The rise of artpreneurship in the Arabian Gulf

Manar Alhinai | United Arab Emirates | 19.11.2017

Noor Shamma, a 32-year-old Emirati is not your average entrepreneur. She is one of the few people in the Gulf region to embrace the title of ‘artpreneur’ – which refers to an artist who turns creative work into a business.

 

In January 2015, Noor became frustrated with how she was constantly glued to her phone, and she began missing old forms of communication such as letter writing. Noor, who is the Head of Communication and Public Affairs at the Paris-Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi, announced on Instagram that she would be sending out one postcard each a week. She asked those who were interested in receiving a card to contact her.

 

Shortly after, she received 100 addresses from all over the world; to meet that demand, she had to send postcards almost every day. At that point, she founded the Postcard Initiative. The initiative entails selling postcards with artwork from artists around the world. The postcard packs, which contain between 10 and 21 cards, are priced between AED 100 and AED 200. Single postcards can be purchased for AED 10 each.

 

Artists interested in having their work displayed on a postcard pay the initiative AED 500; 20 per cent of proceeds, both from these fees and from the sale of the postcards, are donated to Noor Dubai Foundation, a non-governmental, non-profit organization that aims to eliminate preventable blindness everywhere. The foundation has also endorsed the initiative. The rest of the proceeds go into the production of the postcards.

 

To date, Noor has collaborated with 50 artists from around the world, from photographers to doll makers, and has mailed more than 300 postcards. The Sekka team was amongst the recipients.

 

 

Noor juggles being a mother of an 8-year-old daughter, working at her full-time job and managing the Postcard Initiative as one-person team.

 

In addition to all that, Noor teaches art to children in her spare time; she focuses on art history and on introducing children to artists from the around world.

 

Earlier this year, Noor accompanied the Noor Dubai Foundation’s team to Bangladesh to see first-hand how the team was restoring patients’ vision. The trip opened her eyes to the powerful impact that art can have. Future trips are pencilled into her calendar for before the end of the year.

 

“I’ve been working with Noor Dubai for more than 2 years, and I received a lot of requests from other charities and foundations to collaborate with them. I plan to expand the causes I will be supporting through my initiative,” says Noor, who is currently brainstorming for a project with an interested party from Argentina.

 

 

Since launching her initiative, Noor has revisited her artistic talents and undertaken commissioned work. She even participated in Dubai’s Sikka Art Fair earlier this year, sharing a work entitled ‘Unexposed’ – a series of pencil drawings of various doors.

 

We discussed artpreneurship with Noor, who states that the term is still nascent in the Gulf region, as is the art scene in general.

 

“I can’t live off my art alone,” says Noor. “Art is still not as appreciated in this region,” she states.

 

She has, however, noticed a rise in the number of artpreneurs in the Gulf region, despite the lack of support.

 

“Some are willing to pay so much for bags and cars, but they think those amounts are too much to pay for art,” she says.

 

“There are also certain art communities in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council countries], which certain artists belong to, and if you happen to be part of the circle, then you get supported, which defeats the purpose of art,” she adds.

 

Social media has played a large role in raising awareness about Noor’s Postcard Initiative; it has also helped artists around the world become famous and make money from their art. Indeed, the number of followers an artist has is a determinant of success in the region, Noor says.

 

“A lot of good artists are not appreciated because they don’t have a large number of followers,” she states. “It’s about how many followers you have and who knows who, and not so much about their talents.”

 

Noor sees that the lack of appreciation of art in general as a continuing challenge for the artists in the region. She argues that integrating art into school curricula across the Gulf region and exposing students to art history from a young age are vital to overcoming this challenge.

 

“I try to do my bit through my art workshops. We do not only draw, I also teach kids about art history, and we talk about the lives of artist such as Van Gogh, and then we have a discussions where kids interact and share their opinions about an artist’s work,” says Noor.

 

“Art classes in many schools around the region focus only on drawing, and not so much about history and the reason behind certain art movements. The first time I was exposed to art history was in university,” says the design management graduate.

 

“It was one of the toughest subjects I undertook. I also believe that the education and appreciation of culture and art should be encouraged by parents, by taking their children to museums and galleries and discussing artworks,” she adds.

 

The Gulf region’s art scene is still emerging, but Noor encourages fellow artpreneurs not to give up.

 

“It gets difficult when you don’t see results straight away, because this journey is a long process, but it’s worthwhile. When it hits, it hits,” she assures these artists.

 

Noor, whose muse is her daughter Selma, chooses to remain unclassifiable as an artist, which allows her to experiment and to express herself through various mediums. Her current work explores art, identity and emotion.

 

“I’ve literally tried everything when it comes to art, but right now I’m experimenting a lot with LEGO blocks,” she laughs. “I play around with LEGO structures, and the colours, and that helps me with my artistic process,” she adds.

 

For more on Noor’s upcoming art workshops, or to contact her for commissioned works or social collaborations, visit her website, www.noorshamma.com, or contact her via Instagram, @noorshamma.

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