From a cosmetics entrepreneur to a seasoned cultural adviser, meet five under-the-radar Saudi art collectors

A cultural revolution is underway in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Until September 2019, when the first tourist visas were issued, the Gulf nation was closed to the world and access to the interior of the country was restricted to certain foreigners and by invitation only. Suddenly, the world was able to visit the often dubbed “Magic Kingdom” and see its rich ancient and contemporary heritage. Its opening is part of the country’s national transformation program, Saudi Vision 2030, launched in 2016 by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Since then, change has come and gone: women can now drive, and there are movie theaters, music concerts and gigantic big projects to propel Saudi Arabia into the 21st century and beyond. Next year, the country will celebrate its centenary.

While there has long been an arts scene in Saudi Arabia propelled by private initiatives and artist-led groups and spaces, the new vision has instituted a top-down approach to the development of the cultural scene through numerous government initiatives, aided by the creation of the Saudi Ministry of Culture in June 2018.

There are countless Saudi artists in the realm of established, mid-career and emerging artists, but Saudi art collectors are few. These rare collectors are invested in developing the scene and hope to use their passion for art to make their country’s talent heard abroad. By sharing their collections and their love for art, these collectors hope to encourage other Saudis, young and old, to join their mission.

Basma Al-Sulaiman

Basma Al-Sulaiman.

Age: 61 years old

Occupation: Philanthropist, patron and founder of a virtual museum BASMOCA

What’s in the collection: “I started collecting in the 90s; my first acquisition was a Hockney. I then turned to Chinese artists and soon after started collecting both locally and internationally,” Al Sulaimain said of his mostly contemporary art collection.

Today, the collection spans different mediums, including painting, tapestry, photography, sculpture, video, and works on paper, and can be understood into two segments. One focuses on Saudi artists with just over 200 pieces, including commissioned works by Dana Awartani and Maha Malluh, works by Manal Al Dowayan, as well as landmark installations such as the iconic Black Arch on display in the first Saudi pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011, and Ahmed Mater’s ode to Mecca, “Magnetism.” The other is an international collection comprising around 800 pieces by various artists ranging from Andy Warhol, Georg Baselitz and Bridget Riley to El Anatsui, Zhang Fanzhi and Joana Vasconcelos. She also started a virtual collection in 2011 with pieces by Jenny Holzer and Bill Viola, among others.

Distinguishing factor: “The collection was originally based on a passion that I had developed. The one I wanted to pass on to my son. However, he sadly passed away a few years ago and since then converting the collection into a heirloom in his memory has become an obsession or a mission,” Al Sulaiman said. “An important aspect has become a dialogue between my home country, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the world.” An exhibition showcasing highlights from Al Sulaiman’s Saudi art collection, dedicated to his son, will be on display at the Maraya in AlUla in February.

Where she shops: Local galleries like Athr and Hafez and international galleries White Cube, Thaddaeus Ropac and Victoria Miro. Fairs include Art Basel in Switzerland and Hong Kong as well as Arco (he has a residence in Madrid), and auctions at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams.

Recent purchases: An important work by Ahmed Mater from Christie’s in support of The Future is Unwritten, Healing Arts Initiative.

Fun fact: Al Sulaiman began collecting virtual works and NFTs long before they were fashionable, and founded his virtual museum in 2011. “I never imagined being ahead of a curve that has now become a standard in the art world!” she said.

Sara Alrashid

Sara Alrashid.  Photo by Aljohara Al-Athel.

Sara Alrashid. Photo by Aljohara Al-Athel.

Occupation: After working in design at 1508 London, Alrashid returned to Saudi Arabia where she ran events company Gexpo with her two sisters. During the pandemic, she decided to start a cosmetics business.

What’s in the collection: Large scale paintings by international female artists or female subjects. This includes the work of Elizabeth Peyton, Ella Kruglyanskaya, France-Lise McGurn, Anne Collier, Tracey Emin and Shahzia Sikander. “Although I don’t have a lot of Saudi art in my collection, I’m more interested now in exploring the scene and acquiring works by Saudi artists,” Alrashid said.

Distinguishing factor: A focus on female artists and female subjects on canvas. “I still notice how there is a lack of female artists and that some of the highest paid artists are still male, so by collecting female art I am supporting female artists internationally,” said she declared.

