Buro 24/7 Middle East Exclusive Interview: Sheikha Lulu M. Al-Sabah
Fostering worldwide art connections
Considered as one of the Middle East's leading art supporters, Kuwait's Sheikha Lulu M. Al-Sabah, is a woman on a mission. Through JAMM, an art consultancy Sheikha Lulu co-founded with Lydia Limerick in 2010, she aims to promote Arab and Iranian artists in the West, and Western artists in the east - ultimately providing a platform for both to work more closely together.
Before JAMM, Sheikha Lulu worked for companies including Phillips de Pury, and Christie's international. However, it was via her work as a journalist that she was inspired to delve deeper into the art world. Buro 24/7 finds out more...
As a child, did you grow up surrounded by art and envisage you'd pursue a career in it?
I grew up with a great appreciation for the performing arts. I dreamed of being on stage as a dancer and specifically, as a member of the Alvin Ailey Company. My appreciation for the visual arts came later. Thankfully, I feel that my chosen career allows to me to express myself creatively in the same way that I was able to express myself through dance in my youth.
You've mentioned that you gained an increased interest in art when you worked as a journalist, researching and interviewing various artists in the region - is there anyone in particular that had a significant influence on you?
Whilst researching the art and artists in Kuwait in 2005, I visited the studio of Ghazaal Qaffas, a Kuwaiti sculptor in his late 60s. By virtue of telling me his own life story, he had unknowingly inspired me to continue my research and involvement in the contemporary art scene of the Middle East. Qaffas was among the few individuals granted a scholarship to study art abroad in the 1960s. His sculptures were featured in an exhibition in Kuwait in the 1980s, which were vandalised by religious fundamentalists. He continues to work every day in his studio even though he does not receive any private or governmental support. His story, among others, propelled me to provide a platform for artists from the region.
You co-founded JAMM in 2010, can you tell us briefly about the concept?
The concept was to advance Arab and Iranian artists in the West, and Western artists in the East, and thus encourage further collaboration between the two. In time, contemporary Arab and Iranian art will be an intrinsic part of the global art market and our goal is to play a pivotal role in achieving this.
JAMM was launched in Kuwait before Dubai, what differences have you noticed between the two countries in terms of doing business and the art scene in general?
JAMM hosted four contemporary art auctions in Kuwait. Our aim was to put Kuwait on the cultural map, to offer Kuwaiti artists a platform and to engage the regional artists and collectors. We hosted our final sale in 2013 in order to focus on our gallery program and to further our participation in art fairs around the globe.
In regards to doing business and the art scene in Kuwait versus Dubai, I feel that, for the moment, Dubai has a stronger arts infrastructure and a larger pool of collectors, which offers a greater potential for growth for art galleries such as ours.
What does a typical working day involve?
If I am not in Dubai, where our permanent gallery space is located, a typical working day includes a flurry of e-mails between myself and Boris Pavelic, JAMM's Managing Director. These e-mails comprise status updates on everything from logistics to artist liasons. When we are both in Dubai, a typical day includes working together on the future program of the gallery and the details of our current exhibition.
What exciting events have you got planned at JAMM in the coming months?
We will soon be hosting a solo exhibition for Yemeni artist Nasser Al-Aswadi. His abstract works of contemporary calligraphy are sublime.
In late February, JAMM will be participating in Art 14, an art fair based in London, now in its second edition. Our booth will feature the photographs of Yemeni artist Ibi Ibrahim.
In mid-March, JAMM will showcase the highlights of the upcoming Bonhams sale in London, for which JAMM has consigned a few works by Gulf artists. Also in March, and coinciding with Art Dubai, JAMM will host a solo show for Zhivago Duncan, a Berlin-based, half-Syrian and half-Danish artist whose multimedia works are edgy and raw.
Do you think art is a viable career choice or what initiatives do you think need to be introduced to raise its profile in the region?
I think art is a viable career choice. In fact, we need more people from the Gulf region to become involved in the field of arts. Art academies need to be established across the region, art as a subject needs to be introduced into the school curriculm, and governments need to offer scholarships for master programs abroad in the field of arts to encouage professionals in the field.
Being a mother, do you find it challenging balancing your work and personal life or how do you manage to maintain a balance between the two?
Until we live in a more egalitarian society, women will continue to struggle for that all-elusive balance between their work and personal life.
What does art personally mean to you?
Art is a way to make sense of the world around us. It is a means to express the beautiful, the ugly and the profound. If offers us different perspectives and has the ability to connect people across cultures. Art often remains while buildings and political ideologies fall.
Do you have an art collection - what are the most precious pieces that you own?
Yes I do. My collection includes lithographs by Chagall and Picasso, a painting by Scottish artist Callum Innes and mutiple works by Arab and Iranian artists. My most precious work is a diptych by Farideh Lashai, an established Iranian artist who passed away last year. The work I have of hers is a video projection on canvas, which was inspired by Layla and Majnun (the Middle Eastern Romeo and Juliet).
How do you usually spend your time outside of work?
I spend most of my time outside of work with my two daughters, Amaya and Layla. I like traveling abroad, reading in parks and visiting galleries and the theatre.
What's your ultimate dream?
My ultimate dream is be around when my girls are grown up and to look back at my life with a sense of accomplishment and peace. To know that I made a real difference in the world and to have lived my life on my own terms.