The age of the artist-entrepreneur: Moroccan artist Lamiaa Menhal on turning art into an enterprise

Somya Mehta /Dubai
somya@khaleejtimes.com Filed on July 8, 2021

What goes behind establishing your art as a creative enterprise? Moroccan artist-entrepreneur Lamiaa Menhal weighs in

No matter how dated the age-old debate of science-versus-the arts gets, we continue to find artists amongst us that were once rattled in their school years for “wasting” too much time on art and not enough on the more “important” subjects. The prevalent disdain towards art, expressed in a child’s formative years, can often be enough to crush a budding artist’s spirit for life. Or the child can rebel and pursue their life’s calling in isolation from the rest of the society. Or better yet, they can become a part of the societal fabric and turn their passion into a reputable source of income. But what does it take for an artist to turn entrepreneur?

Some people may argue that commerce disturbs the sanctity of creativity but if bringing money into the picture can empower an artist’s endeavours and sustain them for the long haul, then it can also be viewed as a mere means to an end. And while all entrepreneurs may not be artists, all artists can certainly become entrepreneurs. In a conversation with wknd., Dubai-based Moroccan artist-painter and creative entrepreneur Lamiaa Menhal, who pioneered Moroccan art in the UAE, talks about finding ways to monetise her artwork through innovative economic integration into related fields that allow her to thrive and express herself creatively.

Growing up in a socioeconomic landscape that didn’t understand the might of expression through art, Lamiaa was often told off by teachers for spending too much time “scribbling”. “The teachers were always angry at me for not paying attention and drawing in my books. Even when I went to university, the professors always complained that I focused only on art,” says Lamiaa. “At the time, there was this understanding that artists can only make money when they’re very old or pass away. People believed that it took a lot of time for artists to get to a level where they can start earning money,” added Lamiaa. “My mother always said that I shouldn’t pursue art as there is no money in it. But my father, on the other hand, always told me, no matter how hard it may be, I can do it.” Merging the two polarising worlds, of art and business, the Moroccan artist has established herself as a successful artist-entrepreneur, who is able to create on her own terms, breaking free from the shackles of what the society may dictate.

Preserving and transporting culture

Being amongst the first artists to introduce Moroccan art to the UAE, the artist-entrepreneur has made a significant contribution to the diverse cultural narrative that the country is known to foster. “In 2015, I brought five artists from Morocco to take part in the Moroccan art month here. And soon, it became a yearly thing, where we created a community of Moroccan artists in the UAE. The artworks that emerged were a beautiful mix of the Emirati and Moroccan culture,” mentions the artist-entrepreneur, who has also been facilitated as the ambassador for Moroccan artists in the UAE owing to her notable contributions. She has also been part of several prestigious exhibitions,  representing the Moroccan artscape here in the UAE and was amongst the first artists to execute a solo exhibition on a boat, for Formula One, presented in front of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. “You feel safe here (in Dubai). And when you feel safe, you can automatically create more,” the artist tells us.

In a social media-driven world, where ‘stories’ are programmed to vanish within 24 hours, culture can get easily lost in the influx of information. Can art help preserve it? Traditionally, artists have played a vital role in depicting history through their art form, argues the Moroccan art ambassador. “I like to think of art as a medium that can showcase history in a way that the younger generations will be able to understand. Through my art, I can spread awareness on Moroccan culture and heritage to another region, like the UAE,” says Lamiaa, who enjoys creating abstract art, obliging people “to see what they can’t see”. Being brought up in Morocco, the artist acknowledges the deep influence that the setting of her hometown has had on her art. “Morocco has so many scriptures and a rich history that not many people are aware of. I read a lot of books about our history and try to show it through my art,” adds the artist-entrepreneur. “It helps me stay true to my roots and maintain my authenticity as an artist.”

Branching out and experimenting

When the general consensus around us is designed in a way that dissuades us from pursuing our passion, forcing a predetermined template of existence, it is often easy to lose sight of our individuality that makes us, us. The quirks that may be passed off as frivolities, the instincts that guide and dictate our energy, how we view the mundane or even the extraordinary. The Moroccan artist-entrepreneur speaks about the importance of constant innovation — creation and recreation ¬— as a fuel to overcome the financial shortcomings one may face, while establishing their art as a business.

