101 Pioneers Ethical and Curious Art Collecting
By Global Art Daily’s Editorial Board, in conversation with Munira Al Sayegh and Gaith Abdulla
Published on August 28, 2020
This week, the UAE’s artistic community has welcomed the pivotal launch of 101, a projected game changer of the UAE’s contemporary art market. 101 is a platform for the “curious, the creative, and the collector,” as described by its co-founders Munira Al Sayegh, independent curator based in Abu Dhabi, and Gaith Abdulla, art critic based in Dubai. After a thirteen-year-long trajectory of curatorial work, critical scholarship, and art collecting, the dynamic duo launched 101 to address the gap they witnessed in the UAE’s art market while advocating for the inclusion of non-gallery represented artists. We had the opportunity to talk to Munira and Gaith and get their thoughts behind the groundbreaking launch of 101, their observations, and future goals for the platform.
101 plans to hold four sales per year, and just successfully opened its inaugural sale on August 25th. For the sale’s curated collection Outside In, Inside out, Al Sayegh and Abdulla ventured into studio visits in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai over the span of two months. As young collectors themselves, they were drawn to Aliyah Al Awadhi’s paintings of homely concealment, Afra Al Suwaidi’s storytelling with plaster and collage, Almaha Jaralla’s color palette and architectural depictions, Zuhoor Al Sayegh’s hand-woven and hand-dyed textiles, Augustine Paredes’ photographs and self-published artist book, and Mohamed Khalid’s hand-drawn receipts. The sale’s premise is one of exploring boundaries, setting alongside the infrastructural and societal contrasts that exist around them. “There is a thematic correspondence that fits all of these,” Al Sayegh explains. Until September 1st, audiences across the UAE can access 101’s inaugural curated sale online and by appointment at artist-run exhibition space Bait 15, Abu Dhabi.
1. Aliyah Al Awadhi. Still Life in Quarantine, 2020. Acrylic on canvas. 40cm x 30cm. Image courtesy of 101, Noor Al Thehli and Aliyah Al Awadhi.
The project transcends studio visits. 101 is directly in touch with artists whose practice, goals, and even frustrations are a direct reflection of their current art ecosystem. The platform’s equitable resource model articulates a bottom-up approach as a response to hierarchical models prevalent in the UAE, applicable to both artmaking and art collecting. As Al Sayegh explains, “We can coexist in a way that is actually very strong. The UAE’s art infrastructure is still growing and solidifying itself, therefore there are still gaps that you can clearly target.”
2. Afra Al Suwaidi. Her, 2020. Plaster, nails, hair, toys. 21cm x 21 cm, 24cm x 24 cm, 18cm x 18 cm, 24cm x 24 cm, 7cm x 7cm. Image courtesy of 101, Noor Al Thehli and Afra Al Suwaidi.
In just over three days, 101’s impact is tangible: a sizable fraction of the artworks are sold and some of the most established voices of the country’s cultural industries are amplifying the message of the grassroots enterprise. “We are trying to debunk the exclusivity of what contemporary art and art-buying insinuate. That’s something that is extremely important for us,” Al Sayegh adds.
“We are trying to debunk the exclusivity of what contemporary art and art-buying insinuate.”
- Munira Al Sayegh
101 guides any curious person to become an ethical collector by supporting independent artists with the resources to attain mobility. Al Sayegh and Abdulla critically question the role of the collector in its “social, political, and historical dimensions.” Aware of how gallery representation can transform artists’ careers, 101 invests in relationships. The selling platform aims to connect and mentor potential collectors with artists who, rather than gallery representation, first require a stronger supporter base. 101’s founders treasure the engagement that can flourish when collectors are informed and immersed in the artists’ works. As Al Sayegh boldly notes, “Gaith and I came up with 101 as a bridge that allows people to establish themselves as collectors. And with that, artists need that type of financial support to establish themselves. We are that mid-space.”
As the UAE’s contemporary art scene attains maturity and increasing complexity, the 101 community is opening up a digital, physical, and intellectual space all at once. By purchasing artworks, 101’s collectors will also intellectually nourish a community thirsty for locally-incubated research. Abdulla notes that the research component is a way of “educating emerging collectors into why collecting is important, what are the different aspects of it, what collecting means.” He further adds that 101 advocates for “understanding collecting as something beyond a financial transaction of buying a piece of art.” In his opinion, the best way to do this is through “articles, essays, podcasts, content that addresses these questions. This gives a better light into understanding art, the ecosystem, and the wider surrounding of these issues in the UAE and the region.”
Munira Al Sayegh and Gaith Abdulla, Founders of 101. Images courtesy of 101.
3. Almaha Jaralla. I/2, 2020. Acrylic on canvas. 150cm x 47cm. Image courtesy of 101, Noor Al Thehli and Almaha Jaralla.
Already available on the website, the research essays situate local art-making in a larger academic context. The first set of commissioned research pieces are authored by featured artist and writer Aliyah Al Awadhi, researcher Noora S. Al Balushi, and curator-researcher Khalid Abdulla. In Al Sayegh’s own words, “Without the research element, potential collectors would just land on a sales page. You don’t get to know the artists, you don’t get to know the background of where we are at, creatively, socially at this time. 101 is an educational platform at its core.”
