If you've ever bought a piece of art from Ikea, you may be familiar with the sinking feeling that comes with walking into a friend's house and realising that they have exactly the same print hanging on their living room wall.
While Dubai's art scene has flourished in recent years, there is still a gap at the affordable end of the market, making it difficult for people who don't want to spend a fortune to find well-priced but interesting, non-generic items for their walls. Yasmine Al Alami decided to address this disparity with the launch of Muse Artz, a new retail offering in Dubai's Times Square Center.
"The idea behind it is really to bridge the gap between the very expensive pieces and the Home Centre and Ikea pieces. We felt that this was a market that was missing. You don't really need to spend a fortune to decorate your walls," she explains.
"We are trying to make art less intimidating. Dubai has plenty of lovely art galleries but, generally, when people walk into those galleries, it can be intimidating - from the price tags to the atmosphere. You often feel like you have to be in a certain circle to gain entry."
Al Alami has positioned Muse as a one-stop shop for everything art related. There are prints, photographs and original works, as well as a framing service. There are reproductions of masterpieces, including Gustav Klimt's Tree of Life and The Kiss, black and white photographs of Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe, artistic shots of scenes from the UAE, vintage-style prints and posters, motivational quotes from Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein and even a sprinkling of pop art.
"Art is very subjective. If I like something, it doesn't necessarily mean that everyone else is going to like it, so we are really trying to offer a little bit of everything," says Al Alami.
When it came to originals, she was keen to showcase emerging artists from within the region. "We are looking for an emerging artist but not necessarily an amateur. We are also looking for contemporary pieces. And something that represents the region - and I don't mean Middle Eastern as in the people have to be from the region, just that they have to be based here.
"It's amazing. Dubai, from what I've seen, has some real talent. There are quite a lot of people who have full-time day jobs but it is amazing what they are creating in their spare time."
One of the artists currently being showcased at Muse is Nicole Haimiri, whose latest series focuses on human emotions and the spiritual aspect of life. Haimiri also works with furniture, taking existing items and giving them an artistic upgrade, often juxtaposing black and white images onto old chairs. Her Charlie Chaplin and New York Skyline chairs are currently available at Muse.
There are also pieces by the painter Shefali Ranthe, whose work is characterised by her bold use of colour; Lafi Aboud, an art photographer, photo journalist and documentary filmmaker with a penchant for black and white photography; Rabab Tantawy, whose pieces channel her Egyptian heritage and her love of colour; and Aamar Shawwa, whose early exposure to Vincent van Gogh and Egon Schiele manifests itself in a preference for abstracts, as well as sketches and paintings of the human form. She often paints on wood, because she believes that the grain offers added texture.
An original piece by one of these artists can be picked up for as little as Dh2,000, with prices going up to about Dh10,000. Meanwhile, a framed print can be priced anywhere from Dh350 to Dh1,000.
There are countless items to choose from in store, but if people don't find anything they like, Al Alami will whip out the iPad and present a myriad other options. "We don't have our entire inventory here, so if you don't immediately find something interesting, we'll hand you the iPad. Our website is on the way and is another business segment in itself. We are working to get our entire inventory online. We'll have a full-fledged webshop where you will be able to choose your pieces and then they will be sent to you. We'll start in the UAE, with the intention of going GCC wide."
While Al Alami is not an artist herself and previously worked in the banking industry, she grew up in a family of artists and has always had a keen interest in art. "Art has always been a part of my life. I am someone who appreciates art and I really felt that there was a gap in the market. I felt like it was time to pursue my passion for interiors."
Times Square was the ideal location for her start-up, she says, because of its proximity to Al Quoz - Dubai's unofficial art district. "Times Square seemed like a logical choice because it is within the area, but it is also easily accessible, parking is readily available and for everyone living in the newer parts of Dubai, it's really convenient. You don't necessarily have to go down to Satwa to get your framing done anymore."
Al Alami says that so far the response to Muse has been positive, reiterating the fact that this was a market niche that has long been underserved. "We're getting a lot of people saying: 'Oh, finally. It's nice to be able to shop somewhere where there's reasonably priced art'."
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