The Sabrina Amrani Art Gallery is one of the leading art galleries in Madrid, Spain. Founded in 2011, the gallery represents a select group of contemporary and emerging artists. A relatively new entrant to Spain’s art scene, it has already created a great deal of buzz for encouraging new voices that are emerging in the Middle East and North Africa region.
In an in-depth interview, gallery owner Sabrina Amrani talks at length about how the 2009 financial crisis and Arab Spring led to the opening of this unique art gallery in Madrid and how the Internet is rapidly changing how we view art.
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and brought up in Paris, but my family is from Algeria, so I am French-Algerian based in Madrid. I chose to live in Spain for its sun, its people and culture in general. Spain is mid-way between European and North African culture by history, a good meeting point. And when I decided to open the gallery I always thought of it in Madrid. I like the city, its atmosphere and its particular light. Despite Spain being a natural doorway to Arab culture and art (just think of Al Andalus), nobody had done a project like this before, with a focus on MENASA artists here.
What prompted you to start a gallery?
I have had a great love for art since I was a young girl, and I used to wish that one day I would open an art gallery. In 2009, I was working in development strategies for a multinational company. The financial crisis made me question if I was in the right place. So before my thirties, I decided to take the chance to build my own project, having in mind always that what moves me is art.
Crises are great opportunity windows, and that moment coincided with the Arab Spring, so these events resulted in two good ingredients for the launching of the gallery a year ago. We had, and still have the interest of the Spanish public and press for being ‘a different gallery’.
What kind of art do you show?
I work with international visual and conceptual artists, and I have a great interest for socio-political, cultural and identity themes.
In the Spanish art landscape, Sabrina Amrani Art Gallery is really unique due to the orientation of the gallery: we focus on artists from the MENASA region within an international program.
This orientation makes sense since I am personally connected with Arab culture from North Africa to Middle East. Moreover, I think that the artists from the MENASA region are having a great moment on the international art scene, their voices are more and more heard, and there is a large range of interesting contemporary art actors in that area, but unknown to the Spanish art scene.
What makes Sabrina Amrani gallery different?
Besides our artistic focus, our gallery distinguishes itself by a strong Internet strategy. Since the beginning we work thinking "wall-less." The gallery is a show space but our work goes beyond this, we feel and think without frontiers, and Internet allows us to work beyond the walls of the gallery.
One of the latest experiences in the gallery was a videoconference-vernissage of the show 'Dissident' with the artist UBIK (Dubai), that couldn't get the visa on time and be present with us in Madrid. It was a fun night; visitors could talk live with the artist and share their impressions about his works, or ask him to show us his bedroom and studio. Our online strategy allows us to be in touch with a large public outside Spain and Europe. Our final goal is to connect the online with the offline reality.
How many artists do you currently represent and why do you choose to work with artists from the Middle East and North Africa?
We now have seven represented artists: Younes Baba-ali (Morocco), Amina Benbouchta (Morocco), Elvire Bonduelle (France), Zoulikha Bouabdellah (Algeria), Nicéne Kossentini (Tunisia), Waqas Khan (Pakistan) and UBIK (India).
I chose to work with artists from the MENA region because of my own nature: I was raised in a European country with Algerian habits, so I feel I belong to two different worlds. Most of the artists I work with are in the diaspora, studied or live abroad and have this same double-culture sentiment. So we connect and understand each other pretty well. I have a special sensitivity for Arab art but I cannot forget my French part of me. That makes me think always internationally and that is why we present artists not only from MENA region but also from South Asia, France or other countries; we don’t want to limit ourselves.
As a gallery owner, what do you look for in an artist? What specific things do you like in an artist?
First of all, I guide the selection by my personal taste; I really need to believe in what we show at the gallery. Then I consider the capacity of an artist to talk about his work and to investigate on his practice. And of course this collaboration between gallery and artist is based on confidence and collaborative work. I am not just looking for artworks to hang, and I like artists that don't look just for a white space. We are more than that, one and the other.
What do you think of the new generation of artists from the Middle East and North Africa? What advice can you give them?
The new generation of artists from the MENA region is impressive, not only in their numbers and diversity but especially in what they do. They are bringing a breeze of fresh air to the international art scene, with works of high quality conceptually and aesthetically. I love how their voices are beginning to be heard. It is beautiful to see how everything is developing and being built, and I am really happy to be a small part of it.
– Deepa Pant
Images courtesy of Sabrina Amrani Gallery