We are living in the era of hyper-connectivity. And as overbearing as that is, and as wired as it makes us, we cannot deny that it opens up a host of previously unthinkable opportunities. You can now order food straight through your computer, pick your wedding dress online, perhaps even meet the love of your life (who may or may not turn out to be a tech-savvy old man from Kuala Lumpur). And most recently, you can now enjoy art and purchase paintings by clicking a few buttons on your keyboard.
The most recent addition to Egypt’s art scene is the rise of online art trading platforms. The two pioneers are ArtsMart, an online art market geared towards art lovers on a budget, and the established art space Safarkhan’s e-gallery, which offers a range of modern and contemporary artwork to target local and global art collectors.
ArtsMart co-creator Lina Mowafy told Ahram Online that the online art space was conceived to revive a culture of art appreciation in Egypt, utilising an online platform to bring art closer to its fans, while enabling emerging artists to exhibit and sell their works.
With a firm belief that "art is for everyone," ArtsMart offers a range of works by well-known contemporary artists such as Hany Rashed and Tasneem El-Meshad, as well emerging home-grown painters like Malak El-Shazly.
Mowafy’s business idea was born out of personal experience - or rather personal frustration. An aspiring artist herself, she eagerly approached a number of art galleries at the onset of her career, hoping to showcase her artwork. Yet, like many young artists, she was not met with similar enthusiasm.
"Galleries in Cairo focus more on well-established artists, and stick to showcasing a certain type of art, so it is difficult for emerging artists to find a way in," Mowafy says.
In addition to being selective, Mowafy a found that galleries in Cairo catered to a narrow clientele, specifically those willing to splurge on art. A gap in the market emerged, and Mowafy and her partner Dina Shaaban saw a business opportunity; they would offer affordable art to clients, and provide an open exhibition space for hopeful artists.
"We avoid all the hassles of a physical gallery, and because it is an online space, it is open to the public and not restricted to the elite," she says.
Transcending cost barriers, not to mention traffic impediments, ArtsMart strives to render art enthusiasts more engaged with the art world while supporting up-and-coming local artists.
Earlier this year, the Safarkhan gallery, run by art collector Sherwet Shafei and her daughter Mona Said, a space once known for showcasing the pioneers of modern Egyptian art but now features the stars of local contemporary art, also launched an online trading platform.
Capitalising on the opportunities online media have to offer in terms of bridging geographical gaps, Safarkhan’s e-gallery caters primarily to clients who are not mobile; whether for living abroad or in remote areas across Egypt.
The e-gallery now flaunts an extensive collection, ranging from works by artists who have recently created a buzz in both the local and global art scenes, such as Khaled Hafez, Nermine Hammam, and Ganzeer, to established modern artists including Gabia Sirry and Yousef Sida.
With an undeniable hint of surprise in her voice; Said reveals that she has recently received an online inquiry from a potential buyer from Upper Egypt with an interest in two of Egypt’s most experimental and daring artists; Ganzeer (best known for his rebellious street art) and photographer Marwa Adel, who captures female identities through her lens.
But Said echoes a major reservation with regards to online art trading; witnessing art online is just not the same as experiencing it face to face (or rather, face to paint). The flat screen does not do artwork justice.
The word "gallery" evokes the image of a spectator gazing at a work of art, feeling tempted to reach out and run their fingers on its smooth or grainy surface.
"It’s hard to judge the texture and quality of art on your computer," Said remarks. "The screen takes away the beauty of the art."
Still, the risky investment for the boutique art venture is proving to be successful, Mona Said tells Ahram Online. The strong name of the gallery, as a trusted source of modern and contemporary art with a wide base of clients, is a guarantee of quality, keeping potential collectors reassured.
Young initiatives such as ArtsMart may struggle with credibility and face skepticism from buyers regarding the art’s quality. Yet again, the target clientele of Arts Mart would be more willing to experiment with an untested platform.
Targeting different chunks of the art community, both ArtsMart and Safarkhan’s e-gallery instigate a shift in the way art is experienced and consumed in modern-day Egypt. While local galleries routinely email their regular clients images of artworks that would be of interest to them, such online platforms that are indiscriminately open to the public, entirely dedicated to viewing and purchasing art work may indeed expand the realm of the local art market and attract a wider base of art enthusiasts, both locally and globally to interact with contemporary Egyptian artwork.