Buro 24/7 Middle East Exclusive Interview: Sultan Al-Qassemi

Buro 24/7 Middle East Exclusive Interview: Sultan Al-Qassemi

Art 101

Image: Barjeel Art Foundation

UAE-based columnist and prominent commentator on current Arab affairs and in the art world Sultan Al-Qassemi shares his thoughts on art in the region…

Sultan Al-Qassemi's unique columns have appeared in publications within and outside the Arab Gulf region, such as The National Newspaper, The Financial Times, The Independent, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, and many more.  

Back in 2010, he also founded the Barjeel Art Foundation, which aims to contribute to the intellectual development of the art scene in the Arab region by building a prominent, publicly accessible art collection in the UAE.

Buro 24/7 Middle East sits down with the intellectual art aficionado, to find out what makes the UAE art scene so unique to where he would like to see his foundation in the future... 


When did you first start collecting art and do you remember your first piece? 

I started collecting art about a decade ago and I actually don't remember the first piece, I have a memory of buying an artwork by an Emirati artist but I can't specifically remember who. I remember going to so many exhibitions with my parents and seeing so much art but I don't remember the exact piece I bought first.


Can you tell us your top three emerging Arab artists that we should keep our eye on? 

I wouldn't say top three, I would say a few of my top emerging artists, as I don't want to leave anybody out. I like Fadhi Al-Hamwi, he's a Syrian artist who's work is insanely interesting and very affordable. Hazem Mehdi is also another artist I like a lot, he's a photographer, and also Tunisian caligraffiti artist, eL Seed.


What do you think is unique about the local art scene in the UAE? 

We have an entire eco system of art here that doesn't exist in any other country in the region. We have art studios, and the production that's in Sharjah Art Foundation and the space it's given to artists. You also have the fair in Sharjah, the Biennial, where they can showcase their artwork. There is also art fairs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and you have the new museums. No other country has the full eco system needed for art like the UAE, you have the production, the exhibition and the buyers.

Where in the Middle East do you think the next new artists are coming from?

I like a lot of the young artists in Egypt and in Algeria, I think these are the two most interesting countries for me in terms of art and Saudi Arabia. A lot of other countries in the Middle East also have a lot of great artists but I think in terms of young up and coming talent those three countries would be my top three.


What would you say are the forces driving artistic expression in today's art world, aside from politics. 

I think religion plays a big role, gender issues, I think social issues as well, such as social justice, jobs all these issues that came up during The Arab Spring that have resonated along with the artists that they reflect in their art.


When you buy a piece of art what is more important to you, the technique or content?

I think there both really important, if it's one of the other though, sometimes the technique is more important that the content, I prefer an properly executed art work than an art piece that has a good idea but is executed badly.


If you could add one piece of art to your collection what it would it be? 

I have a lot of favourites, but 2 of them would definitely have to be from the Iraqi artist Jawad Salim, the painting Baghdadiat (1957) and sculpture Mother and Child (1972).


Where do you want Barjeel Art Foundation to be in five years-time? 

I would love it if Barjeel Art Foundation became a permanent museum in Sharjah. 

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