Interview With Nikki Meftah

With an avid passion for Middle Eastern culture and heritage, Nikki has explored her interest through a journey in the arts. Her first stop was a Sotheby’s education on Contemporary Art of the Middle East. Next came her role with the Iranian Contemporary Art Organization based in London – Magic of Persia, where she expanded on her Persian culture expertise. After a variety of subsequent artist liaison and public relation gigs, Nikki pursued her passion in unearthing artists from the Middle East.

The result: Emergeast!

FBB. Tell us about Emergeast and the concept behind it.

Emergeast is an online art gallery promoting and selling accessible artwork by emerging Middle Eastern artists. We focus on unearthing talented artists from the region to showcase their work on an international platform. Emergeast’s mission is two fold as we also put as much focus on educating young collectors on art collecting, hence bridging the gap between emerging artists and young collectors.

FBB. We have been seeing Emergeast doing very well as an art organization with a great group of Iranian and Middle Eastern artists. What is your secret?

The secret is to always remain personable both with artists and collectors. My partner Dima and I spend a lot of our time getting to know our artists, fostering a professional relationship as well as a personal one. On the client side, we also build a strong bond with our collectors by always keeping them updated with their favorite artists! Great things come out of great relationships. And of course the obvious and not so secret key to success would be to work hard and be passionate.

FBB. The focus of Emergeast is more on affordable art. What is the price bracket, and why?

The Emergeast concept was actually born during a lunch with my friend-turned-business partner as we were discussing where we could advise our friends to collect Middle Eastern art. During this time we were both working in the industry and were starting to collect small pieces during our travels so our friends would ask us to look out for affordable artworks for them too. Galleries and other establishments usually carry artworks at higher price points and very rarely do you find artworks by emerging artists for under $5000. We realized then that there was a huge gap in the market for young urban professionals who simply wanted a ‘piece of home’ or an investable original artwork at an affordable price. A platform like Emergeast was necessary.

Our price bracket ranges from $100-$5000 as we believe young art enthusiasts would go up to paying this price for an artist they connect with. We encourage the collector to grow with their artists, and see their contribution as a direct correlation to the growth of an artist’s career.

We do also have artworks at a higher price bracket in our archives, however we chose to show these upon request or send to our private clients as to not intimidate our audience from the light and fun experience Emergeast offers.

FBB. Why did you decide to base Emergeast in Dubai?

As Western online art platforms started gaining huge traction from 2012, we saw a large gap in the Middle Eastern market for this sort of model. We decided to introduce the concept to the market and launch Emergeast as the first online art platform in the Middle East! It made sense as our primary audience would be young Middle Eastern collectors wanting to support the arts from their home and fostering a deep personal connection with the artists on the website.

FBB. Talk to us about how you go about selecting your artists. What criteria must be present?

Aside from the fundamental prerequisites such as a Middle Eastern background, strong art education and participations in a solo or group exhibitions, we ensure that each artist has a certain dedication and drive to pursuing a long-term career and advancements in their field. Their disseminating artist story and talent is key in our decision-making as our careful selection process is set out to guarantee an investment, both emotional and financial.

There have been a couple of anomalies such as Bouthayna Al Muftah, a Qatari self-taught artist who we believed had a unique signature style despite not having studied art. As one of our inaugural artists from when we launched in May 2014, her works have now gone on to be collected by the region’s esteemed collectors. She is now regarded as one of Qatar’s most sought after contemporary artists.

FBB. Have you organized any exhibitions yet? If yes, where?

Yes, we organized a group exhibition in London’s ArtSpace gallery in September 2015. The show was curated by our online following as we selected 10 artist’s who received the most likes, hits, clicks and shares through social media. We’re always trying to engage and cater to our audience and this curation approach reflects the way we attempt to revolutionise the art buying process, while always keeping our collectors in mind.

FBB. The Emergeast auctions are getting quite a reputation. Your third Auction, Shifting Forward, took place on April 27th in Dubai. Talk to us about that.

This round, the auction focused on, but was not limited to, digital art as a new medium of artistic production. As previously mentioned, we always attempt to remain on the cutting edge by keeping relevant to our times and therefore found it necessary to shine light on the recent surge of digital artworks or digitally rendered traditional works to our audience.

FBB. Who are your favorite Iranian artists right now?

It is hard to say with the outstanding pool of talent. Janet Hagobian, Ladan Broujerdi and Arsia Moghaddam are amongst a few.

FBB. How many Iranian artists do you represent? Talk to us about a few of them.

We currently have eighteen Iranian artist’s on board and expect to have twenty-five by the end of June. ‘Iranian artists’ is a very broad term as the country’s rich culture as well as unfortunate turmoil has pushed each Iranian to find their own path and identity.

Emergeat’s Iranian artists all come from different paths: Elham Etemadi who migrated to Strasbourg, depicts her early memories of Iran through her abstract and romantic style, lending a sense of longing to her works; Pegah Lari, born and raised in Tehran, uses old Qajar figure’s in her works and juxtaposes the subject with bright burst of colours and Western elements. We have our very own Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar who was born in Paris, yet who’s works exude Iranian nationalism by using Persian motif’s against both Iranian and Western photographs. We also have San Fransisco based Keyvan Heydari who lives in exile due to the outspoken nature of his street art during his time in Tehran. His works, inspired by Persian poetry, are a hybrid of his culture from back home fused with his new adoptive Western culture. Roxanna Manouchehri is also an established Iranian artist we recently brought to Emergeast, her style is extremely interesting as she merges Persian miniature figures onto beautifully rendered portraits by Da Vinci and Renaissance background.

Each Iranian artist brings something different to the table however the common denominator is a strong sense of nationalistic pride, which unites all Iranians together.

FBB. What is the best way to keep yourself updated with all the latest Emergeast news?

We are active on all social media channels! Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and lately we launched our Snapchat account. You’d be surprised to see how many people engage through Snap!

FBB. What is the future looking like for Emergeast?

Aside from constantly signing new artists, we plan on marketing our platform on a wide international scale. We are now partnering with key art establishments in the US and UK in the aim of catapulting Emergeast artists as the new shapers of the Middle Eastern art industry.

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