CHERINE & TAYA’S LABOUR OF LOVE

Society dynamos Cherine Badrawi and Taya El Zayadi have taken a lifetime’s obsession and turned it into the Tache Art gallery – a passion project they hope will change the face of the contemporary Egyptian art scene – locally and internationally. eniGma’s Managing Editor Amy Mowafi finds out why these two women are so intent on uncovering and encouraging “the next generation of Egyptian artists…”

Taya El Zayadi likes to liken her Zamalek apartment to Grand Central Station – young kids and chaos, laptops on the kitchen table, ringing mobiles and visitors all jostling for attention. It’s a sprawling open-plan space overlooking the lush expanse of the Gezirah Club gardens. When we meet, it’s just past mid-day; the sun is streaming through the French windows and casting a buttery glow over the comfy-furnishings and giant art works. There’s a big-old roast chicken spinning and crackling in a huge glass-fronted oven, coffee brewing and croissants on the coffee table.  It’s the fantasy of family life – aspirational and inspirational but still accessible. You can look, and you can touch.

Which is exactly, rather aptly, how El Zayadi and her partner Cherine Badrawi would like the Tache Art gallery – a mutual passion project set to open in Designopolis at the end of the month – to feel, be and work. Because art doesn’t have to be snobby or snubby. But it does have to be special. You have to feel a little smug walking away with your brand new Huda Lutfi, but you shouldn’t have to be some stiff-upper lipped art aficionado to gain access to it in the first place.

Tache Art is about making the art experience less nose-pressed-against-the-window, more, as it were, democratic. The rarefied world of art need no longer be so daunting; neither for the buyers, collectors, or the rookie artists aiming to get a foothold in the market. It’s about providing a platform for contemporary Egyptian art, locally and internationally. Packaging, PR, exposure and encouragement in a way never before experimented with in Egypt. The marketing will be pure digital-age – an expansive website, online catalogues for each of their artists, tweets and 140 character titillations, a dedicated blog boasting the best of what the local art scene has to offer. But the gallery itself – the space – will be about real people and their passions; about creating a dynamic yet comfortable community for those who love art, those who want to love art, and those who, well, just happen to be passing by. At its essence, Tache Art is a concept – that for both these women – was born simply out of passion, fun and intrigue; an appreciation for art cultivated and nurtured over the years that they are now eager to share…

When Badrawi was nine years old she bought a small “very Degas” oil painting of three ballet dancers. It cost her £180 and still hangs in the bedroom of her London home. As a student reading English Literature at the University of London, she’d take time off the books to scour antique fairs and attend local auctions. After marrying Taher Helmy in the mid-eighties, she started collecting seriously. They’d spend weekend afternoons searching through galleries, auctions and fairs for Impressionist works. Throughout the eighties and nineties they made several trips to the Far East to satisfy their craving for Asian art and ceramics. “The most expensive piece we bought was a Japanese 17th century screen,” says Badrawi, with a soft hint of a British accent. “It proved to be one of the best investments we ever made.”  The last decade has seen her lean towards 20th century Modern Masters, and her home is now full of unique lithographs and oils. “I do not limit my collecting to any genre, century or nationality,” she adds. “It is all about feeling the piece. I never bought art as an investment, but in retrospect many pieces we bought have proved to be great investments.”

El Zayadi – an AUC economics graduate whose varied career has seen her tackle everything from advertising with Tarek Nour and PR with Promoseven Weber Shandwick to banking with EFG Hermes and entrepreneurship with her own gift company Basket Cases – also began collecting art as a young bride. El Zayadi and her husband Maher Maksoud would trawl through Cairo’s galleries, kicking off their expansive collection in 2000 with an Ahmed Askalani sculpture of three women sitting on a bench. Their first painted purchases came courtesy of Mohamed El Ganoubi, who’s aesthetic so intrigued the couple, he was immediately commissioned to do the artwork for a restaurant her husband was creating –  La Bodega. “Over time we realised how passionate we were about art and decided to put a dedicated sum of money aside to invest in it,” says El Zayadi. “We travelled and continued going to galleries and art museums wherever we went.  We bought a couple of pieces abroad but we both realised that Egyptian art is what we feel most passionate about, since we can identify and relate to it more.” Today the couple’s private collection is an eclectic mix of the masters and more contemporary artists, established names and bright young talent. “My husband and I have a rule that unless we are both crazy about a painting or sculpture we won’t by it.  You should not buy art purely as an investment, you have to love what you are buying because at the end of the day this artwork will be sharing a part of your home with you.”

