South African seeks to promote ‘understated’ artists

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South African seeks to promote ‘understated’ artists

Martin Roux says while the average person knows about Western artists, very little is known about their Middle Eastern counterparts.

By Sudeshna Sarkar

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Published: Fri 24 Jan 2014, 12:23 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 6:48 AM

Martin Roux was researching something on the Internet one day when he came upon a community of Syrian artists on Facebook. The Capetowner was entranced by the vibrant paintings and the diverse backgrounds of the artists and knew right away what he wanted to do.

“I work as a supply chain project consultant for pharmaceutical, construction and fast-moving consumer goods industries,” the 33-year-old, soft-spoken Roux says.

“The idea is to optimise the chain and make it cost-effective. But my real passion is the arts and business. I wanted to do something that would combine art and business and I wanted to promote Middle Eastern art.”

Despite the high quality, Middle Eastern artists are understated and under-appreciated, he adds. The limelight is mostly on European and American painters. While the average person knows about Western artists, very little is known about their Middle Eastern counterparts. Roux, whose work brought him to Abu Dhabi and then Dubai, with intermittent travels to Qatar, initially thought he would open an art gallery.

But the risks and costs involved deterred him. Also, there’s only so much that you can actually display in a gallery. So Roux, born in a generation that swears by the social media and apps, decided to launch an e-gallery instead.

In December, the Roux Gallery to promote Middle Eastern and Western contemporary art was launched from his laptop in his UAE apartment. Though not an IT person, Roux chose to design the website himself so that it would have just the right feel. It was not only getting the design right, he had to also integrate it with the PayPal system so that visitors to his gallery could order the works they liked by just clicking their mouse

The e-gallery works like all click-and-buy projects. The artists and their works available for sale are on display. When a buyer wants to make a purchase, the payment is done through PayPal. Then the artist ships the painting through Aramex. The prices vary from $700 to $20,000 and the gallery collects a 20 per cent commission.

Roux taught himself to do all this from the information available online. “YouTube was my manual,” he says.

Another challenge was to get his artists. Currently, there are about a dozen listed with him, the most illustrious of them being 56-year-old Syrian Nizar Sabour, whose solo exhibitions started in 1976 and have travelled all over the Middle East.

There are no Emirati artists so far though there are expats based in Dubai, like Briton Martin Wojnowski and Indian Sonu Sultania.

“The e-gallery has just started,” Roux says apologetically. “I plan to go to the art colleges and art fairs. I want to get involved with the art community in Dubai and know the artists better.”

He has harnessed social media for the marketing and the gallery’s page on Facebook provides an interesting glimpse into the world of Middle East art and of course, its own artists.

Incubating this ambitious scheme all on his own is bound to be a long walk. But Roux is undeterred. “It is not a quick-rich scheme,” he says. “It’s a long-term project.”

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