Meet The Collector: The Colourful World of Rana Sadik

Meet The Collector: The Colourful World of Rana Sadik

The Kuwait-based collector, patron and art activist Rana Sadik is a charismatic figure, whose passion for art drives her to forge connections and collections from artists across the Middle East. As one of the women whose private collections are at the heart of Sotheby's October 2023 20th Century Art/Middle East sale, we meet her to talk history, heritage and humour.
The Kuwait-based collector, patron and art activist Rana Sadik is a charismatic figure, whose passion for art drives her to forge connections and collections from artists across the Middle East. As one of the women whose private collections are at the heart of Sotheby's October 2023 20th Century Art/Middle East sale, we meet her to talk history, heritage and humour.

S otheby's October 2023 20th Century Art/Middle East sale is built upon an exciting and inspiring selection of Middle East Modern and contemporary art, spanning nations, eras, forms and schools of art. Many of the pieces in this generously-sized sale come from the collections of three distinguished women, associated with the region. And one of this trio is Rana Sadik.

An active figure in the Gulf art world for the past few decades, Rana Sadik, along with her husband Samer Younis, has spent much of her adult life in Kuwait, but like her husband, she is of Palestinian descent. This multi-faceted heritage influences Sadik's rich collection of contemporary art.
The works reflect an enduring curiosity with heritage, as well as the complexities and currents that make up her environment. Sadik takes a deep and lively interest in the world around her, and keeps a sharp eye out for strong artistic responses past and present, that speak to her inquiring intellect. When pressed, she prefers not to explain her collecting habits in a typical, linear fashion - but instead emphasises a work's relevance to political or humanistic narratives. Sadik also takes great pleasure and saitisfaction in seeing a relationship with an artwork as a journey - from initial encounter to the revelations and perspectives that comes from years of familiarity and contemplation.

The Sotheby's 20th Century Art/Middle East sale features nine works from Sadik's collection, selected by the collector herself. These works each hold a significance for Sadik, whether a deep emotional bond, a moment of artistic triumph, a political or cultural statement or profound pure joy at a congruence of aesthetic harmony.

Over the years, Sadik has been active with numerous initiatives such as Ashkal Alwan in Lebanon, the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, Bidoun magazine, and the Delfina Foundation, among others, serving in various roles. Sadik also works closely with multiple independent curators, artists and projects, often forming long lasting relationships, in addition to her own practice of MINRASY PROJECTS, that conceives and produces projects in public spaces. She is also the author of a highly-entertaining and insightful personal account of her adventures in the art world, a privately-printed book, 'Nothing To Write Home About'.

"It's the human and the political," she summarises of the frisson she requires in an artwork "And the point where those intersect."

Rana Sadik, at home in Kuwait

Where did your collecting begin?
I don’t feel there is a real chronology in collecting, because we’ve come to organise our art works based on groupings, rather than straightforward timelines. I think more in terms of what has been impactful on me over the years. You know, works that I've collected that I’ve returned to many times, or that have taken the lead in guiding my collecting in a certain direction.
So, for example, I love political portraits and I love all things to do with Mecca. I do have a small, - but I think quite good, - selection of works on Mecca and the things that Mecca represents, the Kaaba in particular. Of course, my heritage is highly influential, and I consider what the symbolism means to me. But it’s always about that humanity in art, the political and the human. Where are those two intersecting?

Can you give me some examples of Kaaba-related or inspired art you own?
I have two Peter Halley works. He did seven works on the Kaaba, the Direction series, inspired by how one goes around the Kaaba seven times [in Islamic custom]. I collected them over two or three years. Then I have a beautiful Kaaba sculpture, A Flock of Sheep Without a Shepherd by Pascal Hachem. It was made from sharpened pencils, and then one pencil with no point. Or - maybe the pencil has a point, but I missed it?

Did you have any of those Ahmed Mater Magnetism works?
I think those are beautiful and incredible works. The answer is I don’t, it’s one of those works that got away.

You’ve also spoken highly of the Palestinian artist Emily Jacir in the past. Which of her pieces appeal to you?
ALL of them! Emily’s Embrace (2005) had an impact on me, because of all the ideas it made me think about – “What is contemporary art?” “What is my heritage and identity in relation to conflict?” So seeing Emily’s work, those two questions came up, in relation to each other. She is a very good artist. Thinking about that work, 20 years on, who doesn’t want an Embrace today? I also relate to her work From Paris to Riyadh (1998-2001), with its references to Vogue magazine, body censorship and being in the Gulf. And of course, I want to chew bubble gum with Emily in her installation piece From Amman to Bethlehem (contraband) (1999)

'What is contemporary art?' 'What is my heritage and identity in relation to conflict?' Seeing Emily Jacir's work, those two questions came up, in relation to each other

Clearly, she's very important to you, because when I asked you for some names of artists, you sent me two - one was Emily and the other was Khalil Rabah, who made Dictionary Work (1997).
Khalil Rabah’s Dictionary Work (Philistine) (1997) for me is – well let’s put it this way, I spent seven years convincing Khalil to let me have the artist proof, because he only had that one AP left. That should give you an idea of how much Khalil’s work means for me. And, you know, he made it at a time where he probably didn’t sell at his full potential, the market overall wasn’t fully developed. And then, his prices just went - boom. I did bid for that work the first time it came to the Sotheby’s, 2007 auction, but that’s the auction where the price boom happened. Then it came up for auction a few years later, and that was too late because Khalil was my friend then.

