AUTHOR: ELIZABETH BLAIR of NPR
Wealthy art collectors often spend millions of dollars on trophy pieces by European masters, then keep them hidden from view. Not Sheikh Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi: He spends his fortune on artworks by living, Arab artists, then shows them to as many people as possible.
Qassemi is a bit of a paradox. He’s a member of an Arab royal family, but he recently showed up at NPR’s New York bureau by himself and casually dressed, looking more like a grad student than a sheikh. While clicking through the artworks on his Barjeel Art Foundation’s website, he emphasizes his collection’s diversity. “These [artists] are from all over the Arab world: Syrian, Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Egyptian, Jordanian, from the [United Arab Emirates] and Lebanon,” he says.
Qassemi’s collection consists of more than a thousand works, but he’s perhaps better known as a media personality than an art collector. A regular commentator on the Middle East, he’s been interviewed about finance on Bloomberg TV, and unemployment on CNN. He’s written for The New York Times and Foreign Policy, and during the Arab Spring, he tweeted constantly, translating Arabic speeches and reports into English. Time magazine wrote “to the extent that the revolution was tweeted, much of it came through the feed of Sultan Al-Qassemi.”
And when it comes to the sheikh’s art collection, he has an almost activist sensibility. “I don’t buy artworks that I think are pretty and aesthetically appealing,” he says. “But I buy art that is politically meaningful.”
The full interview was originally aired on NPR on September 18, 2015.