When it comes to European galleries specialising in modern Islamic and contemporary art, one prominent name comes to mind — Modern Islamic and Contemporary Art (MICA) gallery. Being one of Europe’s first art galleries specialising in Islamic art, it has a unique story behind it and has been founded by a British-Pakistani woman named Reedah El-Saie.
Within a short span of time, El-Saie had celebrities, young art collectors and corporate clients including leading British-Pakistani businessmen as part of her clientele.
El-Saie, married to an Egyptian and living in London, started her career off the ‘right way’ i.e. by following her elder sister’s footsteps. She studied law at The London School of Economics (LSE) before qualifying as a barrister. However, she soon realised that this wasn’t the route she wished to pursue. “Law just wasn’t for me, I have always been a creative person,” she said.
With this thought in mind, El-Saie launched her first business ArRum — a private members club promoting contemporary Islamic art and culture — in her late twenties. With that she managed to build a network of high-end clients and friends who were interested in collecting and learning about contemporary Islamic art and artists.
With a client base in place, El-Saie launched MICA in 2007, while operating from her private residence in Chelsea. With a baby on the way, and her two young sons at home, she multitasked between changing nappies and experimenting with a gallery space in one of the most prominent areas of London, South Kensington, at the height of recession. One of the reasons for taking on such an experiment was so that she could inculcate the same cultural, spiritual and moral qualities as her parents instilled in her. She wanted them to appreciate the vibrancy and beauty of Pakistani culture without dismissing other cultures and faith.
When asked what conflicts she has had with her identity as a Pakistani, Reedah feels that more could be done to tackle issues of politics and corruption in Pakistan and is hopeful that things will change for the better. She said, “If enough educated Pakistanis went back to Pakistan, they could contribute and bring a change to a young country that has so much potential.”
Uncovering British-Pakistani artists
Moreover, MICA gallery has inadvertently uncovered and promoted a new movement simmering under the art scene — the British-Pakistani diaspora of artists who hadn’t previously received the attention they deserved. By helping them break into art circles, they have found a platform and a place to express their inner conflicts through art. Female artists of Pakistani origin like Nurjan, Khaver Idrees, Maaida Noor and Shafaq Ahmed have been able to reveal their thoughts and talent through their unique art pieces. For instance, 23-year old Nurjan has emerged as one of London’s freshest and brightest creative stars, known for her use of Swarovski crystals in her work.
However, this doesn’t mean that MICA gallery specifically caters to only one race of artists but rather a platform for artists who have been influenced by the Islamic world art/culture and heritage which is why work by Arab, African and European artists is also featured.
Exhibitions and competitions
El-Saie has curated various exhibitions in London and collaborated with Sothebys and Bonhams auction houses and played a part in the London Mayor’s Arab Art Festival. As a prelude to the Olympics, she is organising an international art competition, “My Place on the Isle: Exploring Faith and Identity”. The competition aims to explore the relationship with Britain and the rest of the world with spotlight on the British Isles during the Olympics.
El-Saie wishes to visit Pakistan as often as possible and partner with artists from her homeland. She is keen on cross-fertilising creative talent while addressing and reflecting upon the serious issues affecting Pakistan but also wants to celebrate the vitality and beauty of Pakistan and cherish the talent produced from all walks of life.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2012.