Sometimes when two cultures come together, a beautiful fusion of aesthetics takes place. This has certainly been the case with CHI-KA, a charming Dubai-based art and retail space.
Founders Nina and Nemanja Valjaveric were eager to connect two unlikely cultures; Arab and Japanese. It started with an exquisitely hand-crafted Japanese Kimono that took the form of a contemporary Middle-Eastern abaya.
The husband and wife team, who are originally from Serbia, were in need of a retail space but didn’t want to restrict the space to retail alone. Thus, they opened a kimono shop and art space, merging retail with fine art and design, craft, robotics, multimedia, food, and performance, whilst discovering the connections between Japan and the Arab world.
The founders hired architect Takeshi Murayama and designer Manabu Ozawa, who designed the space. After approximately a year of conceptualization and construction building, CHI-KA opened to the public in 2016.
CHI-KA has made its home amidst the art and culture-filled lanes of Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue, a bustling creative district that is home to a variety of artistic spaces and local community projects.
For Nina and Nemanja, there was no better place for CHI-KA than Alserkal Avenue. They couldn’t imagine being anywhere else and with their involvement in different creative disciplines, the neighbourhood was the perfect fit as it allowed for flexibility and creativity. It was the right environment for everything the two had envisioned CHI-KA to be and their surroundings at Alserkal continue to inspire them daily.
While Alserkal Avenue might not have the same footfall numbers as other larger commercial retail spaces in Dubai, it provides the right, creatively-inclined audience, which is an important factor for Nina and Nemanja.
The constant stream of cultural activities that are organized by both Alserkal and the individual spaces within the community continue to successfully draw in the crowds.
Nina and Nemanja believe in the importance of keeping up a program at CHI-KA, allowing it to become more of a destination. Which is why CHI-KA has clients and dedicated followers that love to drop by every time there is something new at the space.
While summers tend to be a little slower, the cooler months between September and May bring in plenty of families and cultural enthusiasts, allowing a pleasant walk through the artsy neighbourhood.
Since opening its doors to the public, CHI-KA has held a series of memorable events, gracefully combining aspects of Emirati and Japanese culture. For the last two years throughout the holy month of Ramadan, the two have been hosting Open Tent by CHI-KA - a cross-cultural iftar experience, where every night they served a Japanese-Arabic iftar to the public.
Other noteworthy events include its first exhibition from the ‘EAST-EAST’ series; drawing parallels between Japanese and Emirati culture through the works of four Emirati artists. Another noteworthy highlight that they looked back at was during the Al-Quoz Arts Fest last year, when CHI-KA had a dramatic, improvised modern ballet performance to a powerful live taiko drumming session that had people pushing to get in, with some crowding outside and watching from the window.
Nina and Nemanja are dedicated to carrying on their cross-cultural collaborations and exploring new boundaries. Their future plans – some of which they would like to keep as a surprise – include creating a project alongside Dubai Expo 2020.
They also plan to evolve their fashion line further through a new range of kimono-abayas, gowns, and kaftans suitable for both their Middle East clientele and beyond. The founders hope to introduce new projects connecting world cultures, and in their own humble way, continue to be a model for cultural tolerance through creative collaboration.
Words by Ziana Qaiser
Images by CHI-KA