In 2018 Lebanese college friends and interior designers Nour Jarmakani and Aal Chammaa decided to embark on a journey together, opening their own art gallery in Beirut.
Art had always been a passion, but the two art lovers wanted to turn it into a business and create a space that would be the basis of a community of artists, collectors and art lovers. After gaining a good reputation for the Belvedere Art Space in Beirut they decide to expand, opening a gallery in Dubai’s DIFC district.
Nour and Aal’s common passion for contemporary art can be seen through the selection of artworks within the space where they show pieces from well-established and emerging artists from all over the world. Both being well-travelled the two founders have curated a unique offering of art from all around the world, and it seems this is only just the beginning. We find out more.
Tell us about your background and how you came to be where you are today with Belvedere Art Space?
Nour: Our gallery was first founded five years ago in Beirut. Aal and I have been friends for a very long time, we studied interior design together in college and we always shared a passion for art. We travel a lot – we have spent a lot of time in Europe and The United States – and so we have always had a passion for different types of international art. I also lived in Nigeria for a while, so I am influenced by African art as well. We always knew throughout our career as interior designers and architects that we wanted to have an art gallery at some point. We knew this was our real passion. The aspect of interior design that we always enjoyed the most was the discussion of curating artwork for the projects we worked on. Throughout our careers, we began our own art collections, and we started to get to know the artists and developed personal relationships with a lot of them. I moved back to Beirut and that year we decided we would open the gallery. It took us two years of planning and curating the artwork and putting everything together. We went to Sotheby’s and did some courses about the gallery business and art history and curating, to develop our professional background in it. We wanted to make sure that we really knew what we were doing! In 2018 we opened our art gallery in Beirut.
And how did you come to open the space in Dubai?
Nour: After the blast in Beirut, we decided to move to Dubai, and it had always been our ambition to open a gallery there. When we signed our artists initially, we signed them for the whole of the Middle East, not just Lebanon, so it had always been the plan to expand. So after moving to Dubai, we started to look for a location for the second gallery. Our artists were very keen because this is what we promised them from the beginning. We decided that DIFC would be the best place for the gallery, and we had a great start from the beginning.
Tell us about the artworks that you have in the gallery and the artists that you work with, why do you choose these particular partners and works?
Nour: If you meet Aal and I, you will know that we bounce off each other a lot. We are very similar in many ways, but very different at the same time and I think that gives our gallery a great edge because we cater to so many different types of tastes when it comes to art. When we choose an artist, firstly at least one of us has to love their artwork, and the big thing is that we look for artists that are emerging but also established in the sense that they’re represented in other parts of the world, they’ve exhibited at different galleries, and they have a good educational background in what they’re doing, so if we’re selling our clients art, it’s not only art that they love but art that is going to appreciate in value. This is important for us to know that we’re giving our clients a beautiful product but also something that’s a good investment.
Aal: And of course, we want artists who can share the stories of their work and introduce their works to our collectors both old and new. This assures them that even if this artist is not established, he is going to make it somewhere in the art world, and we have never been wrong with any artist. We always want to meet the artists whose work we show and build a relationship with them before they are represented in our gallery.
How does Belvedere differ from other galleries in the UAE and the Middle East overall?
I think we bring a different style of art to the region. As I said we have lived all around the world and so we have a lot of international influences. We have a lot of what I would call “fun” art, bright, colourful art. We have a lot of street artists that have ended up turning into fine artists and are now being represented by big museums. So, I would say that we have the edge in the sense that our art is very colourful, it always has a great story behind it and until now I haven’t seen much of this type of art in the Middle East. I think typically the art we see is quite dark and depressive, perhaps with a bit of a heavier story behind it. For our artists, the way they paint or draw their works is always so colourful and bright and it’s hard not to be happy when you are around it.
Aal: This is really what makes our gallery different. Some galleries may have one artist with similar work to ours, but it will just be one. But with us, it is always homogeneous and all our artist’s works go together perfectly to create this overall happy mood. We call the gallery our happy place!
What is your vision for the Art Space moving forward?
