Alison Collins founded The Majlis Gallery located in the The Al Fahidi Historic Neighbourhood of Dubai (formerly The Bastakia) in 1989 after she came to Dubai in 1976 to work as an interior designer and fell in love with the country and its architecture. The gallery’s mission was to promote the works of artists of international standing and to become a meeting place for creative minds. The gallery has evolved into one of Dubai’s premier art galleries, having been responsible for introducing many of the regions finest artists to the cultural stage.
“…This country is so very supportive of individuals with slightly whacky ideas; It’s a “think it, do it” culture that is not afraid of diving in at the deep end…”
Alison, it is lovely to meet you in such beautiful surroundings. Please can you tell us more about your personal story and how you ended up in Dubai?
In 1976 I was working in London as an interior designer with Fitch and Company, who were the first UK design company to open an office in Dubai. My husband had just qualified as a veterinary surgeon and had been offered a job in Saudi Arabia, so I joined Fitch’s Dubai office with the naïve notion that we would see each other more often.
It was six months before we met up again, by which time I had fallen in love with the UAE. Fortunately there were opportunities here for my husband to open a practice and I also set up my own design company. Dubai became home and has been ever since
What made you decide to set up The Majlis Gallery, and how did you go about it?
We had found this wonderful home in the old quarter of Dubai near the Creek. It was a bit dilapidated but just was the most marvelous place to live in and to work from.
My art school training had given me a love of art in all forms so when I met Julian Barrow, a traveling painter in the Orientalist tradition, I jumped at the chance to show his work to what was a small and intimate community. This was the first of many informal exhibitions that I hosted so really it was something that evolved rather than something that was decided.
What support did you have along the way?
This country is so very supportive of individuals with slightly whacky ideas; It’s a “think it, do it” culture that is not afraid of diving in at the deep end. That said it also a very safe and caring country that allows people to develop ideas into fruition along carefully thought out business guidelines that give a fair basis for healthy competition.
How has Dubai changed since you arrived?
Obviously dramatically, from a small town to a huge metropolis but the spirit is still very much the same.
What exhibitors do you work with and where do they come from?
They come from literally all over the world; the underlying link is that they all spend time here at some stage during the year. We have an ‘artists in residence’ and a ‘friends of the gallery’ programme to help with accommodation and a few have homes here, but mostly they build this part of the world into their busy lives.
There is a misconception about artists, they work long hard hours and fill every bit of their day with what is essentially a self-employed job. For sure talent comes into it but mainly good work comes from hard working artists
What sort of audience does this attract?
We have people from all walks of life visiting the gallery and our website; residents and visitors alike. Dubai is such a cosmopolitan part of the world that it sometimes feels like the league of nations.
We are very proud that people feel tranquil and welcome when they visit us; we have big comfy settees and love showing our collection to all our visitors. We have “things” in every price category so no one need feel inhibited.
How has the corporate sector embraced what you’re doing at Majlis?
Over the years we have had many corporate clients and sponsors. It would not be right to name just a few and the list is too long to list them all. Suffice to say that we rely very much on corporate support.
What are your other loves outside the art world?
Oh Gosh – everybody’s standards of walking, gardening, reading, cooking, traveling, music, family, friends, but above all the sea. I am a Cancerian and cannot live without being in it, on it or near it.
What are your plans for the gallery moving forward?
I am a pretty organic person and don’t like to live too much in the future. I am also not the retiring type so I do see the gallery continuing to be a very central part of my life for many years to come.