PRIVATE COLLECTIONS PUBLIC GALLERIES SHARJAH
In Arabic, the word “barjeel”, from which the Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, takes its name, means “wind tower”. For collector and owner Sheikh Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi, the euphemism does very little to hide his vision – that of an art space where ideas, like air, circulate freely and create a dynamic where art can breathe.
Housing close to four-hundred and eighty works of art from the Arab world or by Arab artists living elsewhere, the Barjeel Art Foundation’s collection is originally the collection of Sheikh Sultan. In an interview with The National Daily Newspaper in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, Sheikh Sultan said that,
Artists are the conscience of society. It is essential for their work to be seen and appreciated.
Many people have visited the gallery over the first five months since it opened, and Sheikh Sultan has personally guided VIPs and others through the collection. The day I visited with a friend, we were joined by two other women, and Sheikh Sultan treated us to descriptions of the works on display and even opened locked doors to show some others kept out of sight in storerooms.
The first exhibition at the Barjeel Art Foundation is called “Peripheral Vision” and features contemporary work made later than 2007 by Arab artists. The show is on until the end of August this year, after which new selections from the Sheikh’s collection will be mounted for show. The foundation is currently not selling any of the works. The premise of the foundation is summed up by Sheikh Sultan:
We want to show how art of the Arab world is nuanced and in a constant state of transformation and renewal. Our mission is to expose different aspects of social, political and geographical landscapes that may be obstructed and out of focus.The works can however be borrowed for exhibition locally or internationally by institutions that will pay for transportation and insurance.
The objective behind the Barjeel Art Foundation is, in Sheikh Sultan’s words,
A foremost goal of Barjeel has been to give the artworks in the collection greater public exposure; making the space accessible for people to come and view a selection of art in rotating exhibitions seemed to be the ideal starting point.
The collection houses some masterpieces of Arab art. Considered a national treasure, artist Abdul Qader Al Rais’s works are so important that they are only handled by the Ministry of Culture of Sharjah, the Sheikh being an exception.
The gallery is not averse to showing political art, like that of Layan Shawabkeh, a Palestinian artist who died in 2009 at the age of 23. In a work called Ladies of Gaza, Shawabkeh takes inspiration from many of Picasso’s works that deal with women and post World War II trauma.
The Barjeel Art Foundation comes at a time when governments world over are cutting funds for art institutions and the market is relying on trusted modern, rather than contemporary artists for returns. Additionally, the art world of the UAE is fragmented, with only a few galleries in Abu Dhabi where the Louvre and the Guggenheim have yet to be built. Dubai seems to be at the forefront of cultural and financial investment in art although Arab art altogether has a long way to go.
- Antonia Carver named Art Dubai director, lends Middle Eastern art insight to fair – July 2010 – ex-The Art Newspaper journalist and specialist in Arab art on her plans to put Dubai on the world art map
- Xu Zhen takes on Middle Eastern identities and cultures as the new artists’ collective alias Madeln at the Ikon Gallery,UK – June 2010 – Madeln impersonates a fictional group of Middle Eastern artists, creating a kind of exhibition in disguise
- Gallerist Salwa Zeidan explains mission of inaugural Abu Dhabi Sculpture Symposium- an interview – March 2010 – Salwa Zeidan talks about the Symposium, her favourite Emirati sculptor and the state of government funding
- Art industry elite meet at inaugural Abu Dhabi art fair – December 2009 – a who’s who of attendees
- Christie’s in Dubai sets record for most pricey Arab work– November 2009 – a record breaking sale at Christie’s Dubai proof of growing viability of the UAE art market