Introducing Safia Al-Rashid
Throughout its history Monaco’s position has made it a great melting pot of cultural and artistic movements, attracting connoisseurs and practitioners in equal numbers. And for the woman who best exemplifies that exotic blend one need look no further than Safia Al-Rashid. We went along to her gallery, SEM-ART, to ask her about her interests and thoughts on the current scene in the contemporary art market.
Of Algerian parentage but born and raised in the beautiful Flemish city of Bruges; married to Saudi businessman Nassir Al-Rashid and living in Monaco since 1996, it’s not surprising that Safia has been strongly shaped by the cultural movements of both her European and Arabic heritage. “I would say that such a background only makes me closer to feeling like a citizen of the world. My multicultural origins make it a smaller and more convenient step to understand the artists whom I work with. I regularly mount shows which concentrate on the art of individual countries – Belgium, Russia, Greece, and so on”.
Belgium is well known for its old masters from Bruegel to Rubens, as well as for modern pioneers such as Rene Magritte. But Safia’s interest is in much more contemporary art. What’s the marketplace like for that? “Belgium has a big art scene and has always had”, she smiles. “And it will no doubt continue. When I look at the new generation I don’t worry at all that Belgium may disappear from the art map any time soon.” And Russia? “Look at the twentieth century greats such as Maleevich – a huge inspiration to the current generation of young artists throughout the world. I can only say that Russia will take an even bigger place in the near future, for sure. It’s been hugely pleasurable to work with Russian artists for my next exhibition.”
Safia’s gallery is a superb ‘white space’ centrally located in Monte Carlo. Having been an avid collector for some time – her first purchase was a piece by Israeli designer Ron Arad – it was a logical extension to Safia’s interests to start up her own gallery. SEM-ART opened its doors in June after a lot of patience and perseverance. “For me design was my first passion in the art world. how I started to cultivate my taste for art. But having the luck to own a big gallery in Monaco I now have the freedom to show all manner of art from photography to painting and sculpture.”
She sees SEM-ART as a natural and important complement to other projects which are increasingly making Monaco the envy of the art world:
“As you know we have two new museums in Monaco – the Villa Sauber and the Villa Paloma, both under the artistic direction of the highly reputed Marie-Claude Beaud, who chose to open the New Monaco Museum with the spectacularly popular Yinka Shonibare exhibition. And of course the Oceanographic Museum chose to celebrate their centenary with Damien Hirst and have followed up with installations by Huan Young Ping and Mark Dion.”
It’s clear from talking to her that for Safia there’s no difference between these big public shows and private collecting. They are all part of a continuum, using the market to promote and grow new talent. And it’s never too soon to start. We asked her what was the secret to starting a collection. “My best advice would be to love the piece you buy since sentimental value never fades. I know the art world is becoming more and more of a business world but just go with your ‘coup de coeur’. That’s the beauty of working with young artists for me: I can introduce them to young collectors and see that both parties are happy.”
It’s no surprise that this energetic mum and art lover recently appeared in the pages of an illustrated book entitled simply ‘Women of Monaco’. Safia Al-Rashid may be a comparative newcomer, but she’s clearly developed a strong affinity with the area in the last fifteen years, helping with children’s charities in particular. “I feel every child should have the chance to wake up with a smile. Monaco is a safe place and even more so with all the horrible things going on around us – so for me it’s the perfect place to raise my kids and have my gallery.”