The Travelling Collector

Kourosh Mahboubian Fine Art
Aug 8, 2018 3:01AM

We humans are migratory animals. Like geese, we have a seasonal instinct to get up and go somewhere. Whether we are going for work, leisure or to visit family, travel presents us with dreams of adventure and promises of good fortune. We look forward to each sojourn, and once it is over, we hold on to souvenirs of our travels– literally memories – that we incorporate into our daily lives.

I have spent much of my life travelling, collecting souvenirs and sharing stories, so for this summertime article it seems fitting to share stories about some of those souvenirs. Each of the six photographs here, together with its caption, gives you a brief glimpse into a moment in a place that was not home. Collected on six continents, these pieces are either my own or are from one of our family collections. Big or small, they all have played a role in my life. They also play an integral part in filling a beautiful home with a rich, wonderful art collection. I hope they will inspire you to collect on your own travels.

A 10th C. Thai Buddha next to a contemporary sculpture by Trevor Oakes, on an Italian antique marble table.

Asia –One of my earliest memories is of a trip I took through Asia, with my parents in 1967. I was two years old. I particularly remember buying bananas from a man on a small boat in Bangkok’s floating market. That was the day, a stranger accidentally burned my cheek with a cigarette and my father bought this 10th C. bronze Buddha from a Thai antique dealer. Now I keep the Buddha near my desk. It exudes a peaceful aura and goes well with contemporary art.

A fragment of a damaged 19th or early 20th C. painting, reframed as a complete image

Europe –

In the late 1960’s my wife, Sara, was still a baby when she traveled to Portugal for a family vacation. Her mother, who had an excellent eye for finding hidden treasures, purchased this fragment of a larger damaged painting from a pushcart peddler in Sintra for the equivalent of a dollar. Then she had it framed as a smaller painting. Sara grew up with this piece. It gives us a window into the soul of my late mother-in-law, whom I never had the chance to meet.

A curio corner filled mostly with old souvenirs of African travels

Africa –

This cabinet built by Sara’s great uncle Leo anchors a mostly African curio corner. The main display is a medicine man’s tool kit. Together with the adjacent ceremonial spears, axe and good luck statue, most of the curios were acquired by friends and family members during trips to western and southern Africa. The turtle came from an antique shop in Florida.

A large mask worn during a spiritual fire dance in Papua New Guinea and subsequently purchased by the authot

Oceania –

I did a lot of expeditionary traveling in my 20’s and 30’s. One night in 1994, I found myself at a mining camp on top of a mountain in a remote part of Papua New Guinea watching local villagers perform a spiritual fire dance ritual. The men built an enormous bonfire and danced naked in it, protected only by bundles of grass and large masks made of bamboo covered in pandanus fibers colored with natural dyes. After the dance, in a moment of great excitement our team managed to exchange cash and a great deal of beer for some of the masks.

A sculpture of a Polar Bear hunting a Caribou, carved out of a massive piece of bone by the Inuit Sculptor Looty Pijamini

North America –

My souvenir story for the North American continent comes from Grise Fiord, the northernmost real, year-round community in the world. It was there, during another 1994 expedition, that I met the Inuit sculptor Looty Pijamini and visited his workshop. This depiction of a polar bear hunting a caribou, carved out of a massive piece of bone, was much to my liking. It turned out to be the only piece available for sale so I rushed to buy it. I paid around a couple of hundred Canadian dollars for it.

A Perspex revolving door sculpted with optical bubbles, by the renowned Argentinian pop artist Rogelio Polesello

South America –

In 2006, Sara and I were in Buenos Aires for our honeymoon when we spotted a magnificent red architectural element in the window of an antique shop. We weren’t sure what it was but decided that one way or the other we had to have it, so we set ourselves a price limit and walked in. It turns out that the red Perspex revolving door panel with optical bubbles carved into it was within our budget. It also turned out to be a masterpiece by the preeminent Argentinean Pop artist Rogelio Polesello. Shipping it home was a challenge but we treasure this piece.

I wish you exciting summer adventures and, as usual, if you have questions or comments or need advice, I would love to hear from you. Please do not hesitate to contact me through or through our website

Kourosh Mahboubian Fine Art