Over the past few years, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, chairman of the Young Arab Leaders and a UAE media personality, has been passionately building a private collection of Arab art that he has now opened up to the public. Titled The Barjeel Art Foundation, this smorgasbord of art, covering 475 square metres, will feature in exhibitions across the region, and artworks will be loaned to schools and cultural institutions to further the knowledge of art in the UAE.
With works by more than 100 key artists, including Adel Al Siwi, Abdul Rahim Salim and Youssef Nabil, this is one of the most comprehensive collections of Middle Eastern art you’re ever likely to see. The first show, entitled ‘Peripheral Vision’, has just opened at the Maraya Art Centre in Al Qasba, Sharjah. Here, Al Qassemi talks Time Out through four key pieces from the exhibition and why they’re important to him.
1 Reem Al-Ghaith’s
‘I was first drawn to Reem Al-Ghaith’s striking photographs at the Emirati Expressions emerging contemporary art exhibition in Abu Dhabi in 2008. Her photos reflect the dramatic societal transformations that have happened in her home town of Dubai. This piece is from the series “Held Back”, and was taken in spring 2006 on the southern side of Sheikh Zayed Road. “Frame Five” is one of six photographs that juxtapose old and new Dubai in a single shot. The term ‘Sikka 84’ in Arabic (Alley 84) is visible in another photo taken in Bastakiya, the heart of old Dubai, which is now a heritage area that feels a world apart from
the skyscrapers that adorn the skyline just a few kilometres away. Reem is a graduate of visual communications from the American University of Sharjah’s School of Architecture and Design.’
2 Abdulnasser Gharem’s
‘No More Tears’
‘This work by the Saudi artist carries strong symbolism for the entire region. For me, the piece underscores the feeling of powerlessness that so many young Arabs experience when they are confronted with the major conflicts beleaguering the wider Arab world. Palestine, southern Sudan, Somalia, Iraq and Lebanon have sadly become synonymous with pain and suffering. Abdulnasser, who coincidentally continues to serve in the Saudi army, affixes stickers from the logo of Johnson & Johnson’s No More Tears baby shampoo on conflict zones on a map of the Arab world. The piece evokes feelings of deep sympathy and sadness.’
3 Halim Al-Karim’s
‘This is from the series “King’s Harem”, and is a powerful, larger-than-life artwork. It is one of those paintings that must be seen in real life to be fully appreciated, and should be viewed from a distance. This piece was featured on the cover of New Vision: Arab Contemporary Art in the 21st Century, published in London last year. According to the Saatchi Gallery, Halim had fled Iraq’s compulsory military service and was able to survive for three years in the desert thanks to the help of a Bedouin woman who brought him food and water and taught him about gypsy customs and mysticism. I wonder to myself if this was a glorified portrait of that woman.’
4 Khaled Hafez’s
‘This is another massive work of art – you have to be standing in front of it to recognise its profound intensity. Measuring two metres by five metres, this piece captured my attention at last year’s Abu Dhabi
Art Fair. Very few artists are able to paint with this precise detail and mastery on such a large canvas. Khaled draws on his rich Egyptian heritage in his mixed-media artwork, and incorporates, for instance, Pharaonic hieroglyphics. He also includes male and female figures from popular culture, such as adverts, to demonstrate a spirit of adversity and continuity. Khaled has exhibited work at the 2007 Sharjah Biennial, the Tate Modern, and the Saatchi Gallery in London.’
Peripheral Vision continues at the Maraya Art Centre in Al Qasba, Sharjah until the end of April. Call 06 556 0777 or see www.qaq.ae.