With the rise of trendy co-working spaces like The Wing and WeWork in recent years, the benefits of such environments have come to the fore. While these companies promise opportunities for networking, career advancement, and off-the-charts idea exchange (not to mention stylish digs), compelling research has found that the people frequenting co-working spaces—like freelancers, entrepreneurs, and remote employees—experience enhanced creativity.

But can the same creative benefits be felt when artists share a studio? You might think the answer is yes, but it’s not always the case. Shared studios can help enhance creativity, but only if the artists are frequently interacting, swapping resources, and exchanging feedback.

Dr. Thalia R. Goldstein, assistant professor of applied developmental psychology at George Mason University, has noted that under the right circumstances, the benefits of coworking spaces can also be felt by artists sharing a studio, by virtue of the fact that it fosters collaboration, as well as the “freedom and time to engage with others,” she said.

Multiple research findings back up this notion. At the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, the first phase of an ongoing study on co-working spaces (chaired by Dr. Gretchen Speitzer, Dr. Peter Bacevice, and Lyndon Garrett) found that the freedom to think and create independently, with self-defined opportunities to join in community, led to a heightened sense of achievement. (The study surveyed descriptions of several hundred co-working spaces in the U.S. and Europe and interviewed their members.)

To test out how this theory applies to art studios, we spoke to four different pairs of artists who have shared workspaces for various reasons in recent years. Though distinct in their careers, these artists found that their working arrangements made a profoundly positive impact on their respective practices.

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Image Credit: Francis Upritchard, Purple Urn, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Anton Kern Gallery. Pots runs at Anton Kern Gallery in New York City through 30 June, 2018.

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“Are we going to celebrate the last barrel of oil that leaves the region or are we going to despair?” Jalal BinThaneya’s photography relentlessly poses this same question from conflicting angles as he trawls cannibalized industrial landscapes of the United Arab Emirates for answers.

Classifying himself as “an accidental artist,” BinThaneya fell into a serious practice entirely by chance when in 2013, he looked on as workers began to unceremoniously demolish the historic watchtower on Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port. Built in the 1970’s as the export of petroleum reserves supercharged Dubai towards globalization, Sheikh Rashid famously held meetings in the stronghold during the 90’s. At first, BinThaneya stood by with hands clasped together as though paying his respects to the dead. “That’s a piece of our history just gone” he thought, fiddling with the iPhone in his starched white pocket. “So I began snapping hundreds of photos.”

He has gone on shooting to understand—and even at times— to provoke ever since. ‘Industry,’ an ongoing series, gains rare access to, examines and contrasts obsolete and active refineries, pipelines, and oilfields. By making dormant industrial ghosts his subjects, Bin Thaneya aims to jolt viewers into an awareness of how oil is synonymous with material culture, added to everything from nail polish to aspirin, water pipes, and asphalt roads. Like an irrepressible sugar craving he says, “we are hungry for it but don’t realize. Everything would come to a standstill without industry. We can’t live without it.”

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Image Credit: Ahmed Mater, Courtyard of Paradise, 2012. From the Deserts of Pharan series. Courtesy of the artist and Tribe

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Hassan Hajjaj is probably the only artist to ever blow off Louis Vuitton’s invitation to collaborate. And it’s not because he doesn’t respect the label. In fact, it’s because he likes it a little too much. To understand why, we’ve got to take it back to the late 80s when Hajjaj, an immigrant from Larache, a tiny fishing village in Morocco, opened an affordable streetwear shop in London. He remembers those early years of hustling, “At that time, all these big brands weren’t designing for me and my friends. They were designing for rich people. But we also wanted to be part of that world. We wanted to have money and be able to wear this clothing.” So he started picking up knockoffs in flea market stalls, cutting off the logos, and stitching them onto clean white tees and the backs of acid-washed jean jackets.

Hajjaj soon became a fixture on the British club scene, promoting underground parties and assisting on photo shoots into the 90s. Entirely self-taught, he stumbled into his own artistic practice after helping an English photographer on a fashion shoot in Morocco where he observed that his country was being exploited as just a flat exotic backdrop against which leggy European models would pose. He knew it was more than that. “I wanted to do something to present my own people who stand between the traditional and the modern. I wanted to represent my own friends,” he decided. So entirely self-taught, he began to shoot photographs his way.

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Can you buy art based on an algorithm for financial investment? “Sure, just like you can buy a car,” jokes Myrna Ayad, director of Art Dubai. “But that takes so much fun and enlightenment out of the process. Buying art can be financially beneficial, but I would much rather subscribe to buying art being beneficial for your mind and passion, in addition to its aesthetic pleasure.”

Although there has been a thriving creative scene in the region for decades, the roots of the commercial art market were planted with the opening of Christie’s Middle East and Art Dubai in 2006. It has rapidly flourished and art from the region is now being shown and sold in cities worldwide – and women are at the forefront. “We had many women pioneers in the region’s art scene and that continues today – women dominate,” Ayad says. Some of the early starters include Janine Rubeiz, who founded artistic platform Dar El Fan in Beirut in 1967. Princess Wijdan Ali opened Jordan’s National Gallery of Fine Arts in 1979 with works from her own collection, and Sheikha Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan established a namesake foundation in Abu Dhabi.

While the perception of a collector is someone with a vast number of works at their disposal, Salma Shaheem, the head of Middle Eastern markets at the Fine Art Group, argues, “A valuable collection can start with as little as five or six very rare, museum quality pieces.” Even if this level of investment is not a reality, a collection can begin with just one standout work on paper by a favorite artist, a piece you return to with every morning coffee, as though lingering in conversation with the work. Four female collectors from the region are proving that collecting is not a staid hobby focused on financial returns, but rather a full-time pursuit incorporating philanthropy, patronage, and community.

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