Online platform breaks new ground for selling art in MENA

May and Raya Mamarbachi, the mother-daughter duo founder of Artscoops online platform for selling arts. (Artscoops)

2017/04/09 Issue: 101 Page: 23

The Arab Weekly
Jimmy Dabbagh

Beirut - Like any industry, the art world comes with its own set of rules. Buying art tra­ditionally was a rather for­mulaic experience in which prospective buyers would pass through the established routes of galleries, art consultants and deal­ers, live auctions and collectors.

Crucial as those options remain, the internet has modified the way art is consumed and how its busi­ness is conducted. In response to growing global demand, the last few years have seen a rise in online platforms specialising in selling art. With an expansive digitised collec­tion of paintings, drawings, photo­graphs and sculptures catering to varying budgets, the online experi­ence has become seemingly effort­less and comprehensive.

Despite the success of online platforms Artsy, Artspace and Art­net, little headway had been made within the Arab art world until the emergence in 2014 of Artscoops, a Beirut-based curated online plat­form focusing on Middle Eastern and North African contemporary and modern art.

Along with digital marketplaces such as Dubai-based Emergeast and Pavilion 33, Artscoops is paving a new way for how art is accessed and sold in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The platform also organises live and online auc­tions annually and curates online exhibitions.

The site was begun by mother-daughter duo May and Raya Mamar­bachi. The concept came about in 2013 shortly after May Mamarbachi, who sits on the board of the Kaya­ny Foundation, which offers aid to displaced Syrian children, enlisted Raya to organise an art auction for the foundation.

The success of the live auction, which raised $1.1 million, led Raya Mamarbachi to consider the poten­tial for an untapped art niche online.

Although she was working in ad­vertising at the time, her introduc­tion to art collecting happened early on.

“I started collecting at an early age because my parents are collectors and I always found that interest­ing. They started with carpets and Islamic art and then they moved on to contemporary art,” Raya Mamar­bachi said.

This familiarity with collecting coupled with her experience as a marketing consultant for an online recruitment company motivated her to follow her hunch.

“I think that, today, the first thing that people do is go on the internet to look at (the artworks). Whether it is on a gallery’s website or (different) platforms, it’s the first touch point that people make before going down to a physical gallery and auction…,” she said.

“We’re taking a neutral stance. We’re not an online gallery. We po­sition ourselves as a platform so the galleries can put up their own art­works and we can work with artists who don’t have their own galleries.”

May Mamarbachi said the e-com­merce aspect acts as a buffer for buyers who may find the act of ap­proaching a gallery daunting.

“The young generation, some­times they are slightly uncomfort­able (approaching) a big gallery. Our way seems more approachable for the younger generation,” May Mamarbachi said.

Since its launch, the startup has worked with 38 galleries from across the region.

“I think it’s quite an ambitious project to try and get galleries, art­ists and collectors involved,” Raya Mamarbachi said. “It’s a lot of differ­ent fronts to work on so maybe this is why it hasn’t been tapped.”

Doing so allows for a symbiotic relationship that facilitates the po­tential for a wider range of sales while also advancing the visibility of emerging and renowned artists to­wards an eclectic spectrum of online audiences. While such partnerships help expand the reach of the gal­leries and artists, Raya Mamarbachi reckons that purchasing art online will never completely replace more traditional methods.

“I think it’s going to be comple­mentary,” she said. “People have dif­ferent sources and ways of finding their artworks but Artscoops will be­come a point of preference. I think what we will see maybe is consoli­dation in the market between the different websites, so to have one or two major players instead of eight or nine smaller ones.”

Although the market is dictated by the highs and lows of the econ­omy, there continues to be steady growth as Artscoops builds a virtual bridge between MENA artists and international collectors.

Jimmy Dabbagh is a journalist based in Beirut and contributes cultural articles to The Arab Weekly.

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