If the newspapermen of old could see Sheikha Lulu Al-Sabah today in her role as founder of art consultancy firm JAMM, they would jam the keys of their typewriters.
It was these stuffy hacks that stirred something in Sheikha Lulu as she researched stories as a reporter early in her career.
She found, reading through old newspaper cuttings, that women in art were referred to as sweet, dainty things, a far cry from their role in today’s art world.
Since then she has worked for Christie’s and Phillips de Pury as an art consultant before starting her own venture.
Born in New York and growing up in Kuwait as a member of the Royal family, her father is the first son of the former Emir Mubarak Jaber Al Sabah, Sheikha Lulu was surrounded by art from an early age. However, at the age of 12 she was forced to move with her family at the outbreak of the Gulf War, living in France and Switzerland.
Graduating with degrees in history from the American University of Paris and Birkbeck College London, Sheikha Lulu’s first job was as a reporter at the International Herald Tribune’s London offices.
“I was know as the ‘Girl Friday’, as I was doing all the odd jobs,” says the 31-year-old.
“Then I became the assistant to the features editor before moving to the finance section.
“I was also studying my masters and it was not very long before I started to focus on the Bloomsbury Group and the politics of discrimination in early modern art.
“By looking at newspaper clippings I saw how they described women as dainty and sweet. The voice used was so derogatory. It was those times when women were not seen as independent.”
Sheikha Lulu then got a break working for the Eastern Art Report in 2004 that would change the course of her career. “I authored a special report on art and artists in Kuwait and that was a real eye-opener,” she says.
“It changed my life. It was then that I realised I wanted to expose art in the region to the world.”
Sheikha Lulu realised there were some great contemporary artists who were not represented in Kuwait and internationally and it made her think about how different this was from their western counterparts.
Her mother, Paula Al Sabah, has one of the most well known contemporary art collections in the region and she began to work towards promoting artists in the Middle East.
Drawing inspiration from her mother and her aunt and uncle, Sheikha Hussah Al Sabbah and Aheikh Nasser Al Sabbah, who have one of the region’s most comprehensive Islamic art collections, she carried on her interest. “You see I come from a family of art patrons, which has definitely been an advantage for me,” she says. “The disadvantages are that you have to go that extra mile to prove yourself.”
And this is exactly what was required when Sheikha Lulu joined Christie’s in 2007 as an art consultant in Dubai. “This really raised my awareness and knowledge about art,” she says. “Buy this point I was very committed to the Middle East art scene and contributing to its growth.”
In 2008 she joined Phillips de Pury as Middle East director and managed a parallel exhibition to the Saatchi Gallery’s Unveiled exhibition. “It was the first show on Middle East contemporary art and we had our own room in the Saatchi Gallery,” she says. “I had my exhibition section focusing on Arab and Iranian masters. In fact this happened three weeks after my first child.
“It was a great experience and an incredible opportunity to meet Middle Eastern collectors in London.”
Phillips de Pury had set up an office in DIFC but following the recession began to focus on London and New York. “I felt like this was a great opportunity for me to go it on my own,” she says. “I knew enough people and have the drive.”
Sheikha Lulu and her partner, Lydia Limerick, the former head of Christie’s Middle East, launched JAMM, a comprehensive art management and consultancy service, in 2009. “It’s not just about bringing Middle East to the west but also western artists to the east,” Sheikha Lulu says.
“JAMM is a vessel for cultural diplomacy and exchange. We try to break down stereotypes.”
JAMM held Kuwait’s first contemporary- art auction in February, with 55 pieces from across the Middle East going under the hammer and 30 per cent of the profits going to charity.
The ambitious Sheikha Lulu says, without a touch of daintiness or sweetness, she now wants to hold two exhibitions a year across the globe and give her clients the very best the Middle East has to offer.