Artist Hassan Hajjaj and Sotheby's Institute of Art's Dr. Anthony Downey in conversation.

- Summer is a time when London welcomes a large number of visitors, none larger than the Middle Eastern crowd. This year has been no exception, and to respond to this influx, as well as to the local community, Sotheby’s has created a special series of educational programmes attached to a month-long exhibition of highlights of our October sale of contemporary art masterpieces by top Arab and Iranian artists in Doha.

After a lively and well-attended opening reception on 21 July to launch the highlights exhibition, last night Sotheby’s hosted the first of a three-part series of talks between curators, art personalities and artists. Dr. Anthony Downey of Sotheby’s Institute of Art, and Editor at Ibraaz, in conversation with Hassan Hajjaj, proved to be an engaging and illuminating discussion where the audience learned about the artist's creative process and history within the context of the regional and international art scene. The talk revolved around "Contemporary Portraiture and Cultural Networks", a session which was accompanied by slides and videos of this exuberant artist. Famously known for his multi-pronged approach to the visual arts by combining fashion, design, graphics and the ironic use of global brands, Hajjaj produces a riot of colour and patterns, a witty nod to the politics of branding, all framed within a social commentary that is hard not to enjoy and appreciate.

The Odalisque series touch upon sexual politics, while his portrait series are informed by the Maghreb's colonial past, and the Kesh Angels refer to modern urban culture. Though there is great pressure on Middle Eastern artists to produce art that is above all a political commentary, Hajjaj stated that he was keen to retain his freedom and refuse the mould.  Encouraged by Anthony Downey's probing questions, Hajjaj offered the audience a glimpse into his inner thoughts and processes.

A similarly engaging and stimulating talk is scheduled for next Tuesday when Lina Lazaar, co-curator of the Doha sale exhibition will be in conversation with Saudi artist Ahmed Mater to discuss contemporary photography and hybrid architecture. Partnered by The Art Newspaper, The Art Fund, and Alef Magazine, this series promises to unearth some seminal dialogue and offer us food for thought.