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For The Love Of Arab Art: Kalim ArtSpace Founder Kalim Bechara Aims To Introduce Emerging Arab Artists To The World "It [Kalim ArtSpace] started out as a cultural hub, and it then slowly turned into one of the best galleries for emerging talents to exhibit at."

By Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Kalim Bechara is the founder and Director of Kalim ArtSpace.

Kalim Bechara was only six years old when he started learning how to play the piano- a moment in his life that he believes eventually plunged him into a deep appreciation for the realm of arts, design, and culture. And as his understanding of arts broadened through education and travel, Bechara -who is originally from Lebanon- soon found himself fixated upon the works created by emerging artists in the Arab region. It was then that he decided to create Kalim ArtSpace, a gallery dedicated to supporting such up-and-coming talents in arts and design- but it wasn't a move that was immediately welcomed by those around him. "A lot of people around me thought that what I was setting out to do was not sustainable, and that Arab art is not the place where I should invest my money," he says. "I was told I shouldn't fight for this market, and that I should just stick to Western art. But I believed in my vision, I defended my vision, and I had a passion for it. And because of the firm belief that I have in Arab art, I have also put a lot of skin in the game by investing multiple million dollars towards building a premium purely Arab art collection."

Nestled in Hamra, one of the major commercial districts in the Lebanese capital city of Beirut, Kalim ArtSpace was conceptualized in 2020 as a space that would enable emerging Arab artists to exhibit their work to the world. "It started out as a cultural hub, and it then slowly turned into one of the best galleries for emerging talents to exhibit at," Bechara recalls. "It became almost like an incubator [for artists] in Beirut. This is how it all started out, and it is certainly how it will move forward too."

Apart from curating exhibitions for new talents, Bechara also fashioned Kalim ArtSpace as an educational and awareness hub for all art lovers. "We also often do guided tours for magazines and museums," Bechara says. "In Lebanon, we work with schools and universities, offering them talks as well as guided visits. Doing this has been very helpful in spreading awareness about Arab art."

Related: With Its Focus On Artists From Africa, Dubai-Based Efie Gallery Makes Its Presence Felt In The Middle East's Art Landscape

And while its focus may be on emerging artists, Kalim ArtSpace has also welcomed established names in the field as well. "Most of the artists that exhibit at Kalim ArtSpace are certainly emerging artists from the Arab world, and there has been a lot of buzz created because of this," Bechara notes. "Kalim ArtSpace is giving a huge opportunity to these young artists, because of the exposure we give them through art fairs and our social media presence. But at the same time, at the gallery, we exhibit very established artists as well. We do a lot of dealing across all sorts of art, including with some very important Arab artists. The event that I have been most proud of curating at Kalim ArtSpace was a retrospective exhibition of a very dear artist in Lebanon, Leila Nabut Wakim- we exhibited her work over the past 50 years."

Now, as someone who has become deeply accustomed to the art coming out of the region, Bechara claims that understanding the themes that artists explore in their crafts has been a particularly exciting part of his journey. "When it comes to art emerging from the Arab world, most of the prominent themes have been, you know, war, and the difficulties of the way of living in the Arab world, especially in the past," Bechara says. "But we are slowly getting out of it, and moving forward. There are a lot of expressions in Arab art, and it's very beautiful, very powerful, and there's always a hidden message whether it's political, social, or even psychological. I hope that Arab artists and their work now start becoming more recognized and respected in the world."

Bechara's hopes for wider recognition of Arab art, however, are not solely the product of his own ambitions- according to the entrepreneur, the general perception of,and demand for, Arab art has improved. "A few years back, we didn't have this much demand for Arab art, but today, there's a lot of demand, because people are seeing the potential in Arab art as an investment," he says. "These pieces retain their value, and, sometimes, their value even goes up, because the demand is crazy, and supply is minimal. At the same time, even if not as an investment, then they are viewed as really powerful artwork. So, I believe every part of the world is looking at Arab art very keenly now. It's the new rising Arab market!"

So, what can Arab art enthusiasts expect next from Bechara and Kalim ArtSpace? "We have a lot of plans," Bechara reveals. "We have a very nice upcoming show at the Cromwell Place in London, which will be an important opportunity for us to showcase the worlds of two famous Lebanese artists, Alfred Basbous and Hussein Madi. I will be the curator for that exhibition. We will also be presenting in Abu Dhabi Art later this year, and I will be curating a show there as well. And back at the gallery in Beirut, we will continue to do shows every month for emerging talents, as well as established ones."

Related: Opportunity Knocks: The Middle East Is The Emerging Art Market To Watch

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

Features Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed is the Features Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East.

She is an MBA (Finance) graduate with past experience in the corporate sector, and was also co-founder of CyberSWIFTT- an anti-cyberbullying campaign that ran from 2017-2018 as part of the e7: Daughters of the Emirates program.

Ahmed is particularly keen on writing stories involving people-centric leadership, female-owned startups, and entrepreneurs who've beaten significant odds to realize their goals.

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