Doha Challah exudes a captivating presence as she walks through the entrance of her villa in Jumeirah. Her ombré hair is swept effortlessly in a bun as she dons a Stella McCartney dress accentuated with a pair of metallic Gucci sandals. The fluid forms of a crimson chair by Karim Rashid anchors the entrance as Condition Tidiness, a black and white print by Tim Berresheim, serves as a backdrop for the space.
“It’s abstract enough that it’s not too much to take in as you enter the house,” notes Challah on why Berresheim’s print was placed in the entrance of her home. “It’s subtle, but it’s big and it has its own presence. You enter and it fills the space.” A floor to ceiling glass wall separates the entrance from the light-filled living room—featuring a monochromatic furniture palette showcasing Challah’s art collection which she has cultivated with her husband, Kareem since they started collecting art in 2002.
Sarada Ravindra. Disconnect. 2013. Triptych. Acrylic on canvas. 77 x 101 cm. Dining table and console by Roche Bobois
Born and raised in Damascus, Syria, Challah reflects on how she inherited her passion for art. “My mother is a very creative person, so I took a lot from her in terms of appreciating and looking,” she says. “I was never the artist per say. I could never create something that was up to par, but I’ve always been surrounded by it.” She continues, “My dad is an economics guy, so I took a little bit from him. Looking at things and analysing, going deeper and wanting to know more.”
Challah left Syria at the age of 19 to pursue her studies in the US where she obtained a degree in fashion design and merchandising at Miami International University of Art and Design in Florida. “I met my husband in Miami during that time,” she reflects. “We were really young. I got married when I was 19 and he was 24.” Challah and her husband, Kareem started to progressively collect art amidst Miami’s burgeoning arts scene in 2002. The first work which the young couple possessed in their collection was The Apotheosis of Homer, a lithograph by Salvador Dalí that her husband had taken from his parent’s collection. “That was our first, I would say. I adopted it as well when we got married. I even did a school paper on it. That’s how young we started,” she reflects. “We basically started buying art, as a young couple wanting to decorate the house,” she explains. “It started as a decorative thing. We looked at the empty walls and said, ‘let’s fill it up.’”
Challah recalls how the couple purchased one of their first pieces, Al Galope, a painting by Joselito Sabogal from an independent art dealer in Miami. “He had grown up with all of these artists that he was trying to promote, and he wanted to put them on the map,” she explains. In addition to the painting by Sabogal, one of the earlier works which they acquired was a Cubist painting by C. Castillo from the same independent art dealer in Miami. “It challenges the mind further,” she explains, on what drew her to Castillo’s painting. “Even with the way we furnished our house, I’m obsessed with lines, dimensions and different proportions.”
Doha stands next to a work by Morteza Zahedi. The colorful Ecstasy. 2012. Mixed media, toys and neon light. 122 x 122 cm.
In 2007, Challah and her husband moved to Dubai, where she currently resides with her two children. Over the years, their method of collecting art has progressively developed. “We’re less impulsive now I would say,” notes Challah. “We definitely want to have something from an artist that we know is evolving, and not because of investment purposes per se.” She adds, “Otherwise you kind of feel bored and fall out of love with a piece.” One of the earlier pieces they purchased in Dubai was a triptych by Ala Ebtekar from The Third Line
, which is hung above a piano in their living room. They were intrigued by the Islamic prayer scriptures with illustrations of planes sprawled across the surface of the work—representing prayers which are passed on from one generation to another, juxtaposed with a mythological figure composed in the center.
A focal point in Challah’s living room is a photograph captured by Christian Voigt of The Morgan Library and Museum, which they acquired last year from Bel Air, a gallery in Venice, Italy
. “Photography is something that I feel is hard to love and understand initially,” Challah explains. “You have to know more and educate yourself about it.” It was Voigt’s large-format composition of the historic landmark which captured various depths and optimal lighting that drew her to the piece.
Above the black lacquered console in the dining area, hangs a triptych entitled, Disconnect
by the lawyer-turned-artist Sarada Ravindra, which the couple purchased five years ago at Ravindra’s studio in New York. “The lines are so precise, it’s almost like it’s measured but it’s not,” Challah explains. “She uses masking tape and she really pours her heart into her work and really lives through it. Again it comes from her intellectual background, she challenges the mind when she creates.” In the dining area, one’s gaze easily shifts towards The Colorful Ecstasy
by Morteza Zahedi. Part of the Iranian artist’s eclectic toys and neon light series which was purchased at Art Dubai
from Aaran Gallery in Tehran
. “It’s like a bad dream, but a good dream in a way,” she notes on what drew her to the work’s paradox. She adds, “I can recognise these toys, I played with these toys. The propeller in the doll’s head doesn’t disturb me. I don’t see it like that. It’s funny how you can make a theory very bad or negative look positive or sexy.”
Another artwork that evokes a dichotomy is a Valentine’s Day gift from her husband, Love Me, Love Me Not by Ayman Yossri Daydban. The holographic print depicts a film scene from Malcolm X where the actor, Denzel Washington re-enacts the moment Malcolm X plays Russian roulette and questions whether or not he should convert to Islam. “Ayman Yossri Daydban took that and he made it about love,” explains Challah on what drew her to the piece. “I like that because love is not so pretty. It can come from a dark place.” As one walks through Challah’s living room, Daydban’s print hangs behind the glass door of the room’s entrance, semi-concealed from view. “I definitely wanted a corridor,” explains Challah. “It’s a darker piece and I have young kids.” She adds, “It’s not the clean, meticulous lines of the piece over there. It’s in a good spot, although I wish the door wasn’t there.” When asked which of the works from her collection resonates with her the most, Challah gravitates towards Daydban’s Love Me, Love Me Not. “Each piece reminds me of a time in my life, an experience per se,” Challah reflects. “I still love the Daydban piece. Because love is not pretty. It’s a struggle.”
Ala Ebtekar. Untitled. 2008. Triptych. Acyrlic on book pages on canvas 82.55 x 63.5 cm.
The art which Challah and her husband have accrued over the years continues to captivate them, which they hope can inspire others as well. “We need to be surrounded by art,” she says. They plan to continue cultivating their art collection. “In that case you wouldn’t want to put it in a warehouse, you would want to have it in the open,” she says. “I would love to keep living with my collection—with my kids to grow up and just appreciate how an idea can conceptualise into something tangible that you can see, feel and touch.”