Maliha Al-Tabari’s philosophy is simple – to create a greater awareness about Middle Eastern art and place it on an international stage. We take a rare glimpse inside the entrepreneur’s home as she shares her passion for the industry.
Interviewed by Sophie Pasztor
What first inspired your interest in art?
I have been exposed to art since I was a child and I’ve never thought of leaving it for other passions. For me, art is a medium through which I can fully express myself. Art is something I can create with my imagination. Take away my passion, and it’s like taking away the one thing that makes me who I am as an individual.
Do you find yourself drawn to a specific style?
I like all forms, as long as they trigger emotion, are symbolic or have a spiritual element to them. I’m especially compelled by pieces that are thought of conceptually or are process driven.
Tell us about the artists that draw you in you the most.
I would say Gustav Klimt – he triggers so much love and passion towards women and the female body. His work appeals to everyone; it’s just beautiful and sensual. Frida Kahlo is also powerful and strong; she’s all about the power you see in every woman. The list is long, I couldn’t tell you just one!
Is there any specific theme that you feel anchors many Middle Eastern artists?
Works from Middle Eastern artists are usually derived from history and conflict in the region. They contribute to the evolving cultural landscape here.
You opened Artspace Dubai in 2003. What was your key mission back then?
My goal has been to create a greater awareness of the Middle Eastern art seen internationally. When I started in 2003, there was no platform or place for the artists to grow and to be seen. I’m most proud to see Middle Eastern artists recognised by the East and West, and having their works showcased at international biennales, museums and foundations.
What have been the biggest challenges?
To diversify to a bigger audience and encourage the West to give time to the Middle East.
What are your hopes for the region in the future?
It just celebrated its 45th anniversary and has accomplished a lot in many different sectors in just a few years. I can only imagine what the region will offer with time as it has a pioneering spirit and energy like no other.
As managing director of Artspace, what would you say has been your biggest feat?
Setting up the gallery at 22 years old, being mum to two hyper kids who are nine and five, and still wanting to grow my career in different sectors.
If you could offer just three key points to any young collector, what would they be?
One, buying a piece that you’ve fallen in love with; two, ensuring the artist has a certain and recognisable style and DNA; and three, investing in something/someone that will retain a good long term value.
You studied in America; how has your time in the States impacted your career?
I spent my time in America as an art student exploring and finding myself. After moving from Saudi Arabia, I had a lot of creativity and emotion that needed to be expressed. Once I completed my education, I realised I can have a voice back home to nurture artists, tell their stories and give them a platform on which to be heard.
What can we expect from you in the coming months?
This month, we have launched our new sector, creative content and a storytelling platform, called Arternative. Have you heard about Dinner with Dali yet? Watch this space...
Photographed by Rhys Simpson-Hopkins