Few local galleries showcase modern and contemporary Arab art as well as Ayyam, and its latest non-commercial group show is testament to that. ‘Selections from the Samawi Collection’ features more than 30 works, the highlights of Syrian cousins Hisham and Khaled Samawi’s years of hunting for the art that they love. The show is split into three distinct curatorial themes: one looks back, one looks forward and the last focuses on Samia Halaby, a 75-year-old Palestinian artist whose explosive geometric canvases are close to the Samawis’ hearts.
We spoke to 33-year-old Hisham Samawi about what makes a true collector.
When did your family start collecting?
My cousin Khaled starting collecting when he was in college, so has an extensive collection. I started later and have only been collecting for the past three years, but I’m happy with what I’ve been able to put together.
What defines a true collection?
A true collection is an extension of the person who collected it. Each decision is personal, so when you look at the sum it says a lot.
Is art collecting more business or more passion?
A good collection is one that you buy with your eyes, not your ears. The people that appear as geniuses later are the collectors that trust their instincts and buy what they like.
The first of the three themes in the exhibition, ‘Then What?’ explores Arab art from 1960-2000. What are the key artistic trends from that time?
Many of the paintings pertain to times of struggle or war. What’s interesting is that you see parallels between the works from the ’60s and the works from the latter half of the ’00s. I guess the reason for this is that the inspiration is similar.
‘Looking Forward’ focuses on the year 2000 and beyond. How has Middle Eastern art developed in the past decade?
The important takeaway from looking forward is seeing how each artist is now moving in his own direction. The older generation was about technique and sticking to a certain norm, but this isn’t the case with younger artists. They’re setting a new direction for Arab art and that’s very exciting. This is what makes the show so interesting: seeing how Arab art has developed in such a short amount of time.
The third theme in the exhibition explores Samia Halaby’s earlier work. Why is she so significant?
With the current market focusing on young, emerging artists, it’s important for people to see there are great Arab artists who’ve been producing works for decades. Most people know Samia Halaby from recent exhibitions at our galleries, but she has been painting for nearly 50 years. Any time we get a chance to acquire an older work from her, we jump at it. We thought it would be nice to share some of these masterpieces so people can see some of her works from the ’70s and ’80s. The next show we have at DIFC is of new works from Samia [‘Trees and The High Rising City’ will run at Ayyam DIFC from March 13-April 28].
If there was a fire, what’s the one work you’d save?
The first thing I’d run for is ‘Fern’ by Samia Halaby. It’s from 1976 and is older than I am. It was my first art purchase, so it’s special to me.
‘Selections from the Samawi Collection’ continues at Ayyam Art Centre, Al Quoz until March 31
Artists on show
Born: Lebanon, 1961
Work: ‘Don’t Let The Cuckoo’s Nest’, 2010
Known for: This self-taught painter is renowned for her pared-down, hyper-real images that have minimalism as well as intensity.
Born: Syria, 1938
Work: ‘Then What?’, 1965
Known for: Kayyali’s career was cut short due to bouts of inactivity and destructive depression – he destroyed many of his works – and his untimely death (allegedly a suicide) in 1978. Yet his realist, expressionistic and sometimes sombre canvases confronted the class system in Syria and continue to strike a chord today.