"We are the only photo gallery in the Middle East". Close up.
You will find her every day in her gallery, Empty Quarters, a second skin, or about in Gate Village which she has contributed to the buzz. Photography is not only her passion but Safa Al Hamed has a broader ambition: transmit her taste and knowledge of art to the young Arabs in the region. INTERVIEW.
How did you come up with the idea of Empty Quarters, a gallery dedicated to photography only ?
Princess Reem Al Faysal has a message to deliver. She gave me the inspiration and the love for photography. We are the only photography gallery in the U.A.E but also in the Middle East. Empty Quarters officially opened in March 2009 but Princess Reem and I had this plan for two years already. Princess Reem is the founder of the idea. We were the first to build a photo gallery in this market. There were none. If we had not started, nobody would have.
What would you say about the art market here ?
In Dubai the art industry is progressing very fast. In Europe it’s already at the pinacle but here it is developing. All the artists are coming in Dubai because they actually see the potential to create and develop.
What reactions did you get when you opened the gallery ?
A lot of people loved the place although they had some doubts about our focusing on photography because its a niche market . « Why only photography ? Is there any collector here for this market ? » would they ask. « You pay a very high rent… Put paintings, sculptures at least... » These were the reactions from local and non local visitors and artists. This location is the best (Empty Quarters is located in Gate village, in front of the French restaurant La Petite Maison) and artists came to us to expose but we had to tell them « no, we are doing photo only… »
As a matter of fact you are opening a traditional gallery ?
The Cube Art Gallery, will also be a unique project. We are three founders : Princess Reem Al Faysal, Lulu Al Hamood, who is also an artist, and myself. Together we have a spiritual message. We plan to launch Cube Art in March. We will try to make it one week before Art Dubai if the logistics around it allows us to.
What is the moto behind your exhibitions ?
We have a different style. In every exhibition, there is a story behind. We send a lot of messages. Every artist has his own message. It is like a museum at the same time.
You told me you believed in educating people here about art ?
Yes. Our goal is to educate people, show them how art is value. We do not only sell. If I may, I will make a comparison with food : some people will eat at La Petite Maison, others will go for Kentucky. Princess Reem was telling me that as a photographer she wants to educate Arab people on what is photography. It is a new market.
Do you get any sponsorship or hep from the government ?
We didn't had sponsoring but we are planning to involve this strategy this year to be more active. We are doing this for the next generation. After 50 years from now, we will be known as giving the best quality of photography, printing, story wise. I can see a light coming.
How is it to be a woman here in Dubai ?
Sheikh Mohammed always inspired women. He is helping them to start and want the women to be educated and strong. He is very supportive . Even our parents are helping us, letting us chose for oneselves.
How did your father react when you said you would start this gallery ?
My father laughed and made fun of me in the beginning. « If you want to have fun, go ahead, » he said. Everybody has a role in this life. We have a message to give. There are people to educate. There are three categories of people : the givers, the give and takers and the takers. I chose the first. Sorry to speak like that but we are not animals who eat and reproduce. We are more. Everybody wants to be happy and some people are happy when they give. We cannot be satisfied only by taking. Actually we people here are givers. That’s why the city was built like that. Here we think about others, we keep them in mind when we create. There are a lot of givers here. If you give, you will succeed. This is life : give, give, give and dont think about the return.
What do you like about photograpy ?
I like the story, the message, the spiritual part of it and the memories. It goes fast as well. It grasps things. A museum without photo, is not a museum. Pictures talk about the past. They are documentary. I like history. We have a very high printing quality. Our pictures will last hundreds of years. It is important for people to know that they will remain. Otherwise, they dont mean anything. We will open a printing studio in Al Quoz maybe inMarch as well.
What differences can you see since you opened five years ago ?
Between 2007 and 2013 I already witnessed a big difference on the art market in Dubai. In 2007, we were alone in Gate Village ! We had no idea that Gate Village would turn like that and become a quarter for galleries.
Is it more accepted among local families to chose art as a professionnal career ?
For most artists it used to be difficult. The older generation tells them « go find a life ! » It is more accepted to be an artist for the new generation with other job beside for living.
Are you the only one in the art business in the family ?
Yes. We are seven siblings. The other ones are lawyers, businessmen, in construction.
Name the photographers you like the most ?
Steve Mc Curry of course, but everybody likes him. Princess Reem’s work which is full of meaning and soul. Not only do I like the style but the meaning of it. It is black and white pictures. We discovered and exhibited Al-Moutasim Al Maskery, a photographer from Oman. He is still new but I can see his future. In five years from now, you will see. He is talented.
Do you have photographies at home ?
In my room I have a picture of Marti Becca and one of Gonoviva. And in our house, my father love portraits, actually. I realize that. He is collecting portraits of members of the family. You see, like me, he has the love for photography. I have to tell him that ! (she laughs). Twenty years ago, a famous english photographer took portraits of my parents and it is one of the best portrait of my father. He loves it.
Are you working on another project ?
We have a plan to open a School of photography. It will be a Center for Photography in DIFC, The gate village.
What dreams do you have for Dubai and the region ?
I am proud to be from Dubai. It is a progressing industry. In all fields. I can see it. The governement is trying its best to make the people happy an is working hard for that. The people here love their goverment and Sheikh Mohammed is like a father to us. You know, I have a picture of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum and Sheikh Mohammed on my bedside table like members of my family. You won’t see this in any other country. We feel the love for him. He is a giver. He is very generous. Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid taught how to love their people. In life, one should remember : if you say things from your heart, it will reach the heart. If you say things from your lips, it will only reach the ears.
How is it to work as a woman ?
In the beginning, I did a lot of mistakes. I was not practical. I was emotional. I gained experience and I am still learning. Decisions were far from easy because there was nothing there. You needed to have a vision but there was nothing to hold to. We had to do a lot of marketing for oneselves.
You live by your traditions ?
Tradition is important. This is the way we live. Today I took my breakfast on the floor. It is important to keep your personality. And this is what people are looking for. If you go to Japan, or China, what you want to see is tradition otherwise we have the same Starbucks everywhere !
What is your dream city ?
Sheikh Mohammed makes our dreams real. He is going ahead of our dreams. What more than that do you want ?
Have you lived abroad ?
No. I have just stayed several months abroad but not lived elsewhere.
Your favorite places in Dubai ?
I like the sea view next to Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
What do you do to recharge yourself ?
I go home, in my room. I sit with myself and meditate. I am a very spiritual p
Empty Quarters currently shows the work of famous French photographer Marc Riboud