Art in Qatar: New museums and exhibitions highlight the region’s rich history

The arrival of the 2022 World Cup has prompted a whole new arts and culture agenda for Qatar, with museums being built and exhibitions opening across the country.

Everything is placed under the Qatar Creates banner, which clearly reflects the country’s intention: to strengthen its role as a cultural hub in the region.

While all eyes are on Qatar during the World Cup, the Gulf state also wants to share the spotlight with countries in the MENASA region, which includes the Middle East, North Africa and South Africa.

Mathaf: a new look at modern and contemporary Arabic art

We’re in the midst of the FIFA World Cup, and one of the non-football attractions for many visitors is the new exhibits at the Mathaf Museum. Located a short distance from the Education City stadium, this Arab contemporary art museum recently introduced four contemporary exhibits.

Palestinian artist Taysir Batniji’s exhibition ‘No Condition Is Permanent’ is dedicated to his 25-year career, heavily influenced by his own struggles and personal experiences.

“When you look at it from a distance, you only see white paper. But when you get closer, you can see hand-drawn figures, people, paintings, carvings. Actually, it’s my brother’s wedding photos.” Taysir Batniji explains.

The Palestinian artist says he was deeply affected by his brother’s death in 1987, at the start of the first Intifada demonstrations in the West Bank and just two years after his marriage.

“This concept of disappearance has deeply marked my work, as have other concepts such as displacement, identity and memory, because all these concepts are drawn from my life experience as a Palestinian. So, I think that you, like all artists in the world, have your ‘inspiration’ or your work, trying to integrate into the context you live or encounter,” assures the Palestinian artist who puts a part of his life into his works.

“He used very poetic setups that tried to explain the absurdity of the situation for someone like him who was constantly trying to return to Palestine without success.” Zeina Arida, director of the Mathaf museum, explains.

Respect the “invisible work”.

Through these four different new exhibitions, the idea is above all to show that there is not just one Arab voice or perspective.

So, Sofia Al-Maria’s journey to her first exhibition at the Mathaf Museum is very interesting. The American Qatari artist worked at this museum in 2007-2011 and returns there as an exhibition curator.

“Working in an institution where I don’t consider myself an artist and no one sees me as an artist is completely surreal. To return to this institution after more than ten years with an exhibition is a dream,” Sofia Al-Maria says.

“Unseen Works, Dream Therapy” is Al-Maria’s first solo exhibition in a museum in the Middle East. The artist wants to emphasize the main work of “invisible” people

“With this exhibition, I want to highlight the work that is not often seen behind the artistic creativity, but also in hotels or in the various municipal projects that are constantly developing in all the cities of the world”, said Sofia Al-Maria.

Union of Arts

The third exhibition is called “Tiger or else”, where curators Tom Eccles and Mark Rappolt managed to connect historical objects with contemporary art.

This project is part of Mathaf’s new initiative called Rubaiyat Qatar: from 2024, the country will transform itself into a true center of contemporary Arab art every four years. This initiative is part of Qatar Museums’ Years of Culture.

“The main goal is to introduce Qatar to the world and bring the world to Qatar. For this, we build cultural bridges. Whether it is fashion, art, gastronomy, cinema, literature or science, we unite around the pillars of culture.”, Aljazi Al Khayareen, coordinator of the Years of Culture initiative, says.

On the other side of the museum, Majaz Gallery celebrates the work of artists from Qatar and the region who have participated in Doha Fire Station’s Artist in Residence program for the past five years.

The traditional art of Indian and Pakistani truck decoration is represented here by paintings on the walls of buildings in the Al Mansoura district.

“I think Pakistanis really show off their trucks by decorating them for a few weeks. Whereas in India, trucks are decorated faster. Pakistani art is extremely detailed, Indian style is a little more graphic, a little more vibrant, but still very beautiful.”, Farid Bawa, founder of All India Permit, says.

Lusail Museum

There are not only exhibitions to discover in Qatar this year. Museums across the country also introduced a host of new art content, including more than 200 artifacts from the upcoming Lusail Museum.

From ideas for architectural design to rare historical artifacts, the “Tales of a Connected World” exhibition is just a glimpse into the vision of the future Lusail Museum.

“The main collection of the museum begins with a gallery about the discovery of Orientalism, as it is composed of Orientalist art by 19th-century European artists who traveled to the East.” Kholood Al Fahad, curator of the Lusail museum, explains

The exhibition features several works from the Lusail collection inspired by themes of movement, identity and exchange.

There are sculptures, paintings and even props from 20th century films such as the 1972 feature film Antony and Cleopatra.

Although the construction of the Lusail museum is scheduled to begin in 2023, this exhibition has the merit of taking the visitor on a journey from the archaeological remains of the original site to the models of the new museum.

The art of “baking”.

Another museum under construction is the Art Mill, which also has a preview exhibition.

The Art Mill Museum exhibition is held in two separate locations: Al Najada Heritage House and Qatar’s Old Flour Mills.

Windmills are an important part of local culture and they are really on display here.

In this exhibition, you can hear the sound of rotating machines and watch baking videos. And these bags filled with flour are already part of the decor. Seven artists were commissioned to display the works that will one day take their final place here.

Museum of Islamic Art: a must

While the focus is on upcoming museums, the country’s most famous art venue, the Museum of Islamic Art, has been transformed with a more ambitious approach.

The aim is to link the different currents of Islamic history and to contextualize the themes addressed in each gallery.

“We were closed for 18 months to change a lot of elements. So we changed the museography of the galleries. We introduced a new visit route, introduced backstories and tried to build a tour around it … visitors really got to experience Middle Eastern art, culture and learn about the history of Julia Gonnella, director of the Museum of Islamic Art, explained.

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