Bassam Freiha Art Foundation on Saadiyat Island aims to 'inspire' the next generation

Private institution will showcase masterpieces from private collectors

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A “flagship” art space showcasing masterpieces from regional and international private collectors has opened to the public in the cultural hub of Abu Dhabi.

Bassam Freiha Art Foundation, founded by philanthropist and art collector Bassam Freiha, is the first private institution to open in Saadiyat's Cultural District.

Free to enter, it is located in the same part of the city as other landmark institutions, including Louvre Abu Dhabi, Manarat Al Saadiyat and Berklee Abu Dhabi. The Sheikh Zayed National Museum and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi are also under construction.

“I aim for the Bassam Freiha Art Foundation to become a flagship space, inspiring other collectors to share their masterpieces with the public and contribute to the thriving cultural scene in the region,” Freiha said.

“My collection reflects my personal journey, which was guided by the power of art to challenge prevailing narratives and its capacity to serve as a reflection of society. I hope the foundation will inspire the next generation of art patrons and foster a culture of patronage, a critical element in the arts ecosystem.”

In addition to hosting exhibitions, the foundation will also aim to bolster emerging talent through programming that includes annual scholarships, art history lectures, panel discussions, children workshops and book launches.

Even in an area replete with stunning architecture, the new building's minimalist design is distinctive, with glass and concrete juxtaposed in an angular design. The structure was conceived by Rasha Gebran, director of architecture and design at ADD Consultants.

The foundation itself aims to underscore its mission with its inaugural exhibition, Echoes of the Orient. It runs until August 15 and draws from the Orientalist works within Freiha’s collection, with paintings by Rudolph Ernst, Leon Comerre, Paul Leroy, Jan-Baptist Huysmans and Fabio Fabbi.

The pieces will be juxtaposed with modern works by Arab artists, including Habib Srour, Moustafa Farroukh, Cesar Gemayel, Tawfik Tarek and early paintings by Abdul Qader Al Rais. The exhibition will also feature 19th century photography by Gabriel Lekegian, Jean Pascal Sebah, Tancrede Dumas and Hippolyte Arnoux, showing how different photographers captured the region.

Echoes of the Orient reflects on the West’s long-running fascination with the Middle East, showing how the region has been perceived, romanticised and depicted over centuries. The show highlights how femininity has been visualised through the Orientalist lens, ranging from depictions of harems to portrayals of motherly affection. Echoes of the Orient aims to show the interweaving of reality and fantasy that has been at the root of Orientalist art.

Director of exhibitions Michaela Watrelot said: “This juxtaposition aims to catalyse a meaningful West-East dialogue surrounding the Orientalist movement, promote critical thinking about the existing narrative ascribed to the Orientalist art, and foster a deeper understanding of cultural exchange which transcends time and geography.”

“The photographs act as a visual bridge between the Orientalist fantasies captured in the paintings and the realities as viewed through the stylised lens of Western photographers.”

Echoes of the Orient runs concurrently with an exhibition in the foundation’s annex gallery. Reclaiming Visions features photography from Sama Alshaibi’s Carry Over series, as well as sculptural works by Azza Al Qubaisi. The works will be displayed alongside 19th century portrait photography, critically examining representations of Arab women in these images before reclaiming the narrative.

Alshaibi’s photographs, for instance, make use of printing processes that 19th century photographers employed, bridging historical perceptions and contemporary notions to subvert Western paradigms. Al Qubaisi’s sculptures, meanwhile, explores the veil’s symbolisms from a modern lens.

Bassam Freiha Art Foundation, Cultural District, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, is open daily from 10am to 8pm

Updated: March 04, 2024, 11:57 AM