With a slew of ex­hi­bi­tions and art-re­lated events kick­ing off this month in the UAE, Anand Raj OK asks whether you re­ally need to dig deep to have works of art in your world

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Own­ing an orig­i­nal piece of art need not mean go­ing bank­rupt. Get started with our low-down on af­ford­able art.

‘Oh no,’ says Dima Ab­dul Kader. ‘I don’t think af­ford­able art is an oxy­moron.’

The co-founder, with Nikki Mef­tah, of Emergeast, an on­line gallery pro­mot­ing and sell­ing art­work by emerg­ing Mid­dle East­ern artists, ad­mits there is a per­cep­tion that ‘art is very ex­pen­sive and in­ac­ces­si­ble and that it’s only for the 1 per cent of so­ci­ety or for col­lec­tors.

‘But that’s very mis­lead­ing,’ she says. ‘There is art that’s af­ford­able and to­day art doesn’t equal ex­pen­sive price tags.’

Dima, who with Nikki has years of ex­per­tise in cu­rat­ing, art in­vest­ing and mar­ket­ing, is not alone.

An in­creas­ing num­ber of art ex­perts and afi­ciona­dos read­ily agree that work has be­come much more ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able – and not just for the well-heeled.

Myrna Ayad is one such ex­pert. The fair di­rec­tor of Art Dubai, which kicks off on March 15 and runs un­til the 18th, be­lieves that art is a demo­cratic con­cept. ‘It’s def­i­nitely some­thing that’s eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­body,’ she says.

Ex­cited about the fair, the art ex­pert and jour­nal­ist says, ‘One of the things Art Dubai has done [over the years] is to make art demo­cratic, es­pe­cially for lo­cal and re­gional au­di­ences. In fact, one of the fun­da­men­tal el­e­ments to this art fair’s iden­tity and mis­sion is to con­trib­ute to the de­vel­op­ment of the art scene lo­cally and re­gion­ally, not just by hold­ing an art fair for a few days ev­ery March but by of­fer­ing ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes and other ini­tia­tives to artists and art lovers.’

That it’s be­com­ing pop­u­lar is ev­i­dent from the fact that the 11th edi­tion of Art Dubai will fea­ture 93 gal­leries from 43 coun­tries, up from 34 coun­tries last year. Said to be one of the most global of art fairs, it’s a plat­form for dis­cov­er­ing new artists, gal­leries and emerg­ing trends.

It will also have a ded­i­cated sec­tion show­cas­ing mu­seum-qual­ity works by mod­ern mas­ters from the Mid­dle East, Africa and South Asia and plenty of options for col­lec­tors to pick up af­ford­able pieces of art.

Zaahi­rah Muthy is an­other ex­pert who says ‘art is no longer ex­clu­sive to those with deep pock­ets’.

An award-win­ning artist and cu­ra­tor of World Art Dubai, which takes place from April 12 to 15 at Dubai World Trade Cen­tre, Zaahi­rah says, ‘Half of all af­ford­able art trans­ac­tions across the globe are con­cluded below the $1,200 [Dh4,400] mark.

‘World­wide, the art mar­ket has seen a 210 per cent growth over the last decade with art fair sales ac­count­ing for $8.7 bil­lion of all global gallery sales.’

That the mar­ket for af­ford­able art is bur­geon­ing can­not be brushed aside.

Get this: While last year’s World Art Dubai – a hugely pop­u­lar event that show­cases ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able art to Mid­dle East­ern art lovers – fea­tured 140 ex­hibitors, this year’s edi­tion is ex­pected to host more than 300 gal­leries and artists from more than 50 coun­tries.

Art lovers have the chance to view and buy a di­verse col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary art works, paint­ings, prints, sculp­tures, and mul­ti­me­dia rang­ing from $100 to $20,000.

Said to be the most GLOBAL of art fairs, ART DUBAI of­fers a PLAT­FORM to dis­cover new artists, gal­leries and EMERG­ING trends. It will have a ded­i­cated sec­tion show­cas­ing mu­seum-qual­ity WORKS

So is that the range for af­ford­able art? ‘In my book,’ says Salma Sha­heem, head of Mid­dle East­ern Mar­kets at The Fine Art Group, ‘af­ford­able art, would be any­thing be­tween $8,000 and $10,000. That kind of money can fetch you a piece by a re­spectable young artist who is be­ing col­lected by prom­i­nent col­lec­tors and who is be­ing ex­hib­ited at well-known gal­leries.’

Dubai, she says, has a slew of gal­leries that of­fer truly col­lectible pieces.

