKKI: I worked at Magic of Persia, an Iranian art foundation holding art auctions with works donated by Iranian artists to raise funds for their emerging Art Prize, which aims to bring emerging Iranian artists to the forefront.
When did your fascination with art begin?
DIMA: My art journey began immediately after university, when I turned to painting and appreciating contemporary artists of our time, as I felt through creative expression and discourse a number of social, political and emotional themes can be discussed and embraced at length, a route that I felt very comfortable and connected to as a person.
NIKKI: I have always been surrounded by art. Before they met, both my parents lived in many different countries and one thing they always brought back with them was a piece of art. Growing up, they focused on an Iranian collection, supporting books and collectors’ items. My concrete fascination began when I saw the ‘Woman of Allah’ series by Shirin Neshat. Like Shirin, I wanted to somehow propagate Iranian culture and heritage to an international audience.
How do you both work as a duo, and how do you split responsibilities?
DIMA: We both have our respective skill set that together has proved a valuable combination in the development of Emergeast. Whilst both our roles may differ, our tactics are underlined by the same mission and vision statement at all times.
Do you both always have the same vision on artists you sign?
DIMA: We have different tastes and styles we are drawn to in terms of artists, but we most certainly complement each other and manage to hence cater to a wide variety of our urbanites. Our vision is the same when it comes to unearthing artists with talent, a unique style and distinctive story.
NIKKI: Both of us have a different taste in art, so we cover a wide range of styles and mediums. My taste varies from abstract portraiture to themes rooted in culture, history, and nostalgia from the Middle East.
Is there a huge demand for affordable art, and how affordable is your art?
NIKKI: There is most definitely an appetite for affordable art. As we break down the barriers of art collecting and eliminate the intimidation factor most young collectors fear, we see an increasing number of people being comfortable with enquiring about artworks and getting acquainted with the process of art buying. Given this recent accessibility of affordable art, young urban professionals are likely to opt for an original art piece that speaks to them.
What are the benefits of making the ownership of contemporary art accessible?
NIKKI: 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 enthusiasts and first-time art buyers to acquire their first artwork not only creates cultural dialogues between people but also directly contributes to the careers of emerging artists to produce further works.
How do you find and source your art?
DIMA: A lot of scouting! We are very much on the ground visiting artist studios across Tehran, London and Dubai and wherever our leads take us to scout, interview, and get to know potential artists fit for an online profile on emergeast.com. Many of the artists represented on emergeast.com have also come from direct submissions through our website, who have gone through a rigorous selections process sending them to the fingertips of our young collectors.
What makes an artist the perfect fit for Emergeast?
DIMA: First and foremost, upon coming across a potential artist’s portfolio, the team and selections committee is required to believe in the artist’s works and cultivate a connection with that particular artist’s story and message. We require that an artist exhibits determination in sustaining their production, together with evolving and developing their art. As we promise our young collectors affordable yet ‘investment’ wise artworks, we continuously thoroughly screen an artist’s CV to assure notable solo or group exhibitions and future exhibiting plans.
What are the benefits of a digital platform rather than the traditional method of a physical gallery?
NIKKI: 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 and aspiring collectors.
DIMA: Young collectors also feel more comfortable to read, browse, and scroll in the comfort of their own home, without being intimidated by the gallery experience.
Do you think the new age of social media is having a positive impact on the art world?
NIKKI: This digital shift has acted as a catalyst to the art market, we’ve certainly 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 globalised 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, who can now browse via Instagram and the online avenues to access all the information they need. Quite a large portion of our sales come from Instagram, and the sale last year at Christie’s for a $24 million Basquiat piece through Instagram, certainly speaks for itself!
Where is the most exciting place for contemporary art in the Middle East right now?
DIMA: I would say it’s certainly Dubai. The city is propagating the development of art culture. Dubai is incubating a gallery and art fair ecosystem, laying the foundations for a sound and sustainable art and culture environment as well.
NIKKI: Dubai has definitely cemented itself as the Art capital of the Middle East. 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.
How do you feel the art scene in Dubai has grown?
NIKKI: 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!
Is Dubai becoming more of a respected art hub?
DIMA: Dubai has managed to shape itself as a key and integral player in the art world in a record period of time. Its geographic location coupled with its focus on incubating a sustainable art scene and market has made the city a highly regarded centre for the emergence and development of the arts. Art Dubai and its satellite on goings have made Dubai an important spot in the annual art calendar.
How would you describe your personal style?
DIMA: I am always drawn to abstract expressionism and that’s where my journey in the arts started. Along the way, my taste and style has since evolved into appreciating more photography and video art.
NIKKI: I love photography and the essence that a photograph can capture. Beyond this, I am drawn to abstract figurative paintings.
What is in your personal art collection?
NIKKI: Most of my collection is made up of Iranian emerging artists, both from Emergeast and the ones who I hope to get on Emergeast. I tend to support artists from Iran as I connect with the culture and history, and of course want to support them as much as possible.
DIMA: 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.
What was the first piece of art you purchased?
DIMA: My first piece of art was during the time I was living in London and stumbled upon an affordable art gallery and happened to connect with a French artist duo who used metal scraps from billboards found around France. Upon acquiring the artwork, I immediately felt like I bought a piece of the artist’s story and message and realised how easy it was to collect art. The significance behind this experience inspired the inception of Emergeast, as I aimed to give young and first-time collectors the chance to feel the same inspiring experience.
NIKKI: The first artwork I purchased was a large-scale Polaroid from a dear friend and magnificent photographer, Cyrus Mahboubian. Much thought went into the subject, composition, and lighting of each of his photographs as the Polaroid film was becoming extinct and each shot holds a distinctive weight. The artwork I purchased was one of a young girl in a long white dress, leaning against a Mailbox in New York City. To me, the work represents independence, strength, and individuality.
If you could own any piece of art, what would it be?
DIMA: Anything by Yassine Allaoui.
NIKKI: Babak Kazemi’s series ‘The Exit of Shirin and Farhad’.
What would be your tips for new collectors looking to buy a piece of art?
NIKKI: We recommend that young collectors visit gallery exhibitions and fairs as much as possible to gauge what they are drawn to and what speaks to them. It is important for new collectors to do research on the artist they invest in and foster that connection.
What would you suggest is key to growing your own art collection?
DIMA: Passion for the story and cultivating a collection with every artwork.
NIKKI: Finding a piece of yourself in every artwork you purchase is the key to a beautiful collection.
What do you love most about your job?
DIMA: The thank you emails we get from our collectors once they’ve received their piece!
NIKKI: Supporting artists from the region by directly contributing to their growth and seeing their development unfold.
What’s next for Emergeast?
Middle East online art domination!