Crafts weave their way onto Dubai’s art scene

A growing arts and crafts scene is weaving its way across the emirate, which now hosts annual art fairs and auctions and enjoys a booming art gallery scene.

In just under a decade, Miriam Walsh and Paul Townsend saw their arts and crafts business in Dubai expand phenomenally. Starting with 30 vendors nine years ago, the ARTE Artisans of the Emirates (ARTE) markets now have close to 5,000 participants making all things local and handmade from art and craft pieces to soap and baked goods.

They are just one example of the flourishing cultural scene in the emirate. Art Dubai, the Middle East’s biggest art fair, will see its ninth edition in March 2015. The fair has become the region’s biggest event for showcasing contemporary art. This year’s edition welcomed more than 25,000 visitors, including groups from 70 international museums, 85 galleries from some 34 countries and over 500 artists and contributors. The event is not just a large exhibition space, but also includes commissioned projects and performances, artists’ and curators’ residencies, radio and film as well as the annual Abraaj Group Art Prize and the Global Art Forum.

Middle Eastern arts and crafts
There is a mounting interest in Middle Eastern arts and crafts

ARTE Co-Founder Walsh, a felt maker, says there is “an increasing amount of art and craft centre hubs like DUCTAC, DIAC, TASHKEEL, (and) many more art and craft stores all over the emirates”, selling the latest materials. The ARTE markets, held bi-monthly across different locations, have been “growing from strength to strength”, according to Walsh. “ARTE is now also a stepping stone to men and women setting up their own businesses after having tested their products at ARTE for some time,” she says.

Sisters Rania and Zaina Kana'an have also recognized the mounting interest in Middle Eastern arts and crafts. In 2011, they founded Ananasa.com, an online marketplace that enables artisans, artists and designers in the Middle East to sell their creations internationally.

“The whole aim of Ananasa is to expose the under-exposed handicrafts in the Middle East to the world,” Rania Kana’an told Wamda TV. “There’s no prejudice when looking at a beautiful item and the whole aim is to expose beautifully-made items from the Middle East to the world.”

Middle Eastern arts and crafts
ARTE provides a market platform where locally based artisans can promote their arts & crafts products

Ananasa handles all logistics, customer service and marketing in order to allow artisans to focus on creating their handmade items and to facilitate the sale of their creations to international customers. Almost one year after its launch, Ananasa had some 500 items on display from 155 artists from the Middle East and North Africa region, from countries including Jordan, Lebanon, the UAE and Egypt.

For ARTE’s Walsh, competition is increasing in the market as new players come in. This also means vendors with better products stand out.

“Those who have a strong product are great advertisers for ARTE,” she says. For now ARTE is at full capacity, but Walsh and Townsend are always looking for new locations that suit their clientele.