Aal: The plan is definitely to keep expanding. As we mentioned we represent our artists across the whole of the Middle East and so our vision was always to branch out and have different galleries in different parts of the region and to have these artists well represented all over. So that is the way we’re moving forward. And we have been very lucky because our artists have been very well received and we have a very big collector base from all around the region, not just from Dubai or Beirut. I feel like wherever we are in the region, it’s like having one big family.
Can you share a little about some of the artists you work with and the works they produce?
Nour: They are mostly American artists, we have some European artists, from Spain and The United Kingdom, so a very international mix. They are all contemporary artists, who are often experimenting with materials and so every piece is different. We have sculptures, paintings, mixed media artworks, so it is a very eclectic mix.
How do you introduce your artists to your clients and collectors?
Aal: We have events in the gallery whereby we can invite our clients to discover more about the artists and we also take part in several art fairs.
How would you assess the art and gallery industry in the UAE?
Nour: In my opinion, there has been a lot of change between last year and this year which is very refreshing. The art scene is growing at an exponential rate which is great. I think it’s still a very emerging art market, it’s not as mature as other parts of the world that have been doing this for a very long time, but it’s going in the right direction.
Are there any UAE-based artists that you find particularly interesting?
Aal: We haven’t found any yet, but we are definitely looking. There are certainly some exciting young emerging artists, but nothing has caught our eye yet.
Nour: When we moved to Dubai, we said we wanted to have one or two Emirati artists that fit within our portfolio, as we do in Lebanon where we have a couple of Lebanese artists. There are some artists that we do like the work of but there are already represented by other big galleries. So, I think the good ones have already been taken, simply because there aren’t very many yet. But we are always on the lookout and I’m sure we will eventually find one or two good artists that we would like to add.
Tell us where you stand in regard to digital art/NFTs – what in your opinion is the future of this sector?
Nour: We have this conversation daily at the moment! It’s a love-hate relationship! At one point we felt like we had to jump into NFTs as a gallery because it seemed like it was something galleries were doing, but more and more we’re feeling like that’s not necessarily the case anymore. The collector base for NFTs is very different from the collector base of physical art and people that come into our gallery mostly see absolutely no harmony between the two. For me, the only value of an NFT would be to have a smart contract so that when someone buys the physical artwork, they have that digital certificate. Other than that, right now, I’m not seeing any other significance around it for us.
Aal: Even our artists are not interested in it. We had an offer for a really interesting NFT project, and we approached our artists to ask them what they thought and they weren’t interested at all. Some of them have tried it of course, but I think new artists are more interested in it than established artists.
What is in the pipeline for the gallery in 2023?
Nour: We have some interesting things coming up, but I can’t give you too many details just yet. We have a very cool collaboration coming up with a big group of restaurants, so we’re looking forward to that. We have some cool shows coming up, we have another collaboration with one of our artists and a car company. We are in talks with a lot of different places and people, we have a lot of plans, but they are not all confirmed yet. We look forward to building on the success of our artists and showcasing them to this region and it is our job to make sure they are represented well. When they are happy, we are happy!
What’s a message that you would send to our readers to invite them to the art space?
Aal: We love to have new collectors visiting our gallery. We would love to help them choose the right artist and put their money in the right place, whatever their budget. We are committed to growing their collection. Other than that, as we said, we have very happy art so it’s good to come and visit the gallery and experience our art even if it’s not to buy anything. Come and visit us even if you want some advice on what to collect, and how to collect, we are open to everyone.
Nour: When we opened our gallery one of the thoughts, we had was that art galleries in general are not very approachable, they can be an intimidating space to be in. And so we always said we wanted to ensure our gallery was more approachable, to make sure people are comfortable to walk in to ask questions, not just to buy, but to actually be educated. We were all young collectors once, we all had that feeling of intimidation walking in, and so we want people to feel welcome and to feel like they can walk in any time and ask questions. We cater to all budgets, we have a wide range of prices, and our biggest goal is to make those who come in and say they don’t really know about art, make them fall in love with art. We want to break the stigma and invite those who want to buy art but may be shy to do it.