Alison Collins created The Majlis Gallery in 1989, converting her own home into a space designed to promote fine art and encourage local creatives to meet and collaborate. The gallery has since been responsible for introducing a host of the Middle East’s most acclaimed artists to the cultural stage.
You set up The Majlis Gallery in the late 1980s. How did that come about?
During the 1980s, when the gallery was my home, I used to host informal soirees for artists who approached me to show their work. They were great fun and much appreciated by a somewhat culturally bereft community. Then, in 1988, we were told that the house was to be demolished and that, very sadly, we had to move – only to be told four months later that it was not going to be pulled down after all. My then five-year-old son came and said “Mummy, you mustn’t let our old house die”. So, I didn’t.
How did the process of turning it into a gallery work? What was it that convinced you the space would work as a gallery?
We had to do quite a bit of restoration work, and it took a while to convince the municipality to grant me a trade licence. But Dubai was a very immediate place back then – there was a ‘think it, do it’ mentality.
Prior to the gallery’s opening, what was Dubai’s art scene like?
It was fairly sparse, though there was a thriving community of mainly Syrian artists in Sharjah, and Dubai International Arts Centre was offering workshops and courses. Artists from around the world were just beginning to travel here. We exhibited for many of them.
How have you seen that art scene develop in Dubai since?
How important is it to support up-and-coming artists locally, and how does the gallery do that?
Dubai is such a cosmopolitan city that categorisation by nationality is rare – we’re seeing that Emirati talent wants to be supported primarily as artists, not as ‘locals’. We are open to dialogue with many emerging artists of all nationalities.
Do you think Dubai can now class itself as an equal among the great artistic cities of the world? If not, what would you like to see done to take the art scene here to the next level?
Just think of the centuries it has taken for Florence, Munich, Paris or London to be called cultural destinations. Dubai has a very strong creative energy and a government that is very supportive of cultural development at every level. Cultural events such as Art Dubai and the multitude of gallery openings, concerts, literary festivals and events all work together to build a strong artistic base. Culture has to evolve naturally, but given the right climate it will flourish.
How do you approach the curation of exhibitions and the selection of artists in a city with such a diverse population?
Very organically. I have always trusted my own instincts, and they tend not to let me down.
What are your favourite galleries to visit, and where do you shop for art yourself?
Obviously The Majlis Gallery is my favourite, but I really enjoy visiting Alserkal and DIFC too. The galleries here are very supportive of each other, and I often pop into XVA for a chat with Mona and Ellie, the founder and gallery manager. We are all very hopeful that the opening of the amazing Al Seef project will bring people back to this exciting and special part of Dubai. Parking here is going to get much easier for sure!
How should people go about buying art for their own homes?
Buy what you like and what you can afford, but do buy original art. Trust your instincts.