All of this is an accumulated collection,” says Lamia. “Sleem and I have been married for 10 years but we have been collecting individually for around 20 years – Sleem a little bit longer.” As Lamia explains, Sleem’s is a more eclectic collection with a lot of different artists from all over the world, including from South Africa, the US, and the Middle East. “For the last 20 years I have been collecting mainly Pakistani art and a little bit of Indian art,” she adds. Works by Pakistani masters such as Sadequain, Shahid Jalal, Tassaduq Suhail, Ismail Gulgee and Jamil Naqsh decorate the walls of their apartment exuding much colour and vibrancy. “We travelled extensively in the first two years of our marriage before we had kids and during that time we collected different pieces of art as souvenirs.” she laughs. “Those paintings became my children before I was blessed with two of my own.” A Tunisian painting by Mounir Letaief hangs in the dining room – its wondrous swirls of colourful paint fill the room with infectious energy. Lamia tells how they were in Sidi Bou Said, a green city and recognised as a world heritage site by UNESCO near Tunis, when they serendipitously stumbled upon Letaief’s own studio in search of another gallery. There they met the artist and immediately bought the painting.” In Hong Kong we picked up some Vietnamese masters and some Pop Art,” adds Lamia as she looks admiringly towards a Paul Guiragossian work (a Lebanese Armenian painter 1926-1993) that hangs near the window. “This we bought from the inaugural auction by Bonhams in Dubai,” she smiles. “We never plan our purchases – they just happen. We buy what makes us happy and gives us pleasure.” Most of the works Lamia has collected are masters that she has purchased directly from the artist.
Sleem and Lamia Hasan in the Jumeirah Living apartment in Dubai surrounded by their art. Photography by Ausra Osipaviciute
“My philosophy is very simple,” says Sleem who is Founder and CEO of Privity FZ LLE, an independent early-stage technology venture focused advisory firm, “I just have two criteria: aesthetics and affordability. It’s got to hang on your wall and you have to live with it. If you don’t like it, why buy it? It could be the worst squiggle in the world but as long as it appeals to me that’s what matters.” Sleem’s journey with art began many years ago during the eighties. He was in New York and picked up a few lithographs by James Rosenquist, an American artist and one of the protagonists of the Pop Art movement. “The images were powerful and I was introduced to this new world,” he remembers. In the late eighties Sleem was attending an awards function at a hotel in London. He received an award for his work in finance and someone else received one for their work in art. “The art award interested me more,” he says. The artist was Sharon Lutchman, a South Africa-born Asian artist. Sleem bid on one of her works that night and went away with one of her expressive collage pieces of a white woman dancing with a black man. “This is how my interaction with her and her work began,” says Sleem who details one particular piece he bought in 1999: a work with the American Uncle Jam (a parody on Uncle Sam-USA) in the center and the numbers 11 – 9. “She’s noted for painting her dreams so what was going through her head then we don’t know but it is spooky in its prediction,” he adds.
Another artist that Sleem fell in love with is Lebanese-Dutch artist Ralph Heimans. One day he got a call from a friend who then worked for the now defunct Lehman Brothers urging him to meet this young, up-and-coming artist who was visiting London from Paris. He was looking for commissioned work. Ralph was in his early thirties and came over to Sleem’s office that evening. “I asked him to show me his portfolio and within five minutes I went from ‘no, no, no’ to ‘yes, yes, yes,’” he says. “What made me do this?” He commissioned him that year in 2001 for £8,000. “At the time I couldn’t tell the difference between a Caravaggio, Rembrandt and a Ralph Heimans,” he says. “The only memory I had of this type of painting was going to the Rijksmuseum at the age of 11 with my parents. All of these images left an indelible imprint on my brain. And they are what led me to make the decision to commission Ralph that day.” The portrait of Sleem by Ralph can now be found on the Privity website.
Paul Guirogossian. Untitled. Circa 1980s. Oil on canvas. 100 x 80cm. Photography by Ausra Osipaviciute
The journey continued and the two became good friends. In 2004 Sleem moved to Dubai to start his company. “Being entrepreneurial in nature and technology being alien to the investment landscape back then, I thought I needed to account for my time in some way, shape or form so I reached out to Ralph,” says Sleem who had proposed to the artist that he represent him in the Middle East and get him more work. “It was four years since I had met him and he had become a well-known artist. We got him a commission of £25,000 in 2005. The client had asked Ralph to paint something that depicted the region and that focused on the idea of interfaith.” On a wall behind me is Ralph’s painting. Entitled The Dialogue, the work is executed in stunning realistic fashion through a particular treatment of light in the manner of the Italian technique of chiaroscuro (a technique dating to the Renaissance contrasting light and shadow in drawing and oil painting) – a depiction rare for a present-day painter. Portrayed is a scene inside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem whereby three elegantly dressed men are grouped together in discussion. One is a westerner dressed in a business suit, another is a Gulf Arab wearing his traditional white Keffiyeh with a black Aghal on his head, and the third man dons a Jewish yamaka. The painting, poignant in its subject manner and its technique, reveals a scene of interfaith—just as had been commissioned. “One man represents Islam, the other Christianity and the last Judaism,as Jerusalem is sacrosanct to all three Abrahamic faiths,” explains Sleem. “It was Ralph’s first commission in the MENA region. The client had approved the prints and around five months later Ralph came with the painting.” Sleem and Ralph went together to the client’s office. They unveiled the painting and the client immediately said, “Get this out of my office.” Sleem was taken aback and Ralph was crestfallen. They returned the money and walked out. Sleem, in a sudden realisation of the importance of such a painting and in loyalty to Ralph, bought the painting himself, a gesture Ralph has never forgotten.
Ralph Heimans. The Dialogue. 2003. Oil on canvas. 120 x 222cm. Photography by Ausra Osipaviciute
In 2006, Sleem received a call from Ralph stating that he had received his first royal commission: Princess Mary of Denmark commissioned by the National Museum of Denmark. Sleem was invited for the unveiling at the Frederiksborg Castle. Ralph has since gone on to paint other royal figures, including the totum factotum of all royals, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for her Diamond Jubilee, a portrait that sparked controversy a few years ago when it was defaced by a protestor linked to Fathers for Justice at the Westminster Abbey in 2013. Ralph’s work now starts at around £250,000 and Sleem from Privity is one of the very few who still has the privilege of handling his work. “I believe I still have a seat at his table because of how I stood by him in 2005 when he painted The Dialogue,” says Sleem. On the idea of interfaith, much has been discussed over the last few years in the MENA region. Conferences have been held in Doha and Dubai and even in Vienna a Saudi Interfaith Center opened to explore the idea of coming together through religion. Ralph’s painting beautifully says it all.
“Every painting here gives us a great memory,” beams Lamia. She points to one featuring a whirling dervish and says brightly, “This one here gives me peace and tranquility.” The couple is interested in finding new artistic talent from all over the world – something that is continually exemplified through their collection. But more than anything, it is about the ideas that an artwork transmits to the viewer that is most important. Lamia then motions to The Dialogue and says, “This one gives me hope. This is how we want the world to be. We want it to be united. We want a world where people coexist without boundaries and in harmony. That’s how we want our children to view the world.”