For years we, Egyptians, have suffered from a problem whose solution was staring us right in the face. There were plenty of artists willing to showcase their work with no one giving them attention, and plenty of art lovers who had no idea where to look for art. The answer to both groups’ prayers came in the form of arts-mart.com, a website launched by two passionate ladies Dina Shaaban and Lina Mowafy. Their tech-savvy approach, combined with a passion for the arts gave birth to the first and largest online art gallery in Egypt. We spoke with Deana to know more about their beautiful project.
How did it all come by?
I studied at the AUC, double majored in economics and art and then continued to work as an economist and even did my masters in it but at the same time I continued to paint for 12 years. I was always passionate about art and any money I had I would spend it on a painting that I liked, but I was always told that it is not a profession.
As a collector I noticed that a lot of the young artists aren’t well represented in most galleries. At the same time I was thinking ‘what if I wanted to buy a painting that is not that expensive?’ I decided to link those two together. I also noticed many things about the art market, like the lack of transparency; the price isn’t always written, as well as the fact that some galleries tend to be elitists. Lina and I wanted art to be accessible. I believe that as humans we were created with the ability to appreciate art. We wanted to create something for those people and the best solution was an online platform because we don’t have a limit to the number of artists and so we can exhibit the young and the old.
For quite a long time good art was considered unaffordable, but your website offers affordable paintings, was this done on purpose?
Of course, there are newlyweds who would like to have a small painting in their bedroom or you might want to get a friend a painting as a present, you won’t pay thousands and thousands for that!
With Egypt’s economy the way it is, is art a luxury?
On the contrary, the economy hasn’t been doing so well for the past couple of years but the way I’ve seen it, people prefer putting their money into art because they know it will not lose its value, as opposed to putting it in the bank. It’s tangible and it’s resell-able. It’s as if you’re selling gold at a time when there’s a recession.
Who are your favorite female Egyptian artists nowadays?
I have a lot! Half of the artists we have here are female. Some of them are up and coming like Tasneem El Meshad , Miriam Hathout and Lina Mowafy who also happens to be my partner; some of them are mid-career like Sherine Mostafa who is amazing, and is one of my personal favorites, and there are, of course, the big tycoons like Britt Ghaly.
Do you think female artists are well represented is in the art scene in Egypt?
I don’t think the art scene is unfair to women. If an artist is good they will be well represented. I don’t think there is any sexism in this field specifically.
Are people more prone to express themselves through art since the Arab Spring?
Of course, it made a huge difference. After the revolution the number of new artists has increased and the work itself has become more liberal and expressive. You can see a lot of anger, a lot of freedom.
Modern art has always been looked down upon by the Egyptian art scene, has that changed?
We’re getting there, slowly but surely. There is now a new segment of young collectors, people who are mid-thirties/early forties, they obviously are better at relating to modern art than their parents are and have a better understanding of what art is.
It’s great that Egyptians now have online access to other Egyptian artists. Do you have any plans to host international artists as well?
Yes, but not now. We already have international artists who live in Egypt like Britt Ghaly and Maya Saleh but of course, it’s in the plan.