Alison Collins, founder of Dubai’s first fine art gallery, died this past week at age 79 in Sicily, the National reported on Thursday.
Collins moved from her native England to Dubai in 1976, just five years after the United Arab Emirates was founded. Though she had a career as an interior designer, Collins wound up transforming her villa into an informal art salon after English painter Julian Barrow asked to exhibit his work there. Following the success of the exhibition, Collins began showing more painters’ work. By 1989, Collins was ready to launch Majlis Gallery as a formal business venture alongside her partner Cheeni Shah.
Shah told the National that the Majlis Gallery was “a meeting place for creative minds. It had an open-door policy, so anybody and everybody could walk in.” The gallery’s willingness to accept just about any visitor won it acclaim.
When Majlis Gallery was founded, there were few other enterprises like it. Now, the scene in Dubai has professionalized. When the gallery closed in 2020, Collins told the National, “We didn’t have to do much marketing in those days. Word got out on the professional circuit, and we started to get full-time painters.”
Majlis Gallery showed work by Arab artists like Khaled Al Saai, Abdul Qader Al Rais, and Abdul Latif Al Smoudi, as well as English and South African artists like Jonathan Andersson, Lynette Ten Krooden, and others. A residency program at the gallery supported 30 artists.
“She had closure and she was very happy to spend time with her children, her grandchildren and her partner,” Shah said of the final days of the gallery.