Banking on art?

UPDATED 8 AUG 19 Noor Bank, the UAE’s leading Shari’ah-compliant bank, has introduced an interesting extra for its customers and others: Noor Art Online Gallery is a digital showcase for artworks, available for credit card purchase.

This isn’t the kind of thing that UAE banks get involved with. Noor says the online gallery is “specially curated for Noor Wealth clients”, though it seems to be rather less discriminating – anyone can purchase, and the prices are modest: most works are in the range $800 to $2,000, but with several below $400 and nothing above $6,700.

Still, Mufazzal Kajiji, Noor Bank’s Head of Retail Banking, said the Noor Art Online Gallery ties into the bank’s strategy to grow its affluent customer segment. “Art acquisition is a key area of interest for our high-net-worth clients, and we have created this platform to add value to their financial journey with us, as well as promote art and culture in the UAE.”

If those were the goals, it might have made more sense to establish links with the some of the conventional bricks-and-mortar galleries from DIFC or Alserkal Avenue, or maybe one of the existing online galleries with a strong regional presence such as Monda, Janet Rady or Artscoops. That might have produced a more coherent curation, one that could help a buyer get into collecting art while still giving them something interesting for the walls of their apartment.

Instead Noor Bank’s collection is a subset of the offering curated by Mojarto, India’s largest online aggregator for original paintings – it claims to have more than 13000 original artworks on its site. As a result the majority of artists available in the Noor Art Online are Indian rather than Middle Eastern; that’s not a bad thing in itself, but it seems a shame that UAE based artists don’t get much of a look in at present.

We asked about this, and it seems there are plans to improve the mix. “Since the online gallery was only recently launched, our collection is limited and we seek to build it over time.

“We are in talks with a number of UAE-based galleries and artists (including several Emirati artists) and guiding them on the onboarding process.” 

The “onboarding process”? It seems this involves “signing up an agreement, setting up the payment mechanism, carefully selecting the best art pieces for our clients and then getting approval on them from our internal Shari’ah team”.

There’s also the possibility of self-submission, though clearly there’s no formal mechanism for this: “a number of artists (established and emerging) have also reached out to us and are keen to be part of the Noor Art online gallery. After careful review, they will be onboarded.”

Noor says “the platform seeks to grow its collection and introduce homegrown artistic talent to an international audience”, so there’s a degree of ambition in place.

Noor Bank does not take any commission on sales from the online gallery – all sales proceeds go to the artist or gallery apart from a proportion which could be given to charity.

There’s no guarantee that charities will benefit, though. All Noor Wealth clients (and only them) are provided with a promo code to use when purchasing a painting online. The will give the buyer the option of a 15 percent discount or to donate 15 percent of the price to charity (the buyer will get a certificate of appreciation from Noor Bank for choosing that). It’s not clear which charity or charities will benefit; Noor Bank told us only that the 15 percents will be accrued and paid out at the end of each quarter “to a Dubai Government-approved charity” as listed on Dubai Government websites.

The online gallery is part of the bank’s Noor Art initiative, which apparently has a mission “to globally promote Art in the UAE” by highlighting “Emirati artists as well as new talent”. Noor Art includes exhibitions at Noor Bank branches on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai Mall and Delma Mall “showcasing various artists and galleries” (as in the pic above).

The online gallery itself is at art.noorbank.com.


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