Middle East art online: The power of culture in the region

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Author: Lisa Kaaki, [email protected]

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Almost every country and region in the world has a large online presence, including blogs and websites, dedicated to their respective art scene. However, there is neither a blog nor a strong online presence totally focused on Middle Eastern art.

That’s what pushed half Finnish and half Lebanese Taymour Grahne who is currently based in Boston, to write the first blog completely dedicated to Middle Eastern art: artofthemideast.com.
“I felt it was vital that the Middle Eastern art scene including Turkish and Iranian art be represented online. I don’t want the region’s flourishing art scene to be left out of this growing trend towards the blogosphere” says Grahne who is graduating from Boston University.
The Middle Eastern art world has indeed been generating worldwide interest over the past years. Gulf countries have generously funded the establishment of museums and art shows.
Abu Dhabi is the latest Gulf country aiming for something more enduring and gratifying: culture. Saadiyat Island which literally means “Island of Happiness” will house, in the next few years, “the world’s largest concentration of cultural institutions designed by some of the world’s leading architects such as Frank Gehry for the Guggenheim Museum, Jean Nouvel for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Zaha Hadid for a Performing Arts Center, Norman Foster for the Zayed National Museum and Tadao Ando for a Maritime Museum. This Emirate is poised to become a world cultural hub.
There is an amazing amount of talent in the Muslim eager to be recognized. Grahne, however, only intends to mention high caliber artists.
“It is not a blog for all artists, but only the greatest, be they established or up and coming. I want to show the world our region’s finest talent. Many of these artists have already been heard and recognized and many are very well known. Others are not as well known, and with the blog I hope to give them a space so they can reach out to people and show their work to an audience that would have previously been inaccessible to them. Sometimes, it is difficult for an artist to dedicate his or her time to both painting and promoting their work,” says Grahne. Aware of the region’s growing interest in art, Christie’s and Sotheby’s have held auctions; the most recent took place in Doha, Qatar. Titled “Horouf: The Art of the Word,” it consisted exclusively of work inspired by calligraphy. Like Abu Dhabi, Qatar is building a National Museum designed by Jean Nouvel, a Museum of Islamic by IM Pei, while the Arab Museum of Modern Art has just been opened.
Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon al Nayan, chairman of Abu Dhabi’s Tourist Development Investment Company, explains that each museum will play a distinctive role. The Guggenheim will specialize in Arabian, Islamic and other Eastern art in the context of the major developments of the past 100 years. The Louvre in Abu Dhabi will be a world museum borrowing unique pieces from the Louvre in Paris for a sum of $1.3 billion.
Grahne acknowledges that there are serious art collectors in the Middle East  and he has devoted a section on his blog to collectors.
“I also have features on the artists where I provide some info on the artist, pictures of their work, articles written about them and sometimes an interview with the artist with my own twist on them and their work. I also provide information on how to get into contact with the artists by providing a link to their websites. I also have a gallery and an exhibition section where I showcase different galleries and exhibition throughout the region,” he says.
Grahne also recently started a for the blog where I upload videos from my interviews and gallery/exhibition visits.
“Art is aesthetically very pleasing. It enlivens a room. It tells a story and each piece is unique. Art is also a form of expression. Each person can look at art differently and come away with something unique.  What I also love about art is that it is very rare to find great quality artists. Great art is a rarity. When you discover a great painting or a great artist, you are overwhelmed by relief; it is a feeling you can never forget,” explains Grahne.
Art also has the singular power to unite people. According to Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon al-Nahyan: “Artists are often the first in a society to anticipate future trends…It can change the way you think from time to time. We do not have a problem with that. We believe this challenge is a way to inspire innovation. This is proven.”

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