The Collector : Sunday Magazine
Anusha Bawany speaks with the young art enthusiast and entrepreneur about starting her latest online venture, her passion for curating unique pieces and filling up her London home.
Since when have you been interested in art?
Ever since I can remember, art has been embedded in my soul, and my surroundings definitely helped nurture that talent. I had my first exhibition at age 9 and never stopped painting since. I am now an art enthusiast and proud to say it is the feature I am most defined by. I am blessed to have grown up in an incredibly large, loving and artistically inclined family. My father, although a banker by profession, is an avid art collector and there is not an inch of bare wall space in my parent's beautiful home in Dubai. Our extended family is deeply rooted in the Pakistani art and culture scene. From playwrights to fashion designers, musicians and artists, I am very proud to say the Maqsoods have it all covered!
Tell us about your background and training.
I graduated with a Bachelor in Fine Art, Distinction in Dissertation from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in 2010. It was the greatest 4 years of my life. I came out with a strong studio practice, a theoretical base and friends for life. I learnt what passion meant along with discipline and hard work. Soon after graduation I moved to Dubai to work with The Third Line gallery as Communications Manager. In 2013, I relocated to London and began work as Gallery Manager at Edge of Arabia. Along with the passion of creating and buying art I am now thrilled to be selling art too. At the end of 2015 I took the plunge and launched Bahaar, an online sales platform for contemporary emerging art from South Asia and the Middle East.
When did you begin your art collection?
I have been working together with my father for the last 15 years on any acquisitions he made and proud to finally have started my personal (little but growing) collection of artworks 5 years ago.
What draws you to a piece?
It's a very personal interaction with a piece that leads me to a final purchase, but the most important aspect of acquiring any work for me is the background on the artist and the narrative of the work. Narrative art is art that tells a story, either as a moment in an ongoing story or as a sequence of events unfolding over time. Some of the earliest evidence of human art suggests that people told stories with pictures and this is of great interest to me. I find works coming out of the Arab Spring particularly engaging with their avant-garde mediums and intimate approach.
Do you make spontaneous choices when collecting art, or are you carefully planned in your decisions?
I live with my husband in London where homes are fairly cozy, so we always think carefully about what is right spatially and financially and then sleep over it for a few nights before making a decision. Having said that, I am usually one to go with my initial instinct on a piece!
What are your most prized pieces from your collection and why?
Two stunning little Amir Fallah works bought in 2010, a recent work of Farhat Ali bought earlier this year and a wedding present from my cousin Bilal Maqsood.Â Amir is an Iranian artist based in the West Coast of America. He does these incredible collage paintings with distorted perspectives and a passion for detail. These pieces are visible when you first enter our home and they make me smile every single day. Farhat is a Pakistani artist based in Karachi. His recent series of paintings are inspired by Disney characters and Mughal paintings. This piece in particular is a Mughal style portrait of Princess Aurora and a character from the Badshah Nama. It is an innocent love story beyond beauty and magic with an â€˜East meets Westâ€™ vibe. The romantic in me can relate to this painting. And lastly, Bilal. Although a musician by day, he is a keen painter and has a powerful brush stroke. This painting was a wedding present and holds a lot of emotional value. The eyes on the portrait really draw you in and instill a sense of mystery in the room;it is the focal point of my home and a great conversation starter
What is your most recent acquisition and what led you to collecting this particular work?
I have recently boughta work by Zaina El Said, which is on its way to me. She is a Jordanian artist based in Amman specializing in digital and hand collage works. Her work is heavily influenced by regional Arab culture, folklore and Islamic geometry. She uses found imagery to tell a story through surreal collage paintings. I am drawn to them for the pure sublime timelessness each piece presents. The unexpected feeling upon viewing the work literally resembles a dream where no time or space is visible
What is the thought process that goes into the framing and displaying?
