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JustHere | May 27, 2017

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Qatar: An art capital, without any capital resource

Qatar: An art capital, without any capital resource

Qatar Museums Authority’s buying power outweighs every other museum in the world.  No mean feat.  With an estimated annual spend of close to a billion dollars on art, it’s no surprise either. It’s important to assess what this distinction has accomplished for the local art scene and artists.

As a painting & printmaking student in my final year at VCU-Q, it is strange to feel like I’m living in two very dichotomous realities — one in which vast amounts of money is invested in artwork that’s primarily Western in focus, but similar patronage is not extended to local and regional artists.

Which begs the question, how is Qatar supposedly cultivating an awareness for contemporary art through these efforts when local artists are not encouraged and art education is being scrapped from the school curriculum?

How is the display of arguably ostentatious Western artwork in public beneficial to the growth of artists in and from Qatar or even art awareness when it has no resonance whatsoever on the people or the environment? How can decisions to display artworks in public spaces that have the potential to deeply offend religious and cultural sensibilities be made without consideration to the very audience it is meant for?

“Is there freedom of expression in art in Qatar or is it just about buying freedom of expression from other cultures outside of it?”

Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed’s Coup de Tete (which has since been removed from the Corniche, with no public explanation) is but one glaring example that caused public furor. The piece was widely perceived to glorify violence and immortalise what many view as a despicable moment in the history of sports, whilst also antagonising religious sensibilities. Even more mindboggling, and personally infuriating (for someone like me who is one of the founders of QAWS), is the exhibition currently in place at Mathaf, which showcases a series of video loops displaying acts of heinous animal cruelty by the same artist. The exhibition has caused such outrage and disgust amongst both expats and Qataris alike that it has propelled them to create an online petition signed by thousands of individuals from all over the world against this. No apology has been issued or effort made to resolve this issue.

These are some of the issues I discuss with a few Qatari friends in the art sector.

Well-known Qatari artist Khalifa Al-Obaidli (of the Tagged series fame) and emerging Qatari artist Jameela Al-Ansari both welcome investments in these artworks. But, as Khalifa points out, cultural context needs to be taken into account. “Am I to be reminded of the shameful moment in sporting history, by a player of Arab origin, every time I go to the Corniche?”

What about us?

Khalifa raises another pertinent point. There are no investment has been made in facilities and studios to encourage young artists. “For example, we have no printing presses to enlarge photographs in large sizes and high quality for display at exhibitions or museums; we have no casting studios to work on metal sculptures. Nor is there a clear programme for the development of local artists.”

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  1. Truth lover

    Khalifa and the rest know well how things are done around here. He was around when the former NCCAH chairman paved the way. We have to go global at the next generation expense. It is basically the rule of the land !

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