Yet despite immersing herself in art, theprincess has never herself felt compelled to putbrush to canvas, sculpt heavenly bodies or wireup a fiddly multimedia montage.“I’m not an artist at all,” she says. “That’swhy I enjoy being in the art world so much. Ilove to be around creative people. I think beingan artist is about feeling the urge that you mustcreate something and for me I have just neverhad that urge.”She worked in commercial art for morethan three years before quitting to focus on herown collection and on her work with non-profitorganisations.
A summer internship at Goldman Sachs inLondon was enough to persuade Princess Aliaal Senussi that banking was not for her - shewanted something “more out of the box”.But she could not have imagined that herfirst foray into the art world - in which she hadbecome interested while visiting Switzerland’sBasel Art Fair during her student days - wouldsee her dispatched within a week to a remoteEgyptian oasis many hours' drive from thecapital Cairo.Yet the oasis town of Siwa, where theprincess was to work managing famous artistsexhibiting at an eco-resort as part of the SiwaPatrons Project, would also be as close as shehas ever come to the country whose royalfamily she is a member of - Libya. Maroonedamid endless desert sands, Siwa is Egypt’swesternmost oasis and lies about 100km fromthe Libyan border.Princess Alia’s father is a member of theroyal al Senussi family, who were exiled fromLibya in 1969 when General Muammar Gaddafiseized power in a coup and declared himself leader of the Libyan Arab Republic. PrincessAlia’s grandfather, Prince Abdallah al Senussi,was a political leader in the government underKing Idris. He was in Turkey during the coup.Princess Alia herself was born in WashingtonDC to her Libyan father and American mother,spending part of her childhood in Cairo, goingto school in Switzerland and studying in the USbefore moving to London. However, visitingLibya has so far proved impossible.“In exile, one tries to be the best possibleexample of oneself and portray the family in thebest possible light,” says the 26-year-old.A mixed background and her experience of living in the West while also having a MiddleEastern identity has shaped the princess’ tastein art, drawing her to artists such as SusanHefuna, who is of mixed Egyptian and Germanparentage, and Kader Attia, who grew up in afamily of Algerian migrants in the tough Parissuburbs.“I’m drawn to Middle Eastern art becauseof the context of my own life,” she says. “Mostof the artists I admire are Middle Eastern butrarely living there for political, educational orfamily reasons. Through art, they forge theiridentity of being Arab or Iranian but living inthe West.”She has joined the newly-formed TateCommittee for Middle Eastern and NorthAfrican Acquisitions, which was formed lastsummer and whose members scour the worldfor Middle Eastern art to exhibit at the Londongallery. Her other positions include workingwith Art Dubai, an art fair now in its fourthyear and attracting participation from about 30galleries, and Edge of Arabia, which works withSaudi Arabian artists.These two collaborations illustrate boththe challenges many artists in the Middle Eastface and the rapid progress that the region's artindustry is making, she says.Two of Saudi Arabia’s most prominentartists are Abdulnasser Gharem, a major in theSaudi army, and Ahmed Mater, a practisingdoctor. Both have “day jobs” because, like manyMiddle Eastern countries, Saudi Arabia does notyet have an “art infrastructure” of local galleriesand museums with fellowships that help tosupport young artists, Princess Alia says.“The primary concern now is to enable theseartists to immerse themselves in being artistsand foster their talent,” she says. “Censorshipand issues about what you can or cannot do aresomething for the people there to discuss oncethey’ve been able to create an art community.”Further down the Arabian Peninsula inDubai, Art Dubai, along with the arrival of Christie’s auctioneers in the emirate, theSharjah Biennale, Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Islandproject featuring the Louvre and Guggenheimand Qatar’s “awe-inspiring” Museum of IslamicArt are “forging the way” for art in the MiddleEast, according to the princess.“The success of Dubai will be pivotal inthe international side of the Middle Easternart market,” she says. “The Guggenheimand Louvre will also define how artists andnon-governmental agencies participate in thedevelopment of art and culture.”These are exciting times to work in theGulf’s nascent art world, yet that’s not wherePrincess Alia wants to be. Her aim is to involveherself with non-profit groups helping developartists and art education across the Middle Eastand, specifically, Libya.“Libya has not yet fully participated in thisMiddle Eastern art boom,” she says. “I wouldlove to be able to be the one to build that bridge.It’s my dream.”
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