Zaki Nusseibeh could easily be seen as one of the main architects of the idea of using the UAE’s resources for diversifying in culture and education, since hs was asked in 1967 by the then president of the UAE Sheikh Zayed to become his interpreter and advisor. And it is not unthinkable that the model that ensued has set an example for the hole Gulf region.
On Zaki Nusseibeh’s personal history and role in cultural life Bidoun had published an excellent article with interview, which was referred to in the Gulf Art Guide before here.
The Blouin Artinfo magazine just published another interview with Zaki Nusseibeh, taken from the Art+Auction magazine.
‘Born in Jerusalem in 1946 and educated in England, Zaki Nusseibeh arrived in Abu Dhabi in 1967 eager to help build a new state. As an interpreter for Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, he embarked on a road that led to his current post: vice chairman of the capital’s Authority for Culture and Heritage. He spoke with Benjamin Genocchio about his own collecting, as well as the UAE’s cultural rise and the construction of the art district on Saadiyat Island, future home to the Louvre and Guggenheim museums.
Was art a part of your childhood?
I grew up in the eastern [Arab] part of Jerusalem, which was a truly cosmopolitan city full of ancient mosques and churches. The city had several European consulates keen to organize cultural activities, showcasing art, music, and literature. Art at home was mostly of the orientalist genre. My older sister was an aspiring painter who went to the Beaux Arts College in Paris, and we went to a lot of exhibitions together.
What led you to collect art yourself?
After visiting my sister in Paris in the early 1960s, when we were both students, I wanted to bring art into my personal environment. A job in Abu Dhabi in 1967 allowed me to start my own collection, first orientalist prints by artists such as David Roberts and later, contemporary art from the Middle East. I also bought work by friends whose exhibitions I visited or helped organize, some of whom became recognized later, such as Iraq’s Laila Kawash, Syria’s Fateh Moudarres, and the UAE’s Abdul Qader Rayyes. I am particularly proud of two early watercolors by Palestinian-Lebanese Paul Guiragossian, as well as a calligraphic lithograph series by Palestinian-American artist Kamal Boullata. Not everything I bought then was from MENASA [Middle East/North Africa/South Asia], although I buy exclusively from that region now.
Who are the MENASA artists you most admire currently?
There is a great deal of exciting new art that complements the great modern work by artists such as Louay Kayali and Shaker Hassan Al Said. Contemporary artists I am proud to have in my modest collection include Iraqi Dia Al Azzawi and Iranians Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh, Farhad Moshiri, Parviz Tanavoli, and the late Farida Lashai. Recent purchases include a Nadim Karam sculpture, drawings by Susan Hefuna and Khaled Hafez, and a rare, early Guiragossian oil on canvas.
How has the UAE changed since you became a citizen?
Imagine arriving in a small, quiet fishing village by the sea in an isolated and barren part of the Arabian Peninsula with very little green to soften the full blazing sun and no urban infrastructure. It was a new state trying to create a political and economic presence in a turbulent region. Fast-forward 50 years to see some of the world’s most advanced cities with booming economies and thriving cultural environments. Of course, oil revenue helps fuel modernization, but it can be an equally destructive force. It took a lot of good governance to make this place a cultural haven and a role model for the region.
How does art investment fit into the country’s strategy for modernization?
The UAE has always been fully invested in the development of its people by importing skilled and professional manpower from abroad to prepare the next generation to interact with an expanding global civilization. The current strategy is to nurture growing industrial technologies such as renewable energy, reform education curricula to respond to evolving economies, and create international partnerships. Culture is an integrated part of this process. We work to preserve our heritage while promoting cultural evolutions that build bridges across the world. Culture is the universal language that binds communities together.
What are the plans you most look forward to seeing completed?
I hope to assist at the grand opening of Abu Dhabi’s universal museums. However, it will be up to my children and their children to fully appreciate and benefit from what is going to be, undoubtedly, a qualitative transformation in the cultural and educational visage of the region. These investments are long-term and slow in maturing, but the end product is always worth the initial pain and expense.
This article was published in the July/August 2013 issue of Art+Auction.’