Arts-Mart: A Cairo success story

Lina Mowafy and Dina Shaaban, the founders of Arts-Mart, a new gallery space open on the outskirts of Cairo and breathing hope and new life into the contemporary art scene. Image courtesy of MO4 Network.
Lina Mowafy and Dina Shaaban, the founders of Arts-Mart, a new gallery space open on the outskirts of Cairo and breathing hope and new life into the contemporary art scene. Image courtesy of MO4 Network.

The Art Blog loves a good success story. That is why we were happy to hear about Arts-Mart, a new gallery space that opened in Cairo this weekend. Founders Lina Mowafy, Dina Shaaban and Hatem Zaazou began planning their gallery online in 2009 but it wasn’t until 2012 that it took shape. It has been so successful that last week they opened their gallery on the Cairo-Alexandria road in the Egyptian capital.

Here we catch up with Lina Mowafy and Dina Shaaban to find out more.

Q: Why did you start Arts Mart?

A: Arts-Mart was born to create a bridge between artists and a then-alienated art audience. At the time the idea was conceived (2009) the art scene in Egypt was somewhat stagnant and impenetrable. The existing few galleries mostly featured a small selection of very well-established artists (and accordingly very expensive) and attracted a similarly small intimidating crowd of art-lovers. There was no place for any other category of art, artist or audience. Young artists were dismissed regularly, and ‘normal’ people seeking to know more about art were too intimidated to approach. The online platform made contemporary, fresh art accessible from anywhere and at anytime to anyone with an interest. It grew to become a complete platform featuring both very well-established masters alongside some great, well-selected up-and-coming artists.

Q: You claim to be the largest online gallery in the Middle East. How do you corroborate that claim?

A: We are the largest regional online gallery that is owned, run and based in the Middle East. Other international online galleries do exist of course but they are world-wide projects. We have a very active marketing dept that keeps a very close eye on the market so we stay in-the-know. If they have missed then something please tell us :)

Q: Is your focus only on Egyptian art?

A: Our focus has been on Egyptian art up until this point but we plan to grow it beyond. As a young start-up we had to establish strong roots in our own country first before opening elsewhere.

Q: How do you identify new art or artist for the website?

A: We have an application section on the website where artists can apply and upload their work to be screened. We also regularly attend art events and exhibits to look for new talents.

Q: Why would an artist choose Arts Mart over another art portal or physical gallery?

A: Arts-Mart is gaining a solid reputation with artists because we have had some incredibly successful stories in such a short time. We were lucky enough to be able to have a large and growing fan-base of clients who were happy to find a way back into art. Accordingly, some of our artists have had their market value triple in two years because of our constant effort to market, display, inform and help. We create and develop different channels for their art to be seen by the largest audience possible. We like to take risks, we don’t hold back and we are 100% transparent with our artists.

Q: How many pieces of art do you sell on an annual basis and roughly what are your price ranges?

A: The cheapest art-work we featured was for LE150 and the most expensive one was over LE600,000. The prices reflect the variety we offer and of course the market value of the artists. We also have a “Resale Boutique” section where anyone can put artwork they already own up for sale. We have come across some really valuable work through that.

Q: Congratulations on opening your first gallery space, what does this mean to you as an organisation?

A: Thanks! This space means the world to us. A dream come true, really, as cliched as that sounds. We spent a long time looking for the type of space that would add value to our vision and not be just another gallery. We can now immerse the viewer in the artists’ concepts, physically and literally. We have so many plans and ideas for this space. We hope to host educational programmes (seminars, workshops, courses) as well as performances, screenings, fairs and auctions across all disciplines in the field. The space is just outside the city so it is huge and very versatile, differentiating it from the more restrictive setups available in the heart of the city. It was a big risk to move out but we believe this is where tomorrow’s art scene will be. As an organisation the space makes us bigger and stronger and gives the online portal a physical and interactive destination on the ground.

Q: What does opening the space say about the art scene in Cairo?

A: The amazing support, encouragement and positive responses we have received these past few days have validated the risk we took. People were overjoyed to be in such a positive open space surrounded by art. The opening was attended by Cairo’s most prominent gallerists as well, who were also very excited, happy and supportive - seeing it as a step forward for everyone in the art scene in general. One of them said to us that this space “draws a clear line between the Egyptian contemporary art scene of yesterday and that of tomorrow”. We are looking forward to a more collaborative and fresh approach across the field.

Q: Your first exhibition is for Mohammed Alba, why did you choose him?

A: Abla was chosen for two main reasons: firstly, he was the first well-established artist to believe in Arts-Mart. We went to him as complete strangers with a small website featuring young and relatively unknown artists. It was a short meeting where we explained our vision and laughed about where we want to be in five years. We left that meeting with 42 paintings of his that were valued at well over LE1 million. It was shocking, but he believed in us from the get-go. Secondly, Abla is a spectacular artist (needs no introduction). Launching with a retrospective spanning 30 years of his work is an honour.

* Arts-Mart The Gallery, is located on the Cairo-Alex Desert Road, 2km from Mehwar Exit. For more information, please visit the website: www.arts-mart.com

Published: December 10, 2014 04:00 AM

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