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Iranian art scene flourishing thanks to UAE exposure

Auction houses play key role as collectors flock to Emirates.

DUBAI // The UAE has become a thriving centre for Iranian art and is acting as an international stage to attract more collectors than ever before, a number of experts said.

Rose Issa, an independent curator who visited Abu Dhabi this week to give a talk on the Iranian art scene during the past 60 years, said the UAE was a hub for art from Iran.

"Dubai has played Hong Kong to the mainland of Iran in recent years," she said. "Many Iranian collectors could afford to come more easily to Dubai than travel to Europe to buy art and so in the last five years we have seen a boom for Persian artists."

Ms Issa said this growth was in no small part down to the role of auction houses that have started to dedicate sales to Iranian art.

"It was sort of a gamble for the auction houses as they can only bring art which they know they can sell. But the gamble paid off. Artists are getting credit for their work and it is well deserved. For a very long time Persian art has been undervalued."

At the end of last year, Christie's Dubai announced the figures for their November charity auction, which was in aid of the London-based charity, Magic of Persia.

They raised more than US$1 million (Dh3.67m) from donated works from contemporary Iranian artists through silent and live auctions, which were held simultaneously in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Ms Issa said Arab collectors were starting to see "a very beautiful connection between sensibilities" in Iranian art. "[It] speaks to them more, the references to culture are closer and so they are starting to collect each other's art," she said.

Isabelle de La Bruyere, Christie's director of the Middle East region, said enthusiasm had also spread to new buyers. She said 40 per cent of buyers from the past two sales were new customers.

"The Middle East is Christie's fastest-growing auction house and what is most promising is the wide variety of first-time buyers. Also, they are branching out into new markets, which is why Persian art is popular."

Ms de La Bruyere, who was an auctioneer at the Magic of Persia auction, was impressed by the work.

"I wasn't surprised by the interest so much as I was surprised at how many great pieces there were and how many I didn't know," Ms de La Bruyere said. "This is a wonderful way to discover what is going on in the Iranian art scene and particularly with the younger generation."

Shirley Elghanian founded Magic of Persia in 2004 from a nostalgic need to keep in touch with art from her homeland. And as the only non-profit organisation to promote contemporary Iranian art, she has found it well received.

The UAE is an invaluable hub for the Iranian art market, she said.

"Collectors of Persian art are so prominent in the UAE as many of them live there," she said. "It is also very close geographically so it acts as a platform. Of course, we couldn't do it without the support of people like Sheikh Nahyan, who has been a long-standing supporter of the charity, and Christie's, who believe in what we do."

Ms Elghanian also established the Magic of Persia contemporary art prize, where the winner is awarded a solo show at the Saatchi Gallery in London, which is announced every year at the contemporary art fair, Art Dubai. This year's announcement is to take place on March 18.

aseaman@thenational.ae

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