“101 is an educational platform at its core.”
- Munira Al Sayegh
Building on Al Sayegh and Abdulla’s unmatched network of local and regional artists, the groundwork initiative proves essential. They further aim to “create a network that is sufficient in and of itself, locally and regionally bred, and more connected with one another.” Al Sayegh mentions that “Things start to get interesting when tapping into the community. You get to know the art and you also get to know the narrative from a certain perspective when you are engaging with it directly and conversing about it directly. Everything around us is just flourishing. The community we’re part of is already so involved with the rest of the existing world, and we aim to reinforce that link.”
4. Augustine Paredes. A Boy Sleeping in Hostel Beirut, 2017. Photographic print on Archival paper. 60cm x 40cm. Image courtesy of 101, Noor Al Thehli and Augustine Paredes.
Part of building community bridges is catalyzing new dialogues. 101 aims to link artists and curators, as well as people who never thought they would have anything to do with art. For that, 101 has commissioned multimedia creative Noor Al Thehli to produce artist videos in which the inaugural cohort shares about their personal trajectory, process, and expectations. In light of this, Abdulla reflects on communicating transparently between artists and the wider public. He shares that, “We lived through a special moment these past ten years of this massive social transformation, placing art at the center of our social consciousness as a state-mandated goal. [Emerging artists] are the people whose lives have changed and been shaped by these decisions. Therefore,  is listening to these voices, looking at this art, exploring this side of the art ecosystem that, to me, is the realist and most valuable.”
“We lived through a special moment these past ten years of this massive social transformation, placing art at the center of our social consciousness as a state-mandated goal. [Emerging artists] are the people whose lives have changed and been shaped by these decisions. Therefore, 101 is listening to these voices, looking at this art, exploring this side of the art ecosystem.”
- Gaith Abdulla
Al Sayegh expands, “we are at the cusp of a time that nobody else is going to experience ever again. There is so much going on. To a degree, the cultural scene of the UAE is surface-level. But when you arrive at the groundwork you understand the intricacies and you understand how the intricacies can sustain themselves.”
5. Mohamed Khalid. Receipts - DHL, 2020. Mixed media on paper. 10.5cm x 21cm. Image courtesy of 101, Noor Al Thehli and Mohamed Khalid.
“We are at the cusp of a time that nobody else is going to experience ever again.”
- Munira Al Sayegh
Abdulla endorses by posing that “A lot of the time, these artists’ practices go unnoticed until a little bit later on in their career. It’s interesting to allow them the space to be able to voice these ideas and issues, and questions, and their practice, at an earlier stage. It’s beneficial to them and to their practice but it’s also beneficial to a wider audience to be able to see that there is stuff bubbling under the surface.” He further adds that, “There is so much more being talked about, the discussions are more critical, more interesting. There is more bubbling under the surface with these ‘emergings’.  gives them a chance to vocalize these ideas to a wider public.”
“There is more bubbling under the surface with these ‘emergings’.  gives them a chance to vocalize these ideas to a wider public.”
101 is showcasing its inaugural sale at Bait 15, following the generous offer of its co-founder Hashel Al Lamki who emptied his painting studio to house the sale. As doors like these open from within the community, 101’s founders reflect on other grassroots initiatives springing up. In Abdulla’s opinion, “The importance of grassroots is that we are catching up. We need so many more initiatives on the civil society scale to give meaning to these ideas and these statements that the top-down approach is creating. Grassroots movements are important because they add realness and sustainability to art and other fields. It’s where the truly interesting things happen, it’s where the true value lies.”
“Grassroots movements are important because they add realness and sustainability to art and other fields. It’s where the truly interesting things happen, it’s where the true value lies.”
Al Sayegh observes that “Now we are presenting ourselves as a community through Bait 15, through 101, Global Art Daily, Banat Collective. You have all of these things that are just there, happening. They are happening from the support of one another. Creatives are creating and writers are writing, it's a beautiful synergy that is taking place.”
6. Zuhoor Al Sayegh. Beit al mina, 2018. Cotton hand woven cloth, hand dyed warp. 79cm x 84cm. Image courtesy of 101, Noor Al Thehli and Zuhoor Al Sayegh.
When asked about 101’s larger aims, Al Sayegh adds a critical consideration, and a strong vision for the future: “Whether we are looked at by the West or by the East, there is always this notion of what the Gulf region has and what it indulges in. It should no longer be romanticized, orientalized. The stereotype will be debunked when there is a solid voice. And the voice has to come in unison for it to be loud enough. Everybody has to play their part. The ripple effect that we are looking for is far-reaching.”
The inaugural sale will be available until September 1st, 2020. Information about purchases and in-person viewings can be accessed on 101’s website. .
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