The King’s Academy community got a tantalizing taste of the fascinating, but often overlooked, world of contemporary Middle Eastern art during a visit by the authority on the subject, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi.
The King’s community developed a renewed appreciation for modern Middle Eastern art following a talk by Emirati columnist on social, political and cultural affairs Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi at school last November.
Al Qassemi was invited to King’s as one of a series of 15 guest speakers and panel discussions to mark the 15th anniversary of King’s Academy.
Al Qassemi’s articles have appeared in publications such as The Financial Times, The Independent, The Guardian, The Huffington Post and The New York Times. Highly active on social media, his tweets became a major news source during the Arab Spring, with TIME magazine listing him in the “140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011,” and Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute ranking him 19th on the 2018 “Arabic Thought Leader Index.”
A scholar and educator, Al Qassemi currently teaches his course “Politics of Modern Middle Eastern Art” at Brandeis University, and recently joined the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) as Kuwait Foundation Visiting Scholar with the Middle East Initiative at the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
“I’ve never studied art, so I really had to teach myself what I am here to talk to you about today,” said Al Qassemi to a packed audience of students and faculty in the Abdul Majeed Shoman Auditorium. “People of my generation were not offered an education on Middle Eastern art [at school], but things are changing.”
With an infectious passion that soon spread throughout the King’s community, Al Qassemi presented a number of artworks by renowned Arab artists, guiding students on how to see and understand them.
Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar, Inji Efflatoun, Hamed Ewais, Abdulla Al-Muharraqi, Wijdan Ali, Mona Hatoum, Ayman Baalbaki, Abdulnasser Gharem and Mohssin Harraki were some of the artists — hailing from Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Morocco — whose paintings and sculptures Al Qassemi introduced to students and helped them to analyze.
“When you go to a museum and look at artwork you need to ask these questions,” he explained, listing the five w’s (who, what, where, when and why). “There’s a sequence to follow: describe, analyze, interpret. Describe what you see first, give yourself a chance to look at the work and interpret it before you decide if you like it or not.”
With such a rich and fascinating abundance of art in the Arab region, Al Qassemi has long been passionate about contributing to intellectual development of the region’s art scene. Towards that end, he founded Barjeel Art Foundation, whose mission is to promote art by artists from the Arab world through exhibitions locally and internationally and to build a prominent and publicly accessible art collection in the United Arab Emirates. Another way he is doing it is through educating people, young and old, by means of articles, podcasts, videos, talks with guest artists such as the “Online Cultural Majlis” series, and lectures at educational institutions around the world and particularly the Arab region.
At King’s Academy, where an appreciation for the arts is more pronounced than most schools in the region, Al Qassemi’s engaging talk succeeded in lighting the flames of admiration, inspiration, and interest in further exploration of the exciting world of modern Middle Eastern art.