Connecting Two Unlikely Cultures

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

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