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Reedah El-Saie: redefining modern Islamic art

Reedah El-Saie: redefining modern Islamic art

Founder of the Mica art gallery, Reedah El-Saie has gained renown for her promotion of emerging artistic talent in modern Islamic art. Nestled in Knightsbridge, Mica art gallery showcases outstanding contemporary Islamic art in a variety of forms. Driven by her passion for art, Reedah set up Mica in 2007 and has captivated audiences with a fresh perspective on Islamic art. She is a Trustee of LEAP Confronting Conflict, a member of the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group and MOSAIC’s regional committee amongst many other organisations. Full of warmth and enthusiasm, Reedah is an inspiring example of how following your passion can be a richly rewarding experience.

With qualifications in law and management consulting, Reedah was always fascinated by Islamic art and bravely eschewed the security of a conventional career to follow her passion. She set up a private members club called ArRum in 2001 promoting Islamic art and culture based in Clerkenwell with an art gallery, restaurant, business club and career mentorship.
In 2002, Reedah acquired the art consultancy of prominent art scholar Dale Egee based in Chelsea. “Dale Egee was about to retire and after having a few conversations with her, I thought that the logical thing to do was to take on her business. When I was running ArRum, the art side of the business was the most appealing for me,” says Reedah.
But after getting married Reedah decided to close down ArRrum and take time to think about what she wanted to do. “It took me a long time to find out what I was really passionate about because art isn’t always encouraged,” says Reedah.
After completing a foundation course in Contemporary Art at the Chelsea College of Art, Reedah obtained a diploma from Prince of Wales School of Architecture in the Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts programme . “It was an amazing year and was such a lovely, non-competitive, non-aggressive, very spiritually nurturing environment. I loved that year.” At this point, Reedah was juggling motherhood and her studies at the same time. “I had just one son at that time so I would rush to school, quickly do my work very intensely and come back home in time before he would wake up. It was a mad rush but I absolutely loved it.”
When Reedah was expecting her second child, she knew that she wanted to be involved with Islamic art but in a career which would allow her flexibility to focus on her family, “I wanted to do something but at the same time be free to raise my children,” she says.
Reedah still had a lot of artwork from the Egee Art Consultancy  which she sold via the internet. With the proceeds of the sale, she set up her own website, and was happily surprised at the resounding response she received. She was approached by a leading interior design company for a hotel project in Abu Dhabi. “It was a huge contract for someone like me. At that time I didn’t even have additional staff,” says Reedah.
Determined to showcase Britain’s unexplored artistic talent, Reedah wanted to set up a gallery to showcase emerging art. In a recessionary environment, high rents led to the closure of many shops and galleries so Reedah had to plan her business model carefully. Eventually, Reedah chose a businesses centre located in the heart of Knightsbridge to launch Mica. This would also allow her time with her family since the gallery is not open to the public and does not require her to be present everyday.
“It enabled me to focus on what had done well over the last few years, what had been profitable, what had been popular, where our growth was, what was the most cost-effective way of getting around the recession,” explains Reedah.
Mica has made waves for displaying enigmatic, thought provoking art of new artists, presenting a new context and perspective on Islamic art and design. “The business has grown organically. My husband encouraged me to take the small space, get things going and see what happens,” she says.
Reedah credits her husband for helping her with the financial aspect of running a gallery. “My husband has helped me be very disciplined about financial control. His family are engineers based in Egypt. He was the managing director of a software company and turned around a loss making company into a very profitable company. So to have his advice for free is fantastic.”
Through the galvanizing effect of art, Mica has developed interesting dialogues on urgent issues like interfaith harmony in Britain, culture, identity and in particular, the misperception of Islam. “We are using art to give people a voice and this is helping to counter some of the negative stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding Islam,” says Reedah.

Mica has launched an international competition ‘My Place on the Isle: Exploring Faith & Identity in Britain.’ The winners will be judged by Reedah as well as Roxane Zand Director, Sotheby’s Middle East and Gulf Region and Rebecca Wilson, Head of Development at the Saatchi Gallery, Venetia Porter Assistant Keeper (Curator), Islamic and contemporary Middle East at the British Museum. The closing date is 30th August 2011 and the winners will be announced in October 2011.

“It’s not a purely Islamic project,” Reedah clarifies. “It is about looking at what is it to be British and how that can be explored through art and also bringing different people together – even if there is animosity or hostility – and making them understand one another.”

In the run-up to the competition, Reedah has organised a series of workshops to give emerging artists an opportunity to express themselves through visual form and different mediums. For Reedah this is a deeply rewarding experience, “The process of participating in these workshops is actually more important than anything else because it is about allowing anyone to express themselves through art. You don’t have to be an established artist; if you have something to say you just have to find a way to articulate your vision.”
Through Mica, Reedah is determined to pluck Britain’s artistic talent out of obscurity and into the forefront, “For me it is about nurturing British talent, the kind of talent that wouldn’t be necessarily integrated into mainstream art.” Through her support of new artists, Reedah has gained recognition for creating a new niche within the realm of art. In November 2010, three artists discovered at Mica submitted their works at a Sotheby’s sale in Doha. “Roxane Zand from Sotheby’s has been encouraging and supporting what we are doing because she feels that we are actually creating an entirely new market niche for modern Islamic art. You have the antiquities, you have the traditional Islamic art collectors like David Khalili, but there is no one really focusing on modern Islamic art.”

Reedah firmly believes in the power of modern art to effectively expand the discourse on difficult subjects, “I think that is what is really powerful about art in modern society now. It can be in any form. It deals with so many issues in a very sensitive non-confrontational way.”

Reedah defines Islamic modern art as, “a modern interpretation of traditional Islamic art.” Contemporary art is “inspired by a sense of Islamic heritage or informed by Muslim identity, international foreign policy or the economic climate. All these things must have an element where they are connected to Islam.”

In spite of her success, Reedah’s commitment to her family remains the overarching priority and with three children, she takes advantage of the flexibility afforded by her work. “If a woman chooses to have a family, it is a huge responsibility because these are the children of the future and this is what creates a healthy, functional, harmonious society. So I deliberately chose a business which I could balance with my home.”

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