Champion of Arab art with a message

Mr Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, 35, is never without a cellphone charger in hand.

The founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, who lives in Sharjah, is a well-known commentator on Arab affairs and widely recognised for his use of Twitter to share news about the Middle East.

In 2011, his live tweets on significant events and uprisings in the Arab world led Time magazine to name his Twitter feed as one of the top 140 feeds of the year that shaped conversations online.

You meet him at the Singapore Art Museum ahead of the opening for Terms & Conditions last Friday and he explains, as if reading your mind when you spot a cellphone charger in his hand, that he plugs it into a socket whenever he finds one because he is always using his cellphone.

But he does not just write 140 characters at a time.

He is also a columnist for the Huffington Post and his writings on the social, political and economic issues of the Middle East have appeared in publications such as The New York Times and The Guardian.

"I write about the politics of the Arab world and I write in English to bridge this communication gap with the rest of the world," he says.

"But the communication gap, I felt, could also be bridged through contemporary art."

Mr Al-Qassemi, a member of the Sharjah royal family, did not, however, begin collecting art in his mid-20s with the intention of starting an art foundation.

Initially, he would share pictures of artworks he bought on social media sites such as Facebook and those posts always drew strong interest and curiosity.

"People would ask me questions such as 'When can I see this?' or 'Where can I see this?'" he says. "Sharing it led me to realise there was so much interest in the Arab world."

So he started the foundation in 2010 to exhibit his personal collection of art by artists with roots in the Arab world, which numbers more than 200 pieces.

The foundation also hosts forums and public programmes on Arab contemporary art. Today, it has more than 600 works of art.

Mr Al-Qassemi, who is single, says: "We're trying to have a collection that is very tight, slick, fresh and reflective of the Arab world."

And he looks for more than just pleasing aesthetics when adding works to the foundation's collection.

He says: "Art for art's sake does not intrigue me as art for the sake of a message. "There has to be an underlying message."

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