“I took a slightly different route than other artists. I had studied marketing, so I combined the two together and tried to find ways to make money from my art. I’m an artist with a business in art,” says the Moroccan art ambassador, who helms her own event and marketing firm, an art gallery, a fashion label and an art magazine called Artisita. “Artists always tell me that it’s hard to sell their work. Yes, but what are they doing differently?” asks Lamiaa.

“Art can be everywhere. It doesn’t have to be limited to just the canvas or paint brushes. I think of the ability to create as le savoir de vivre (knowledge of life). Creative people can do anything and everything,” added Lamiaa. “I do events and marketing, have my own gallery and a fashion label but I try to put art into everything I do. For our events, the slogan is ‘your events, in an artistic way’ and the slogan for the gallery is ‘nest of art’. So, art is always there in everything I do. But I can’t limit myself,” adds Lamiaa.

The art of innovation

The artist-entrepreneur started her own fashion label, as an extension of her artwork. “I always used to experiment with my own clothes, retouching it with paint. And I thought, most people want to be unique to express their character and personality. So, my dresses could enable them to have their own authentic fashion style. That’s how I started doing this as a business,” says the Moroccan artist, who designs exclusive clothing lines for her own label, customised by her fingerpainted artwork.

Highlighting the importance of branching out and diversifying within the discipline in order to reach a wider audience base, Lamia says, “Even if it’s hard to sell your art at the price you want, you need to constantly innovate and come up with something unique, which will help you sell your art. For example, I customise my clothing line with that intention, adding my poetry on some pieces.”

Connecting with the audience

The self-made artist has also carved a niche for herself by brewing her authentic style of painting and creating, by doing live art shows, exclusively, in front of an audience. “I used to paint with brushes before. But as I got more immersed in my art, I started feeling jealous of the brushes. I didn’t want anything to come in between me and my canvas,” the artist tells us. “So, I started painting directly with my fingers and now, I don’t use brushes very often,” Lamiaa tells us.

Connecting with her audience on a live platform has also enabled the artist to experiment with and hone her signature fingerpainting style for her artworks. “I love to have fun with my art, so I thought, why not create my art in front of a live audience? It also gives people a chance to see what goes behind the process of creating — the joy,” says Lamia. “Doing live shows is very hard. A lot of artists don’t want to show their process. But when I see my audience feel happy, I feel happy. And there’s an instant connection, which flows into my art.”

Building a community

Extending her pursuit of art and creativity, the Moroccan artist inaugurated her gallery last year in Dubai, right before the onset of the pandemic. “I want to get more and more people involved in art, especially the younger ones. With Artisita, I’m trying to promote artists that are serious about their work and want to pursue this field wholeheartedly,” says Lamiaa.

The Moroccan art ambassador takes immense pride in facilitating a well-networked platform for budding artists to showcase their art, in the UAE. “When I moved here, there weren’t many Moroccan artists. I received a lot of support from Dubai Culture and Arts Authority,” mentions the artist. “Ever since I made the UAE my home, I have encouraged several local artists and painters to come and exhibit their work here and gain the right exposure, to earn a living from their art.”

The artist will be seen exhibiting her work this September, commemorating The Year of the 50th, using a theme of vibrant colours that reflect the spirit of the country. “For the special occasion, I will create art that depicts 50 colours of the UAE. I will also combine the colours of Morocco and bring the two worlds together, through the use of colour — reflecting exactly how I started out, here in the UAE.”

THE ROUTE TO MONETISING YOUR ART

  • Establish your niche as an artist
  • Market yourself as the brand and your art as the business idea you want to sell
  • Economic integration: Experiment with different business models
  • Income diversity: Find related fields to integrate your work
  • Build an organic audience and forge a personal connection
  • Put yourself out there, physically and digitally (social media)
  • Sell art through online presence
  • Sell prints: Have a secure source of passive income
  • Teach art online or through physical workshops
  • Start a blog or a YouTube channel to cement your brand value

somya@khaleejtimes.com

Somya Mehta