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Arab Art Redefined

How art collector Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi is trying to change the narrative

Sept. 24, 2015

Untitled,” 2014, by Ghadeer Saeed, Jordan

Sultan Sooud Al‑Qassemi knows media.

When the Arab Spring started sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi became a go-to source for live updates on social media. An occasional columnist with 375,000 followers on Twitter, he is now a public figure and activist. Art has become his big agenda.

Eventually, he explains, his interest in breaking news had died down and he shifted his attention to collecting and promoting modern and contemporary art from the Arab world. He sees it as a continuation of the ideals of the Arab Spring, he says, because the art tends to be political — and it defies traditional definitions set by the West.

Qassemi actively promotes the Barjeel Art Foundation, which he founded in 2010. It contains more than 1,000 works of art that he has collected. He has buying power because he also happens to be a member of one of the ruling families of the United Arab Emirates — though he’d rather talk about art than his family history.

He stopped by NPR’s New York City bureau to do that.

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Al-Qassemi in 2012 (Mohamed Nanabhay/Flickr)

“The narrative is so one-sided.”

Sanaa, Yemen, after reported airstrikes (Mohammed Huwais/Getty Images)
The view after airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen (Mohammed Huwais/Getty Images)
You Are Love, 2008, by Chant Avedissian, Egypt
Portrait Of A Territory, 2009-2012, by Ziad Antar, Lebanon
Witness, 2009, by Mona Hatoum, Palestinian territories
Old McDonald’s, 2014, by Farah Al Qasimi, United Arab Emirates
I Am A Scuba Diver, 2009, by Manal Al Dowayan, Saudi Arabia
Evolution Of Man, 2010, Ahmed Mater, Saudi Arabia
Mother, Daughter, Doll, 2010, by Boushra Al Mutawakel, Yemen
Akram Zaatari Untitled (Plane 6), 2013, by Akram Zaatari, Lebanon
Mes Amis (My Friends), 2005, by Adel Abdessemed, Algeria
Untitled, undated, by Hussein Madi, Lebanon
Untitled, 2013, by Aula Al Ayoubi, Syria
Untitled, 2014, by Ghadeer Saeed, Jordan
Barack, 2014, by Abdalla Omari, Syria
Oral Tradition, by Lateefa Bint Maktoum, United Arab Emirates