Creating as a woman in the Middle East

INTERVIEW |
dima abdul kader
& Nikki Meftah

Meet Nikki & Dima Emergeast Founders

It all started in 2014 while bonding over our shared love for all things art when the question came up: “How can we start collecting affordable Middle Eastern art, without traveling around the region?”. “There must be an easy way of accessing emerging artists, no?”. Seven years later, Emergeast houses 75 artists with 12 official representations, offers art consultancy services, curates corporate & private collections and has established museum partnerships, as well as placing emerging artists in permanent museum collections.

Emergeast’s true essence lies in collaboration and elevating the collective consciousness by enhancing our everyday life through art and beauty. Emergeast is an intersection between human connection, creative expression & beauty in its rawest form: join the movement.

Describe yourself in 3 words ?

Nikki: Driven, authentic and freedom seeker

 

Dima: Passionate, creative and compassionate

How did you get to where you are today?

Nikki: As a French educated Iranian-born Londoner, I was always in search for a sense of belonging. My life has pretty much unfolded as a quest of self-discovery ever since I was young. After the French Lycée, I studied Persian Studies at SOAS university as a means of connecting to my country from afar. While studying the rich poetry, culture and art history, I noticed how much joy was being infused into my life and it was then I knew I was destined to explore it further. After university I went on to work for an Iranian Art foundation for a couple of years before realising my own destiny: shining light on Middle Eastern artists and exploring cultural naratives.

Dima: The road to getting to where I want to be has been guided by a clear and conscious effort to put in the work necessary to allow me to realize my wants and desires. Of course, any path worth pursuing will come with different forms of resistance along the way, be it personal, cultural or societal – but the end goal was far more important and therefore made any hurdle smaller and worth the leap by default. My professional career was destined, or so I thought, to a finance led role in the corporate world –  but my soul, gut and natural inclinations were proving otherwise at an early stage.


 

Tell us more about Emergeast.com ?

Emergeast.com has been our baby since 2014, what started as online platform selling and promoting artworks from Middle Eastern artists to a young collector base in the MENA region, has grown to become a community of art collectors and enthusiasts living a lifestyle of cultural curiosity and a growing art collection that reflects their own personal story. Through creative expression we believe art has the power to bring people together by instilling knowledge through inspiration and dialogue. We currently cater to a worldwide audience interested to learn more about new voices in Middle Eastern art and enrich their collection beyond their own borders.

What are your values, or in other words the criteria you rely on while choosing your artwork?

Nikki: Our platform was created based on the need for storytelling through creative expression. In 2013, while both working in the arts, we noticed a disproportionate number of Middle Eastern artists vis-à-vis a  platforms to communicate their story. As history very much indicates, it is the responsibility of artists to reflect social, political and personal narratives of their everyday lives (and show this to the world). While choosing an artwork we look for authentic storytelling, one that will ignite compassionate connection from the viewer.

How would you describe the experience of creating/self expression in the middle world? What are the challenges and opportunities? Do you think there are changes happening in the field recently?

Dima: I would say, as witnessing and engaging with a number of female creatives creating today in the Middle World, luckily we have had predecessors that have paved the way and inspired our voice through the realm of creative expression. Our societal and cultural fabric is still ridden with a number of stereotypes and preconceptions that prove challenging for the female creative. If we can as a conscious cohort instill a change in perception and cement an open minded culture – we will be able to facilitate the creative’s journey into an expanded discourse.

As a woman and feminist, what is a behavior you disapprove of in your industry today? And what do you think are the solutions to overcome it?

Nikki: Women competing against one another is something we strongly disapprove of in our industry. This ‘every man for himself’ mentality is outdated.

By supporting one another and acknowledging our role is not to compete but to lift and empower each other, we can all achieve our goal in promoting the arts, artists and a collective higher consciousness. ‘Surround yourself with women who would mention your name in a room full of opportunity’- a quote that struck with me this International Women’s Day. It speaks so much truth in an industry that it so often regarded as non-inclusive. Emergeast relies on collaboration and human connection, strength by numbers… together we hope to set a precedent for future generations.

Did the growing metoo movement and the women uprising impact/influence your work? Did it change your perception of it? And the way society is receiving it?

Dima: The need to speak up is imperative and more importantly supporting each other, whether a woman has had an experience or not, as one cohesive collective that will not back down is when a permanent change can take place. It is through our work, meeting women from across the world that we can create this collective dialogue and foster support for each other in a safe space to eliminate the sexist and derogatory behavior women have long encountered. 



What is a piece of advice you can give to early career female creatives inMiddle east?

Nikki: Remain curious and open. Always strive to learn, explore and identify what it is that interests you, what it is that continues to burn that fire within. ‘Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray’, a Rumi quote I live by!

 

Dima: It is important to always remember we are all born with an intended and predetermined purpose in the world and the only way to find out what it is is to listen to your heart and express yourself through what is calling to you. Being authentic and true to yourself paves a path of high satisfaction and low resistance. You will inspire many others to do the same. 

What do you hope to see women more in charge of/role development in the coming years?

Dima: I am happy to see much female representation in roles of development and management of the arts and culture sector. I do wish to see more Middle Eastern female artists being represented in galleries, museums and cultural institutions as barrier breaking, uncensored and narrative changing voices – making way for a new conversation paradigm.

What can you tell us about a woman who inspires you?

Nikki: The woman who inspires me is visual artist Shirin Neshat. Being an London-born Iranian, my life was always filled with paradox – I had an international upbringing and was fortunate to meet people from different walks of life, however always wished to be amongst Iranians. I would label myself as an Iranian in London but would go to Iran feeling like an outsider, the ‘English’ girl in Iran. When I first saw Shirin Neshat’s Women of Allah series, I was mind blown by how beautifully she was able to capture this paradoxical life in her works: dark yet beautiful, the women conveyed strength under their veils. It was this series that inspired me to explore my own identity through the arts, as Shirin Neshat so beautifully did. 

Unveiling-Shirin neshat

Dima: The first Palestinian female photographer, Karima Abboud, has long inspired me. Further to being a Palestinian (like myself) artist in the early 1900s using my favorite medium of expression – Karima demonstrates a woman who is unconventional in her choice of creative expression, courages and determined to make a change. Karima didn’t stop at merely documenting Palestine through her lens and help set up a photography studio for fellow women – she also encouraged women to be photographed without feeling shame or embarrassment at having their picture taken! She was surely a catalyst for change in our modern history.

Artwork: karima abboud

Interviewed By: Ingy

Moderated By: Farah Fangary

Emergeast Just launched their inaugural virtual exhibition

                                          “Ecstatic Nature

, a solo show showcasing the work of Algerian-French artist Tarik Chebli.

Tarik Chebli at his studio in Nantes, 2020
The works offer a gateway into an uninhabitable underworld of untouched nature. ‘I am fascinated by the mysticism of nature. There is something infinite about the secrets and diversity of it, it reassures me.’ – Tarik Chebli. Characterised by heavily textured acrylic paint, his ethereal landscapes give way to an underworld of virgin terrain. His multidimensional layering allows him to oscillate between serene landscapes and abstract shapes, allowing the eyes to momentarily evoke a sensory experience into an abyss of both utopia and escapism. This exhibition is of particular importance as it will be the first time Tarik shows his work to a Middle Eastern audience. 

 

“To me, nature is something higher. What is not human, what is not artificial. Painting nature is like the rejection of the stress of this world, of this human drama. I see the divine in nature.”

Check Tarik Chebli’s Exhibition

Ecstatic Nature