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City art : All eyes on Doha

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As the controversial World Cup draws all the attention to Qatar, the Emirate seeks to offer a broader experience to the visitors through art. Lead by Qatar Museums, an institution founded in 2005 by the former Emir Hamad ben Khalifa Al Thani, and supported by the best and brightest international curators and architects in the world, the cultural projects carried in Doha are a testimony to the remarkable ambition of the country to become the new hub of contemporary art. Special guest, Diptyk visited Doha last october. Report.

Nevertheless, behind the bankable names of I. M. Pei who designed the Museum of Islamic Art and Jean Nouvel who is responsible for the impressive desert rose architecture of the National Museum, lie more sensitive stories and couter narratives. Besides the permanent exhibition that showcases rare religious manuscripts, jewels and artefacts from Muslim cultures across the world, the MIA offers a temporary exhibition dedicated to the city of Baghdad and its outstanding literary, architectural, and cultural heritage, beyond the war zone clichés. The « On the move » exhibition at the NMoQ explores the contributions and resilience of three nomadic tribes in Central Sahara, Qatar and Mongolia. If the « Labour of love » proposition on Palestinian embroidery is rather conventional and safe, Taysir Batniji’s solo show at the Mathaf shows a compelling openness to difficult conversations in a troubled region.

Homage to Baghdad Dia Azzawi (b. 1939) Signed “AL-AZZAWI” England, London 1982 Screenprint in colours on wove paper in ten parts Collection of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha MAT.2007.1.3237.4 Required image credit: © 1982 Dia Azzawi

Two major new museums project also highlight the fast-paced development of a long-term vision. As Pritzker Prize-Winning Architect Jacques Herzog is working on the Lusail Museum that will host a world-class collection of Orientalist art acquired by Qatar Museums, a small-scale preview is available at the Al Riwaq gallery, right across the MIA. A way to revisit our understanding of the movement that shaped the image of the Arab world through photography, paintings, movies and props. Another major ongoing project is the Art Mill. Due to open in 2030, it is an industrial site that will be slowly converted into a nine hectares cultural site with over twenty-thousand square meters of exhibition space for contemporary art.

Art Mill Museum 2030. Courtesy of Qatar Museums

On the other hand, some delicate and interactive stories invite us to reflect on our interconnection as human beings, starting with Pipilotti Rist’s multisensory and introspective experience « Your Brain to Me, My Brain to You », or Lebanese artist Najla El Zein’s « Us Him Her », a public art installation of giant hand-sculpted intertwined limestones. As a matter of fact, public art is everywhere and intends to engage with the people in an informal way. Doha’s landscape is casually marked by giant sculptures of Damian Hirst, Louise Bourgeois, or César, and more recently, Jeff Koons’ 21 meters high eye-catching Dugong is throning on the corniche. From Urs Fischer’s Lamp Bear at the Hamad International Airport to monumental installations by Olafur Eliason or Richard Serra all the way in the desert, contemporary art has definitely found its place in the capital of Qatar and is here to stay.

Chama Tahiri

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