Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani, the mega art-collecting couple based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, have recently opened the doors to their gallery-like luxury residence, to international luxury lifestyle platform Robb Report. Design Limited Edition is now embarking in this journey o showcase this luxury residence‘s exquisite art furniture, limited edition pieces, and overall grandeur.
The artworks featured in this opulent home epitomize many of the Samdanis’ collecting habits: They are by rising stars the collectors know personally, are acquired on the globe-trotting couple’s travels like souvenirs and, while not lacking conceptual rigour, have a touch of whimsy. The couple’s devotion to their art is so fervid that it takes precedence over their luxury residence’s architecture.
“We will build or knock down a wall to accommodate another work,” Nadia says. “We’ve acquired the art and then built the right space for it, not vice versa.”
The Samdanis named their house Golpo, Bengali for “story” or “fairy tale.” The luxury residence, which stands in an affluent neighbourhood of embassies, international hotels and luxury shopping, does justice to both definitions, telling of the couple’s passion for collecting. Designed in collaboration with Brain Train Studio, a subsidiary of their Golden Harvest business conglomerate, and completed in 2012, Golpo is a hybrid of a home and a museum, manifesting the couple’s desire to live immersed in art from the ground floor on up.
The Samdanis rotate the art on display at the luxury residence every 18 months. “You don’t want art to sit in a warehouse,” Nadia says. But it’s not a simple process. “It takes almost three months to figure out, looking through the archive and deciding where to place it.”
The Samdanis’ engagement with international institutions has focused heavily on connecting Western audiences to the art of the couple’s part of the world. At the Tate, for instance, Rajeeb cofounded (and Nadia joined) the South Asian Acquisitions Committee to support acquisitions and loans of artworks from the region, and they have recently donated Choudhury tapestries to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tate. A bridge between East and West is visible in Golpo as well. Works by Western and Eastern artists hang alongside each other, and at times an artist of one culture deals with the other directly, such as Pawel Althamer’s duo of skeleton-like human figures, Safik and Nahid, named after two Bangladeshis, which were exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2013. The Polish artist, a close friend of the couple’s, also gifted Rajeeb his favourite artwork in their collection, a painting Althamer created in collaboration with the couple’s three daughters for their father’s birthday a few years back. Raising children in an art-filled home was less of a challenge than they expected, Nadia says, noting their daughters grew up knowing to touch with their eyes, not their hands.
Nadia caught the collecting bug from her parents, though the art of her own childhood was a far cry from a sound installation or an interactive sculpture. After she married Rajeeb, who owned a painting by well-known Bangladeshi artist Zainul Abedin but did not consider himself a collector, the two began a transition toward contemporary art, one she describes as “an organic learning process through reading and travelling.” At first, they still felt comfortable with South Asian art. They bought paintings by Indian modernists, such as M. F. Husain and F. N. Souza, and then came a Rembrandt etching, currently hanging in their bedroom, followed by Picasso drawings and Salvador Dalí sculptures. But then, as they travelled more widely and began frequenting fairs and galleries, Nadia found herself drawn to living artists making art in our own era.
Well immersed in the international art world, they have amassed works by a who’s who of contemporary artists over the past decade, with a fine balance between South Asian and global names, primarily from Asia and Europe. In the process, the Samdanis have made a name for themselves as prominent collectors—appearing on ARTnews’s Top 200 Collectors list—and as philanthropists, founding the Samdani Art Foundation and the Dhaka Art Summit.
The collection is a testimony to acquiring purely from a personal connection with a work, which mainly stems from friendships they’ve cultivated with artists. The luxury residence’s most controversial piece, arguably, is Lost and Found, Pakistani artist Huma Mulji’s haunting human figure made out of buffalo hide. Originally in the entry gallery, it was moved to a more discreet location, reportedly upon requests from staff who were troubled by the sculpture’s eerie expression and decayed skin.
The couple started their foundation in 2011 to foster the visibility of Bangladeshi artists in and outside the country, and the following year launched the Dhaka Art Summit, a biannual intensive art and architecture extravaganza, which wrapped its fifth instalment, Seismic Movements, in mid-February.
After 16 years of collecting, the couple says they still search for acquisitions the way they did the first day, based on an initial reaction to an artwork, regardless of whether it’s by an artist they’ve known and collected for years or a new discovery they cannot wait to learn about. They do not roam art fairs or galleries with a wish list. “Every time we go to Frieze or Art Basel, we say, ‘No shopping this time,’” Nadia says, adding with a laugh, “but that never happens.”