EXPERT ON MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY MIDDLE EASTERN ART HALA KHAYAT SHARES A SELECTION OF HER FAVOURITE ARTWORKS WITH SELECTIONS AND REFLECTS ON HOW AND WHY CERTAIN WORKS HAVE TAKEN ROOT IN HER MEMORY
As an art specialist, I curate auctions with one mission: to present Middle Eastern art that is rare, hard to find and in demand by a select group of serious collectors, museums and foundations. My approach is very specific. But curating hypothetically on the nice pages of Selections is a fun, intriguing exercise. I chose to focus on my selective memory in finding the pieces and I just closed my eyes and let my mind guide me to some stored images. With my job, I am exposed daily to a large number of unique and mostly rare art pieces. This exercise is so intense namely because I am a visual person. I take in images deeply, as I scrutinise almost everything through pictures. This exercise also requires slowing down, in order to fully understand and build an opinion. It usually goes through a few steps, which start with looking, observing, and then seeing the art piece, with the ability to describe it. It finishes with the ability to interpret a final meaning that satisfies me. Sometimes, some strong images come back to haunt me. It is an overwhelming experience, namely when I am presented with top art with a strong concept that challenges my mind. Other times, I simply forget everything I have just seen and suddenly out of the blue, an image I had not seen in many years bursts to mind. And I question myself. Why this image? Was it because it was visually a very strong complete composition? Was it the colours?
Or is it my selective memory choosing a feeling that remained from such an encounter with art? One that came to my mind when I thought about what I wanted to share in Selections is a work by Samia Halaby (Palestinian, b. 1936) that I saw back in 2009. It was like an explosion of colours entitled Bride Seed Swallows The Sky, 2002-2008. An amalgamation of bright colours coming together in a few layers, creating a very rich texture. The viewer gets the impression that the colours were just floating on the wall. The composition is set on a canvas but one feels it is not contained within a defined surface and rather expanded – a very liberating and free work to look at. It was, in fact, a work that evolved over six years with the artist playing with its many components and treating it as a puzzle. The subject was about love and reproduction in mankind and nature, both in beauty and power, the seeds open to rain and to sunshine that makes life possible. Another work that also came to mind was a unique, large three-dimensional sculpture embedded in the wall by Iranian artist Timo Nasseri (b. 1972), Epistrophy MT1 in polished stainless steel. It is again a celebration of the art of “Muqarnasat,” a decorative form of repetitive elements we can trace back to Islamic architecture, used mainly in the interiors of mosques and ceilings. What I now recall and celebrate is the experience of being in front of such a work, with its shiny and highly polished stainless steel looking like an endless journey into a mirrored world. Standing next to it as a giant diamond, my own reflection as well as that of the space around me were now seen into this universe. A moment of distorted reality. In this instance, my memory chose the interactive experience of being in and out of the work of art in a fraction of a second.
Hala Khayat was born in Damascus, Syria, and has stayed true to her roots. After studying Visual Communications at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Damascus, Khayat went on to obtain her Master’s degree in Design Studies from Central Saint Martins in London while spending her summers in Paris, attending art classes at the Ecole du Louvre. An advocate for the arts community in Syria, Khayat co-founded an NGO named SAFIR in 2014, with the mission of helping young Syrian artists to achieve international reach and exposure. Dedicating her life to shedding light on modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art and artists, Khayat has played a significant role in the expansion and internationalisation of the art market in the Middle East. She has been a part of the Christie’s Dubai team since its inception in 2007, in addition to a year prior to that working with the team as an art consultant, and is currently director head of sales at the auction house. Khayat’s main role as the art specialist for Arab, Iranian and Turkish art is to curate and oversee the production of the two auctions per year, a role that includes finding exquisite works of art in many places regionally and with collectors internationally. In an area where written data is scarce, she oversees the research, documentation and tractability of the works while also writing notes. On top of that, Khayat spends the rest of her time conducting large valuations for regional foundation, museums and collectors. She has co-curated a number of events and in correlation to her work with Christie’s she has helped many non-governmental organisations raise funds for noble causes, among them the World Food Programme, Noor Dubai, the Pink Caravan, Royal Bridges and many more. Thanks to her strong belief in the crucial need for preserving and documenting works of art and sharing cultural knowledge, she has spent the past few years compiling a monograph for celebrated Syrian artist Louay Kayyali (1934-1978). Furthermore, she has lectured on Arab art history and the market throughout the region since 2010, planning a few short courses under Christie’s education in Dubai and Doha, where she created a small curriculum on Modern and Contemporary Arab Art. She was named one of the 100 most influential Arabs under 40 by Arabian Business in 2015.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS, A Dialogue Between Generations of Arab Women in Art #42, PAGES 123 – 138 AND LIMITED EDITION #50, Pages 100 – 107.