Does that impair the way you perceive an artwork, if you had a personal relationship with the artist?
It has to impair it, my collection is really intimate, it’s deeply personal. It’s my Facebook! These works are really my friends. I call them by first name.

You have talked about how in some cases, your reading and response to an artwork has evolved over time, which is a fascinating process to consider.
Yes, I think that’s true with many of the works that I’ve bought. For example, when I was organising the works which are included in the Sotheby’s sale now, I was handling, holding and with Sliman Mansour’s Mother and Child (1986) and really considering its relevance again today.

You mentioned when we spoke last time how influential Kuwait was in terms of  your collecting. Who are some of the younger artists that you see around now whose work you’d like to collect?
Absolutely. In Kuwait, the freedom of press, played a huge role in shaping what makes me political. The other shape shifter certainly had to be my family, for us family talk was about current events, the news. I like Aseel Al Yacoub’s work, it's research based and political, and that talks to me.

Which one of the works that we're selling is the one that challenges or that challenged you the most?
Of course, it's going to be Samia Halabi’s The Seventh Cross. Talk about intense!

The way she describes it, she makes it sound simple but obvious. But of course, it's not simple
Samia and others take their knowledge for granted. She thinks oh, people are going to understand this. But it's not the case, so much investigation has to happen. And that I think is also the brilliance of Samia's work. It is obviously not obvious.

Do you remember first encountering that work, and how you were drawn into it?
For me, I didn't know what The Seventh Cross was at the time. But then it was just intense and attractive. I couldn’t tell you what it was, but I knew it was something. And this is what I'm coming back to tell you - there are some works where you revisit and think, I didn't understand it at the time. But I knew it was toxically attractive. It’s an epic work.

I look for the disruption, how is this work disrupting, where is the noise? This is such a noisy work!

So what's been your journey with that particular artwork? I love the phrase ‘toxically attractive’ – when you saw it, you had to have it.
I have always loved it. With an artwork, I always look at the year, and think of the events around the making of the work, the politics. What was this person thinking about when they made this? I look for the disruption, how is this work disrupting, where is the noise? This is such a noisy work!

It was painted in 1969.
Yes, those late 1960s had a direct impact. I am of Palestinian descent, of third cultures, of refuge and replacement, and I always think; what role did the 1960’s have shaping my identity?

Let’s look at another piece you have in the auction; Huguette Calande’s Untitled from 1980. This is really striking - bold and impactful. What were your thoughts on this when you first saw it?
I first saw it at an art fair and it's like chemistry. When you meet somebody, you know, it's like, I don't know anything about this person, but there's something about this person. I have a high degree of of sensitivity. I did not know when I was first drawn to that Calande work that it was even a body part.

I love humour, there's nothing more that I love. Humour has a brightness and intelligence to it.

What other works in the sale have a special resonance for you?
I want to talk about the watermelons! (Watermelons, Nizar Sabour, 2019) The watermelons have shadows. Right there, there's a sense of humour - and I love humour, there's nothing more that I love. Humour has a brightness and intelligence to it.

Even with the most difficult subjects presenting with humour, being able to position your subject, and think critically through humour, that’s art. The melons are bright red, and have a patina on the back, and it’s made with real crushed melon seeds. I mean, there's a lot of craft that went into the artwork, Syrian craft, working intimately with your hands. And it's laughing with you. Or is it laughing at you?

And then there’s Inji Efflatoun’s Orange Harvest (1979) – did you identify with Inji as a disruptor, as someone who was very original and determined in her way of life?
Inji’s story was fascinating for me in that she went to prison for for her political views. In this work, these are women in the field harvesting oranges. Now, I don't collect based on gender that’s for sure - I don't think, is this a male artist or female artist. Never. Visually, it's a little bit different, in terms of aesthetics, compared to the other works. But the context of the artist and activism, yes, fits in with me.

And there's a very Western influence there, especially Van Gogh. I also love the Gazbia Sirry Abstract (1965), a very strong piece by the Egyptian painter.
How do you say something without saying anything? That’s activism. How do you do that in a liminal space? Gazbia did that, she circumvented the intimate, using the obvious.

It’s different from a lot of her other works, but you can tell it's her, you know immediately it's her.
It’s from 1965 – so again, we're in the 1960s, I find that in general, art can go through periods where there is a general slump in creativity. And then you get some eras like the 1960s. There was revolution, change, disruption in the Arab world.

Finally, if you had advice for a young Rana Sadik, who's maybe starting out now or is in her early 20s and wants to follow in your path, what would that advice be? How would you guide them or give them some motivation?
I’d say move to Mars! No, I think that of course, we're going to talk about self-belief. It's also about keeping yourself relevant all the time, you know? And being sensitive to your environment. So, I think if I were to give advice, it's to be relevant here on earth.

Modern & Contemporary Middle East

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