Salma deals in high-value art­work and ad­vises clients, both pri­vate and cor­po­rate, to cre­ate sig­nif­i­cant art col­lec­tions that in­crease in value and gain his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance over time. She’s pleased with the bur­geon­ing de­mand for art. ‘The gal­leries open­ing up in Alserkal Av­enue and else­where are a re­flec­tion of the surge in the art mar­ket in the re­gion.’

Dima of Emergeast agrees with the af­ford­able art fig­ure. ‘World­wide it’s ac­knowl­edged that af­ford­able art is any­where in the range of $500 to $10,000,’ she says. ‘And the art­work on our website ranges from $500 to $5,000.’

Dima in­sists that art need not be ex­pen­sive, par­tic­u­larly if you pick up pieces by artists who are in the early stages of their ca­reer. ‘You can eas­ily find art­work in the $300 to $2,000 range when the artist’s ca­reer is still tak­ing off.

‘We, Nikki and I, go to great lengths to choose works of an artist that are not in the very ex­pen­sive cat­e­gory. We also con­stantly keep mon­i­tor­ing the artists, mak­ing sure they are con­tin­u­ally de­vel­op­ing and work­ing hard on their art.’ This means col­lec­tors can rest as­sured their pur­chases will in­crease in value over time.

Art Dubai’s Myrna, how­ever, has a dif­fer­ent view of what’s af­ford­able. ‘That’s such a rel­a­tive term. I’d say peo­ple buy what they can af­ford. Only a col­lec­tor can de­fine how much he can af­ford.’

Ac­cord­ing to Myrna, while you can find blue chip pieces of art that run into mil­lions of dol­lars, you can also find pieces by young emerg­ing artists and works on pa­per by es­tab­lished artists that are rel­a­tively cheaper.

‘For in­stance in the Mod­ern Mas­ters sec­tion [of Art Dubai] you’d find pieces by an es­tab­lished artist that are a bit ex­pen­sive but you could also pick up a paint­ing on pa­per by the same artist for a much lower price,’ she says.

With a plethora of fes­ti­vals – from Art Dubai and World Art Dubai to the Sikka

‘Have an open MIND and re­mem­ber, big­ger is not al­ways bet­ter. If you think a work of art will give you JOY to see in your home ev­ery day, then this is the best kind of RE­TURN on in­vest­ment you can hope for.’

Art Fair, De­sign Days Dubai and reg­u­lar art-re­lated events pre­sented by the Bar­jeel Art Foun­da­tion in Shar­jah, among oth­ers – dot­ting the UAE’s art cal­en­dar, it’s clear the art scene is thriv­ing in the re­gion.

‘To­day we have six or seven very im­por­tant gal­leries in Dubai alone that rep­re­sent artists who are fea­tured in mu­se­ums and in­sti­tu­tions in the West,’ says Salma.

The other fac­tors that have raised the art stakes in the re­gion are the Shar­jah Bi­en­nial and the Bar­jeel Art Foun­da­tion. ‘They are art for art’s sake and do a lot to sup­port and en­cour­age artists in the re­gion and out­side,’ she says. ‘Dubai can be seen to be the cul­tural hub be­cause of the num­ber of gal­leries; when we move to Shar­jah we see a lot of in­tel­lec­tual, aca­demic and very se­ri­ous col­lec­tors there. That’s a won­der­ful balance. And all this has hap­pened over the last 10 to 15 years.’ Dima is quick to agree. ‘The Dubai art scene is grow­ing and we are happy to be part of it,’ she says.

She and Nikki set up the on­line gallery af­ter their friends ‘used to ask us for Mid­dle East­ern art as a col­lectible but not too ex­pen­sive.

‘So we thought we could come to­gether and cre­ate a plat­form for art col­lec­tors and lovers of our gen­er­a­tion to pro­vide them with that ve­hi­cle... a one-stop-shop to see the shapers of the Mid­dle East­ern art scene who are com­ing up now and mak­ing an im­pact’, says Dima who is of Palestinian ori­gin; Nikki is Ira­nian.

For would-be col­lec­tors, Dima sug­gests that the first step is to cul­ti­vate a con­nec­tion with a piece of art. ‘Find your style, what sticks in your mind, what genre of art at­tracts you, what kind of art you are in love with. Read more about the artist, their in­spi­ra­tions.’

Salma adds: ‘Train­ing your eye is im­por­tant. Vis­it­ing art gal­leries and view­ing

art is the best way to learn about art and get to know it bet­ter. Art is a vis­ual ob­ject so you need to go out there, look at it and digest it,’ she says.