Where she shops: Mainly major art fairs, especially Art Basel and Frieze. She also buys from galleries and auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. During Covid, she made many online purchases from galleries.

Recent purchases: dark tears by Tracy Emin, Shepherdess by Louise Sartor and an untitled work by Issy Wood.

Fun fact: After buying several works at Art Basel this year, Alrashid created an annex villa in his garden to hang his works. Painted pink and called “the dollhouse”, it’s now her favorite place to entertain friends, host dinner parties and hang out.

Sultan bin Fahad

Sultan bin Fahad.

Sultan bin Fahad. Photo by Sueraya Shaheen.

Occupation: Artist, patron and cultural advisor

What’s in the collection: Major works of modern and contemporary art, including works by international and Middle Eastern artists, such as Sterling Ruby, Oscar Niemeyer, Michael Heizer, Daniel Arsham and Ahmed Mater, Ayman Yossri Daydban and Dia Azzawi.

Bin Fahad also collects found objects, which he uses in his own artistic practice, as well as archaeological pieces, design and eclectic objects such as the film script for The Godfather.

Distinguishing factor: “I collect what is dear to me and never think about reselling or retailing these items,” Bin Fahad said. “As an artist, the medium with which I have chosen to work is found objects, which I also collect, precisely because there are many stories to be told through them. I don’t think people need to collect paintings or sculptures for it to be art – I think a gas pump is also a work of art.

Where he shops: Mainly directly from the artist or the gallery. Bin Fahad said he used to buy at auctions and art fairs, but rarely buys at fairs now because he is “overwhelmed” with the choice.

Recent purchases: Works by Saudi artists Zahrah Al Ghamdi and Rashed AlShashai.

Fun fact: Bin Fahad has a growing collection of rubber ducks in a variety of shapes and colors.

Hamza Serafi

Hamza Serafi.

Hamza Serafi.

Age: 62

Occupation: Co-founder of Athr Gallery (Jeddah and Riyadh), one of Saudi Arabia’s leading commercial art galleries. Serafi is also a businessman and the vice president of Al-Salehat Holding Company, active in real estate, construction, project management, banking and healthcare. He also sits on the board of Makkah Construction Company and Saudi Catering and Hotels Holding, among other advisory roles for social and educational initiatives.

What’s in the collection: Mostly Saudi artists from the 1960s to the present day as well as a few pan-Arab and international artists, including Abdulhalim Radwi, Taha Al-Saban, Bakur Shakhoun, Abdullah Hamas, Ayman Yossri Daydban, Ahmed Mater, Nasser Al Salem and Dana Awartani.

Distinguishing factor: “Art is subjective. I collect art that I love and that means something to me, but above all, art that tells a story,” Serafi said. “I believe that part of the mission of contemporary art is to document the present moment and its various social problems.”

Where he shops: Art fairs like Art Dubai, Frieze and Art Basel, galleries and charity auctions.

Recent purchases: Artwork by Faisal Samra, Muhannad Shono and Saleh Khattab.

Fun fact: Serafi believes that works of art are like humans and seek out the places where they belong. “I don’t change my hanging if I see that a work likes its place,” he says.

Hind Al Ghanim

Hind Al Ghanim

Hind Al Ghanim.

Age: 39

Occupation: Entrepreneur who operates several points of sale, including a concept store, a café and a restaurant.

What’s in the collection: Works range from calligraphy to pop art, and cross-sectional lines include international art, Saudi, Egyptian and Islamic art. Works by Ahmed Mater, Abdulnasser Gharem, Ali Cha’aban, Fahad Almajhadi, Fahad Alneama, Jeff Koons, Afshin Pirhashemi and Damien Hirst.

Distinguishing factor: “I believe in art that I can invest in and if you feel the need to sell or trade it later,” she said. “I now focus on contemporary Saudi and local Middle Eastern art. I see a lot of potential in Saudi art for international growth, so I want to support them and my homeland.

Where she shops: Usually at auction at Sotheby’s and Christie’s (although she got her hard-to-get piece Ahmed Mater from Ayyam Gallery). It also buys directly from artists.

Recent purchases: Works by Saudi artists Fahad Almajhadi and Fahad Alneama.

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