A frame is to a piece of art what a haircut is to a person. It defines how the viewer perceives the artwork at first glance. There is incredible value in choosing simple frames that support the beauty of the artwork as opposed to taking away from it. I tend to stay away from ornate designs and fancy colours. However, there are some pieces that demand some colour in which case I introduce this with mounts. Display and lighting are of equal importance as they serve as a background and illumination for the piece. The default is to think large pieces need even larger spaces however that is not always true; it all depends on how they are placed in the area.
What inspired your website Bahaar? Tell us what it aims to achieve.
After hosting a number of successful exhibitions and events, locally and internationally, it became clear to me that the traditional gallery model was not serving the interests of the budding artist-collector relationship. Bahaar (www.artbahaar.com) aims to bridge this gap by connecting emerging artists from South Asia and the Middle East with young collectors globally. Our motto is â€œFrom the Artists heart to the Collectors home.â€Our target audience ranges from young, emerging collectors looking to identify their taste to the seasoned buyer who knows exactly what they want. We have had our strongest interest from young professionals who are building their homes and lives and looking to create a unique persona. In particular, those who are intimidated by galleries and want to avoid being over charged. Our goal is to empower the artist and to ease the collectorâ€™s purchasing process.
How do you find the artist. As a curator, what is the process like.
Most of the artists we have on board are recent graduates I have found at degree shows or exhibitions. I spot some of them online (especially the Arab community) because they have a huge social media presence. A lot of artists get in touch with us directly after hearing about the new avenues Bahaar has created for their contemporaries. I am pleasantly surprised by the number of artists out there looking for representation. The process is rigorous and selective due to the number of applications we have to go through but we are very glad for the opportunity and always welcome submissions from young artists!
What is the one key component people should keep in mind when acquiring art?
Everyone will tell you to buy what you love, but that is easier said than done if you are one to love a wide variety of works. I would strongly recommend people to source advice from professionals when they are unsure, and to always remain true to their heart. I also find tracking artists to watch their growth is particularly fulfilling for me, at Bahaar we only work with artists who we believe have a vision and room to grow.
Who is one artist that you wish to add to your collection and havenâ€™t yet?
Rana Begum. I love her abstract minimalism and how her work is inspired by architecture and construction while drawing a sense of identity via colour. She is above and beyond the emerging artist level but hopefully one to add to my personal collection in the coming years!
Any plans for further adding to your personal collection?
Yes! I always keep my eyes peeled for new works to buy. I tend to be biased in my support for artists from Pakistan and slowly broadening my collection to other artists from other parts of the world too.
Any particular artist or kind of art you would like to have on the website?
We do not have any sculptures as yet, so that is definitely the next step onwards and upwards. There is a higher risk in shipping and insurance of sculpture works therefore the hesitance. I am also looking for a wider range of Middle Eastern artists. At the moment we have works from Jordanian, Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish artists and in search for young talent from India!
How do audiences feel about purchasing art online, not having seen it in person. How do you break that set back?
In the age of the internet we are buying all sorts of things online, from clothes and shoes to even fresh food we consume on a daily basis. The taboo of buying online is no longer there with the multiple forms of media to confirm the authentication, colour and scale of a piece. At Bahaar, our priority is to ensure the collector is happy with their piece, so we spend a lot of time educating them about the artist and their work which creates a relationship that lasts beyond just a one-off purchase. Some buyers start with smaller ticket-price items as they become comfortable with our model before graduating to larger, more expensive pieces.
What advice would you give to emerging art collectors with respect to the experiences you have had with art collection?
Don't sweat it, enjoy the journey as no purchase is a mistake! Stay shallow and wide for the first decade to really understand the market as well as your aesthetic.
To you, what is art, and what is its importance?
Art is not just something hangings on the wall or a sculpture meant to fill a space, it embodies your life and aesthetic overall. Art signifies a culture and a society; it speaks volumes about an individual, space or a community.
How has your taste in art evolved over the years?
One finds their true sense of style through trial and error, and mostly awareness. Similarly, mine has gone through the stages and has now reached a point of fulfilment. I have become a huge proponent of Organic Art: art that is made by real artists with thought provoking messages as opposed to commercial productions of beautiful looking canvases that sell along with other home goods.
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