Myrna, too, is all for learn­ing more about art from all avail­able av­enues. ‘The first thing you would need to do is learn to love art – be­cause you are go­ing to be liv­ing with it,’ she says, with a laugh.

‘Be­fore de­cid­ing on a piece, learn more about the artist, his life, ca­reer, the gallery where you are go­ing to ac­quire it from… learn more about the artist’s ex­hi­bi­tion his­tory, whether he was ac­quired by other gal­leries, mu­se­ums, his pro­duc­tion. This will help you bet­ter ap­pre­ci­ate art.’ Nasr Warour, art di­rec­tor of öolchi, an on­line art store (, be­lieves ‘art is very sub­jec­tive, but it should have an emo­tional qual­ity to it that makes you want to spend time in a space, to feel com­fort­able and in­spired. The art­work we sell on e-öolchi are pieces the buyer would en­joy liv­ing with be­cause art can be a pos­i­tive, up­lift­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.’

Zaahi­rah of World Art Dubai of­fers more tips when choos­ing a piece of art: ‘Keep in mind the di­men­sions of the space you’re look­ing to fill and re­mem­ber big­ger is not al­ways bet­ter,’ she says. Tempt­ing as it is to head off to eye-catch­ing mega can­vases or in­stal­la­tions when at a fair, some­times smaller pieces will be bet­ter suited to your needs. ‘Imag­ine re­turn­ing home with a 13-foot can­vas to cover the five-foot space above the din­ing table,’ she says.

‘Also, have an open mind. If you think it will give you joy to see in your home ev­ery day, then this is the best kind of re­turn on in­vest­ment you can hope for.’

So do you need to have dif­fer­ent mind­sets when con­sid­er­ing art as an in­vest­ment and as a col­lec­tion?

‘You can’t have one with­out the other,’ says Salma. ‘If you are ac­quir­ing art to en­joy it ev­ery day of your life that’s won­der­ful. But it can still be an as­set be­cause if you have bought the right pieces it will very likely go up in price over the years.’ Dima of Emergeast agrees. ‘They are not re­ally one or the other,’ she says. ‘They are not sep­a­rate con­cepts. Art is not purely a piece of dec­o­ra­tion. It is a form of cre­ative ex­pres­sion [which has value].’

She also be­lieves the next big trend in art is go­ing to be new me­dia. ‘The dig­i­tal forms of art – such as dig­i­tal col­lages and video art – are go­ing to be the new oil on can­vas or the acrylic on can­vas of the fu­ture,’ she says. ‘Dig­i­tal me­dia has pushed the bound­aries of what can be put on a can­vas.’

Salma, how­ever, takes a dif­fer­ent tack. ‘Twenty years ago it was all about Ital­ian mas­ters and im­pres­sion­ists. To be con­sid­ered a se­ri­ous col­lec­tor you had to have a few of their works. To­day it has shifted dra­mat­i­cally to­wards con­tem­po­rary art; ev­i­dence that Mid­dle East­ern art is be­com­ing very im­por­tant glob­ally,’ she says.

Some ex­perts, though, pre­fer to adopt a wait-and-watch stance. Myrna be­lieves new trends could be set dur­ing the Art Dubai event. ‘It’s been a launch pad for sev­eral artists and gal­leries and it’s the place to see and feel the pulse of the times. We need to wait and see what Art Dubai is of­fer­ing and what trends will be set.’

Art Dubai is on from March 15-18, 2017, at Mad­i­nat Jumeirah, Dubai. World Art Dubai takes place from April 12 to 15 at Dubai World Trade Cen­tre. Sikka Art Fair is from March 11 to 21 at Al Fahidi His­toric Dis­trict , Dubai De­sign Days Dubai kicks off on Mar 14 and is on un­til Mar 17 at Dubai De­sign Dis­trict

Leila Fawzi, dig­i­tal print by Zaina Al Said, Dh1,000,

Small Six Dresses by Taqwa Al­naqbi, Dh1,000 each, Tash­keel

Or­phan of the Ocean, Dh995,

Choco­lates in In­dia, dig­i­tal print by Zaina Al Said, Dh367,

Max Lamb Crock­ery white mug, Dh198, at De­sign Days

Waral­mus Mother Na­ture, dig­i­tal print by Zaina Al Said, Dh367, Ves­sel of the Past, Dh995,

Per­fect Re­flec­tion Tree, Dh995,

Art Dubai is an op­por­tu­nity to learn about art – an im­por­tant part of buy­ing, says the fair’s Myrna Ayad

Nikki and Dima of Emergeast (left) and Salma of The Fine Art Group. Below: Zaahi­rah of World Art Dubai

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