‘It’s Bricolage Through Time, Space and Approach’: Gallery designer Maliha Al Tabari in her home art collection in Dubai

Located in the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), a stone’s throw from the focal points of Christie’s and Sotheby’s in the UAE, Tabari Artspace has played a pivotal role in connecting audiences to contemporary art in the MENA region since its inception. It opened in 2003. Meanwhile, owner Maliha Tabari herself has become a fixture on the international art circuit.

As a Palestinian national, Tabari spent much of her youth between Jordan and the Gulf, especially in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s, before immersing herself in America and finally returning to Dubai. She visited studios in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and beyond, befriending the great Egyptian sculptor Adam Henein while discovering emerging talents at the time such as Hussein Madi, Adel El Siwi and Khaled Zaki – artists whose work can now be found in the collections. The British Museum, the Guggenheim, and LACMA, for whom al-Tabari has helped shape their careers over the past two decades.

Today, the gallery owner remains committed to discovering new talent from a range of generations, geographies, and cultures, while nurturing and developing an appreciation for Middle Eastern artists internationally. She also supports a number of artists through her personal collection.

Tabari’s house, a villa on the Palm in Dubai, is full of art (her residence is in Montreux, Switzerland as well). By her own estimation, she owns more than 200 works. She told Artnet News about some of her favorite things, as well as her style of collecting and living with art over time.

magnetism (2012) and Safwan Dahoul, the dream (2015). Courtesy of Maliha al-Tabari.” width=”768″ height=”1024″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-home-works-by-Ahmed -Mater-and-Safwan-Dahoul-768×1024.jpg 768w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-home-works-by-Ahmed-Mater-and- Safwan-Dahoul-225×300.jpg 225w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-home-works-by-Ahmed-Mater-and-Safwan-Dahoul-1152×1536 .jpg 1152w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-home-works-by-Ahmed-Mater-and-Safwan-Dahoul-38×50.jpg 38w, https ://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-home-works-by-Ahmed-Mater-and-Safwan-Dahoul.jpg 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 768px) 100vw, 768px”/>

From above: Ahmed Mater magnetism (2012) and Safwan Dahoul, Dream (2015). Courtesy of Maliha al-Tabari.

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?

A jar designed by Farhad Moshiri, bought in 2003 for $1,500.

How did your upbringing shaped your interest in art?

I come from an open and well-minded family, so I was exposed to multiple cultures and social contexts at a young age.

I also went to a girls’ school and was surrounded by strong women who were always actively and creatively looking for ways of expression. The binaries of open and closed societies that I found between them have certainly influenced my personality and my heightened sensitivity to the world around me.

I believe that those who face limitations often find the most creative ways to express themselves – some of the greatest art of our time came from such places. I find many Saudi women who have grown up during my reign to be bold, accomplished and determined in their chosen fields, and I wonder if it is because they feel that self-expression is more critical of them.

When it comes to expression in art, I find that many from the MENA region are highly nods. We talk and express our reality with our hands and our movements. This turns into productive art.

For example, Maitha Abdullah paints with her fingers and swings around her character in charcoal, while Taghreed Darghouth passionately applies layers of Impasto to her canvas.

against all odds 2021. Courtesy of Anastasia Sidorchenko.” width=”683″ height=”1024″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/FE4EDA48-9C74-4EFA-B1E2- 20ADF59AD315-683×1024.jpeg 683w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/FE4EDA48-9C74-4EFA-B1E2-20ADF59AD315-200×300.jpeg 200w, https://news.artnet. com/app/news-upload/2022/06/FE4EDA48-9C74-4EFA-B1E2-20ADF59AD315-1025×1536.jpeg 1025w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/FE4EDA48-9C74 -4EFA-B1E2-20ADF59AD315-1366×2048.jpeg 1366w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/FE4EDA48-9C74-4EFA-B1E2-20ADF59AD315-33×50.jpeg 33w, https:// /news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/FE4EDA48-9C74-4EFA-B1E2-20ADF59AD315-1281×1920.jpeg 1281w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/ 06/FE4EDA48-9C74-4EFA-B1E2-20ADF59AD315-scaled.jpeg 1708w” sizes=”(max-width: 683px) 100vw, 683px”/>

Tabari at home with Hashel Lamki, against all enemies2021. Courtesy of Anastasia Sidorchenko.

What was the last purchase you made?

A piece of the Algerian self-made artist Baya Mohieldin.

The Cubist and Modernist movements in the Middle East and North Africa region contributed greatly to my collection. Many of the region’s contemporary professors were educated in European institutions and interacted with the leaders of these movements before returning to the region and translating these influences into dialogue with their surroundings. The result was a powerful embodiment of cultural exchange between East and West.

(This is also attested in artists I collected such as Parviz Tanavoli, founder of the mid-century neo-traditional Saqakhani movement in Iran, whose art constituted a blend of folkloric traditions and contemporary expression; and Hossein Madi, who combined modernist techniques with the subject matter he encountered in Beirut).

Paya’s personal account resonates deeply with me. I find her art to be a testament to the lesser known flow from East to West. She was a pioneer, an artist who had a tangible influence on the likes of Picasso – said to have influenced his work. Les Femmes d’Alger String, for example.

