‘Buying art is just about buying things you like. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. You don’t have to know significant Arab art history,’ says Dubai-based Austrian-Syrian art collector Hisham Samawi. The 34-year-old, a part owner of Dubai’s Ayyam Gallery, is proof that you’re never too old to get in the game. Having discovered art just six years ago, when he says he was ‘dragged’ to the city’s first Art Dubai by a friend, the collector now owns more than 80 pieces, including work by regional and international artists such as Sadik Alfraiji and Seon Ghi Bahk, and runs a successful gallery with his cousin Khaled.
‘I remember walking around [Art Dubai] and thinking: Wow, this is really cool. I’d never been to an art fair and I didn’t really know much about art. I always thought that maybe I couldn’t understand it or get it. But there was a piece there by an artist named Patrick Hughes that just blew me away.’
The cousins’ combined loot is currently on show at Ayyam Art Centre in an exhibition entitled ‘The Samawi Collection II’, which runs until Thursday April 26. Samawi says that while there will be some more traditional mediums on display, his real passion lies in new-media-focused installations. Here, the young collector takes us through some of his favourite pieces.
‘Double Self Portrait’ by Angela Palmer
‘This piece by Angela Palmer is the first artwork I bought. I picked it up at my first Abu Dhabi Art Fair. My impression of what art was in the past was a painting, or a photograph – something of a traditional medium. This piece blew me away because it was so conceptually interesting. It created an optical illusion and I really appreciated the ingenuity and the thought. The artist took CAT scans of her head and traced the individual slides with blank ink. Then she put them on glass and in a box, like scientists puts slides in a case. When you look at this piece from the side, it’s invisible and you see right through the glass. But when you look at it from any perspective, it creates a 3D rendering of her head. That was the first time I saw art in a different way. I didn’t know art could be so conceptual, technologically focused and really clean.’
‘Fern’ by Samia Halaby
‘From a painting perspective, the artist I’ve followed the longest is Samia Halaby. The pieces of hers that I really like to collect are works from the ’70s and ’80s – geometric pieces that I absolutely love. One of my first paintings I ever bought was a Samia Halaby. I bought it at a Christie’s auction: because it was at the time when I first joined the gallery and we had already co-signed artworks to Christie’s for the auction. I went to the auction and I fell in love with it and I actually bought it back, so I could have it in my own collection. It’s my favourite piece I own.’
‘Void Platform’ by Chul-Hyung Ahn
‘We participated in Art Basel in Miami two years ago and I saw a piece by this South Korean artist that blew me away. You have to see it. He takes double-mirrored lights and it creates this perception that light
is moving off into infinity, into this deep, dark hole. I really liked that, and then he came out with this piece. It’s a huge platform that you can stand on. When you look at this thing, it looks like this infinitely deep hole just drops out of the ground. It’s weird, because this installation is half a metre tall, and you’re on the ground and you know there’s no hole there. Yet, people who are scared of heights look at this thing and it makes them feel queasy.’
‘Fragile Future II’ by Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta
‘I look at this as art, but technically it’s a design piece. At the end of day, I don’t really care if it’s design or a sculpture or a cool light or an installation – for me it’s all the same. It’s something that captures me. This piece involves hundreds of LED lights with a copper wire that connects them. Each light has dandelion seeds glued onto it, so it looks like dandelion flowers that are actually lights inside. The technical execution is quite amazing, and to be able to glue all these dandelions onto LED lights is mind-blowing.’
‘The Droid Army Under Arch’ by Cédric Delsaux
‘This is a photograph by Cédric Delsaux. He did this whole series in which he took Star Wars characters and superimposed them in real places. His first series featured buildings in Europe. But he came for an exhibition here in Dubai and he saw the city under construction and thought that this place was so sci-fi-like. So he did some photos with Star Wars characters in DIFC. This is where I live and I’m a big Star Wars fan, so for me, combining those two together was really cool.’
‘Madonna’ by Meera Huraiz
‘Often when we collect stuff, it’s not because the artist is super-established. Sometimes we meet an artist and we believe in them, and we like their work. We like to support them, and help develop and build them. For us it’s also about supporting the art scene and being patrons to what’s happening in the UAE. We have two pieces from Meera Huraiz that have a similar kind of conceptual idea. For me, there’s something striking about this piece – that the face is hidden, and that it contains a pop-culture reference to Madonna.
Exhibition: ‘The Samawi Collection’ until April 26 at Ayyam Art Centre, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz (04 323 6242).
Artists include: Cédric Delsaux, Samia Halaby, Angela Palmer