In Conversation With Founders Of Online Gallery EMERGEAST

BY Athwifa Saleem / Jun 20 2020 / 09:00 AM

Dima Abdul Kader and Nikki Meftah, founders of online art community and gallery EMERGEAST, share their insights on how artists around the world have taken the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic as a prime catalyst to create sublime artworks

In Conversation With Founders Of Online Gallery EMERGEAST
Courtesy of the artist
Elham Etemadi, We Are All Safe, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 200x300cm.

Breaking down barriers to entry and expediting the notion of art collecting, EMERGEAST; a thriving online gallery promoting and selling artworks by emerging Middle Eastern artists, aims to create an accessible platform for the culturally inclined, even more so during these trying times.

Emergeast co-founders Nikki Meftah and Dima Abdul Kader

With an increasing spotlight on the Middle Eastern art scene, the online gallery has been successful in unveiling the region’s emerging talent under one umbrella. Going beyond the standard gallery experience, the audience is invited to connect with each artist and their artworks through their inspirations and story.

With the ongoing pandemic resulting in self-isolation, people have realised they have more time to connect with their hobbies and interests and in turn, with various artists in the local or global community virtually. “Artists are the very root of the ecosystem and seeing new works in response to this pandemic has created interesting dialogues,” says co-founder of EMERGEAST, Nikki Meftah.

“Documenting their time during quarantine through Zoom calls and studio videos and pictures has allowed us to connect with them on a deeper level and witness history in the making.”

Qinza Najm, What is the Future of Relationships Darling. 2020. Mixed media on paper. 25x15cm.

Art has proven to be a creative outlet that has allowed people to connect especially in a time like this, when it has successfully served in mirroring the current emotions. Art has also served as a means of spreading information.

“A great movement of artworks have provided a light take to the pandemic, such as Andy Warhol seen Stock Piling and Klimt’s The Kiss digitally rendered to a ‘social distancing’ appropriation,” explains Meftah.  “[The works] provide a tongue-in-cheek response to the crisis and have gone viral.”

Gustav Klimt. Klimit’s The Kiss. 2020. 

Even though many art galleries have resorted to the online virtual sphere to continue their commercial endeavours and exhibitions, most of the artist communities have been facing obstacles concerning continuing their production.

The worldwide lockdown has interrupted their production, as many are not able to access their studios and continue to connect with their clients. Artists have had to surrender to digital tools and in turn are paving a different path in their careers.

In true artist fashion, it is humbling to witness the artists seeking alternative methods with which to express their creativity by making use of what is available to them to conjure up their latest creations. Now more than ever, it is noticeable that collectors and art enthusiasts are trusting more in tools such as the ‘preview in a room’ function or even getting in touch via WhatsApp for candid photos and videos of artworks.

Qinza Najm, Touch with Your Eyes, Mixed media on paper, 28x13cm

With more people at home, we’re also seeing an increase in one-on-one online art consultations. “The art taking hold during these unprecedented times is transformative both to the artist on a micro level but also the overarching art scene in terms of the global shift to different media,” remarks co-founder Dima Abdul Kader. EMERGEAST has been going beyond borders and opening doors to fellow galleries with no online outlet during these times.

The global pandemic has acted as a catalyst for partnerships with international galleries to utilise their existing digital infrastructure to highlight artists. “This new expansion sees its continuity post the end of the pandemic as it is in line with our aim of opening the platform to emerging artists and galleries from beyond the Middle East and further expanding the community ethos we advocate,” says Abdul Kader.

Over the past few weeks, EMERGEAST has caught the eye of a few outstanding artists in their community who have taken this quarantine period and utilised it to the fullest.

Qinza Najm. Zoom Boom, 2020. Mixed media on paper. 28x23cm

Qinza Najm, an award-winning NYC-based Pakistani-American artist quarantined in her residency in Miami, is one such example. Her latest production is a direct response to the current times and documents our present dialogues referencing Zoom calls and a take on connectivity while being disconnected. 

“We’re seeing the digital revolution permeating all aspects of this artist’s work from subject matter to materials and language used in the title of Qinza’s artworks, really cementing this digital shift,” says Meftah.

Qinza Najm. Swipe Right. 2020. Mixed media on paper. 25x151cm

Barcelona-based, Egypt-born Hossam Dirar quarantined in his studio, couldn’t remain without a form of expression either; he made the brave leap into the digital realm that’s markedly different than his usual technique.

“Abstract portraiture and figurative, Hossam’s style has long been defined by his textured oil on canvas works,” says Abdul Kader. Taking his Egyptian roots to the screen, Hossam has produced a tantalising series revolving around Queen Nefertiti.

Hossam Dirar. Return with the Key of Life. 2020.Digital Collage Edition of 7. 100x100cm.

Iranian artist Elham Etemadi is another who has used her time in quarantine to turn inwards and produce a soft approach of joyful artworks, something we all need at this time. Quarantine and self-isolation has forced artists to choose alternative tools of self-expression that they perhaps otherwise would have never explored.

“The global pandemic has exhibited changes in artist media and inspirations that will see lasting effects beyond the COVID era,” says Meftah.

“The online platform has been shaped and will continue to evolve to encapsulate all things art and culture – a destination for anyone wishing to build an art collection compromised of emerging and mid-career artists at turning points of their careers,” adds Abdul Kader.

“The goal is for the platform to be a self-inviting space for everyone from all backgrounds to engage in creating their narrative creatively – giving rise to a culturally inclined community.” 

Images courtesy of the respective artists and EMERGEAST Gallery

From the Summer 2020 issue of Harper's BAZAAR Art