There has been a lot of work done lately to revisit and reconstruct the histories in our lives. When I collect works, I take it as a snapshot from a particular moment in time. As such, the experiences of women like Baya and their influence on the art world are integral to recalibrating some of these lesser known artistic histories.

snail (2021) and Ahmed Asqalani, guardians (2007). Courtesy of Maliha al-Tabari.” width=”1024″ height=”768″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-home-Hayv-Kahraman-painting -Ahmed-Askalany-sculptures.jpg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-home-Hayv-Kahraman-painting-Ahmed-Askalany-sculptures-300×225. jpg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-home-Hayv-Kahraman-painting-Ahmed-Askalany-sculptures-50×38.jpg 50w” sizes=”( max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”/>

From left: Heif Kahraman, snail (2021) and Ahmed Asqalani, guardians (2007). Courtesy of Maliha al-Tabari.

Where do you buy art most often?

I buy art from fellow galleries to contribute to the regional art ecosystem and the artistic careers of their artists, as well as from consultants, auction houses and smaller art galleries that provide intimate opportunities for participation.

I also always buy from and represent the artists I work with. I have faith in their abilities and appreciate their production. I have a proven track record of identifying artists from the MENA region who tend to rise in value as their careers progress.

How do you deal with the installation of art and live with it in your home? Have you ever been bored with the work you got?

I started collecting pieces when I was 21, which led to decades spent doing some work, particularly pieces by modernists in the Middle East. Am I bored with this business? Start! I play with them constantly, placing modernists alongside contemporary artists or those from various disciplines or locations I encounter on my travels.

When you enter my home, you’ll come across very modern and contemporary pieces – paintings, fixtures, and sculptural pieces – all in one place, in always-changing combinations. It is a bricolage through time, space, and approach, and a way to understand and appreciate ancient works anew. I love creating new connections and raising the question: What do these artworks mean now, when put side by side?

Al-Tabari's dining room is decorated with works by Paul Guiragossian, Hussein Madi, Suleiman Mansour, Fateh Al-Modarres, and Adel Al-Siwi.  Courtesy of Maliha al-Tabari.

Al-Tabari’s dining room is decorated with works by Paul Guiragossian, Hussein Madi, Suleiman Mansour, Fateh Al-Modarres, and Adel Al-Siwi. Courtesy of Maliha al-Tabari.

Your wardrobe is as bold as your art collection. What does fashion mean to you?

I am constantly aware and inspired by what I encounter in everyday life – nature, art, cooking, design, architecture, fashion – worlds that constantly borrow from each other.

I am very slick and love to make interesting combinations in material, pattern and shape side by side. I express myself through one-of-a-kind collections sourced from runway, vintage pieces, and those from emerging designers. Today, for example, I’m wearing a dress by my sister’s brand, All Things Mochi; Its changing collections have a cosmopolitan aesthetic.

Fashion for me is an art, a continuation of my emotions and preferences that affect the body.

moen-mode 2020. Courtesy of Anastasia Sidorchenko.” width=”785″ height=”1024″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-0P0A6114-785×1024. jpg 785w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-0P0A6114-230×300.jpg 230w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/ 2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-0P0A6114-1178×1536.jpg 1178w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-0P0A6114-1571×2048.jpg 1571w, https:// news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-0P0A6114-38×50.jpg 38w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari -0P0A6114-1473×1920.jpg 1473w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/Maliha-Tabari-0P0A6114-scaled.jpg 1963w” sizes=”(max-width: 785px) 100vw , 785px”/>

Tabari, next to Mohamed Arjdal, moen situation2020. Courtesy of Anastasia Sidorchenko.

What work do you have hanging over your sofa? How about your bathroom?

The holy land, a large-scale mixed media piece by Palestinian plastic artist Hazem Harb, overlooking my living space. The work features acrylic lettering spelling “Hollyland” in the ubiquitous Hollywood font, on an archive photo of historic Palestine.

The piece embodies many ideas and struggles – faith and consumerism, celebrity culture, holiness and the masses. It is important to me because it encourages reflection on social values ​​and priorities while also aligning the Palestinian landscape with the magical and constructed world of cinema.

In my bathroom I have a painting by Emirati artist Maitha Abdullah. Her practice reflects on the dualities of right/wrong, and sin/purity, as well as regional folklore and myths that shaped her personal world.

I first met Maitha several years ago in her studio in Abu Dhabi and it was an amazing path to follow. It is now exhibited internationally and acquired by large public and private collections. I was drawn to the way she paints with her fingers and uses her body on canvas, as well as her attractive subject matter.

A painting by Emirati artist Maitha Abdullah hangs in Hammam al-Tabari.  Courtesy of Maliha al-Tabari.

A painting by Emirati artist Maitha Abdullah hangs in Hammam al-Tabari. Courtesy of Maliha al-Tabari.

What business did you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

To this day, I wish I had a piece by Lebanese feminist poet and visual artist Etel Adnan, who passed away last year. In addition to the power of her colorful paintings, as an individual, Etel tirelessly defied conventions and paved the way for those behind them.

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