The idea of a gallery had been playing on the minds of each of these women for some time. With Badrawi’s three grown children preparing to flee the nest and with El Zayadi at a crossroads in her career, the timing seemed perfect. The partnership between the two women came about by chance when Badrawi mentioned to her brother she was considering opening up shop in Designopolis – the sprawling and sophisticated new design-hub on the outskirts of Cairo. Her brother immediately suggested she get in touch with El Zayadi, whose husband Maher Maksoud – CEO and Managing Director of SODIC – had been intimately involved with the Designopolis project.

“Designopolis for us, was brilliant, in the sense there was something new coming to Egypt from a contemporary design perspective,” says El Zayadi.  Both women were keen to avoid the dusty clichés of the old Zamalek galleries. This was about creating a different kind of art space – fresh and new, airy and accessible. “The idea of a good space was really the most interesting thing to us,” says Badrawi. “We wanted people to be able to see the art. I don’t think either of us were looking at it from a very commercial angle, but rather something that simply needed to be done in Egypt because it was lacking.”

El Zayadi and Badrawi have also made it one of Tache Art’s main missions to provide homegrown Egyptian artists with an international platform from which to showcase their wares to the world.  Naturally, after years of collecting, they both  have a wealth of international gallerists and curators on speed-dial – all of whom are now s hoping to leverage to the benefit of the Egyptian art community as a whole. “I have a lot of friends in London who are gallerists,” says Badrawi. “So I really want to get our artists out there and enable them to display their works abroad. We’re already in negotiations with several galleries, and we will have to decide ourselves whether we think one of our artists is ready for that sort of exposure, and can handle a show abroad.”

El Zayadi adds, “Egypt’s contemporary art scene is currently gaining maturity and momentum. There is now a growing movement at home and abroad to place Egypt on the global art map, and as a gallery we strive to pave the way for that development.”

The timing couldn’t be more apt. Christie’s record-breaking $2.5 million sale just last October of Mahmoud Said’s ‘Whirling Dervishes’ has ensured the global art scene is finally taking note of contemporary Egyptian art. Indeed, Michael Jeha, Managing Director at Christie’s Dubai – who oversaw the Mahmoud Said sale – is excited about the profound impact that Tache Art, and other Egyptian galleries like it, will inevitably have on the local contemporary art scene. “These galleries discover and nurture new talent and it creates an appetite for more contemporary pieces and more traditional pieces as well. It’s like a domino effect. The more galleries that open up, the more artists will come and the more amazing pieces we’ll get. At Christie’s we’ve already started to receive special requests from all over the world for contemporary Egyptian art, which is very telling.”

Tache Art will launch at the end of this month with a retrospective of Egyptian artist Huda Lutfi’s globally renowned works. “As an artist Lutfi effortless bridges the Egyptian and international art scenes,” says El Zayadi. “Which makes her the perfect embodiment of what Tache Art is trying to achieve.” From then onwards, the gallery will feature an exciting and eclectic mix of established names and lesser known artists. They hope that the interest generated from big-name shows – coupled with their unique easy-going, open-door policy – will help expose the works of the younger Egyptian talents that they’re so keen to promote.

“Ultimately we hope to create the next generation of established Egyptian artists,” says El Zayadi. “It’s not simply about a gallery. It’s much bigger than that. It goes beyond each exhibition. It’s about getting people excited about these artists and about this scene… packaging it and promoting it in a way that hasn’t been done before and really lifting it above the parapet. At the end of the day, this project is not about us. It is about Egyptian art.”

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