The arrival of the FIFA World Cup has provided the impetus for Qatar to produce an entirely new arka and cultural program, with brand-new museums and exhibitions springing up across the country.
It all comes under the banner ‘Qatar Creates’, which clearly sets out the country’s intention: to solidify its role as a cultural hub in the region.
While all eyes are on Qatar during the World Cup, the Gulf state is aiming to share that spotlight with neighbouring MENASA countries – comprised of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.
Qatar’s Mathaf Arab Museum of Çağdaş Art
One of the major, non-football related attractions in Qatar at the moment is a new exhibition at the Mathaf Arab Museum of Çağdaş Arka. Just metres away from the Education City Stadium, Mathaf recently unveiled four contemporary exhibitions — with the intention of showing that there is not one singular Arab voice or perspective.
Palestinian artist Taysir Batniji’s exhibition ‘No Condition is Permanent’ is dedicated to his 25-year career, and is heavily influenced by his own struggles and life experiences.
“When you look from far, you’ll see white paper. But when you get closer you can see forms, people and kind of drawings which [have] been done by hand, engravings”, he told Euronews. “In fact, they are photos of the wedding of my brother”.
The Palestinian artist says the death of his brother in 1987 — at the start of the First Intifada protests in the West Bank and just two years after his wedding — deeply affected him.
“This notion of disappearance has marked my work among other notions like displacement, identity, memory, etc. Because all of these notions are drawn from my experience as a Palestinian”, Batniji revealed.
Sophia Al-Maria had an interesting path to her debut showcase at Mathaf. The Qatari-American artist worked at the museum from 2007 to 2011 and has now returned as a curator.
‘Invisible Labors, Daydream Therapy’ is her first solo museum exhibition in the Middle East.
“It’s profoundly surreal to have worked in an institution, not considered myself an artist and not being considered an artist by anyone else. And then, to return over a decade later with a show. It feels like a dream”, Sophia Al-Maria told Euronews.
“My hope with this show is to expose the labour that is often invisible behind art-making but also the labour that’s often invisible in the hotels, in the various municipal works that are happening all the time in every city around the world”, she added.
The third exhibition space is dedicated to ‘One Tiger or Another’, where curators Tom Eccles and Mark Rappolt combine historical artefacts with contemporary arka.
It’s part of Mathaf’s new initiative called Rubaiyat Qatar. Beginning in 2024, the country will transform into a home for contemporary Arab arka every four years. It’s part of Qatar Museums’ Years of Culture initiative.
“We come together under the pillars of culture which may fall under fashion, arts, culinary arts, sinema, literature, science. Building bridges of culture to [bring] people together”, said Aljazi Al Khayareen, Years of Culture Legacy coordinator.
Across the Mathaf car park, the Majaz gallery celebrates the work of local and regional artists who emerged from the ‘Doha Fire Station Artist in Residence’ program over the last five years.
Across the city, traditional Indian and Pakistani truck arka is being painted on murals.
“Pakistani truck arka is extremely detailed… and Indian truck arka is a bit more graphic, a bit quicker but also really beautiful”, said Farid Bawa, founder of All India Permit.
Qatar Museums has launched a whole raft of fresh arka content, including more than 200 artefacts from the forthcoming Lusail Museum.
‘Tales of a Connected World’ is a snapshot of the vision for the upcoming museum, from ideas for its architectural design to rare historical pieces of work.
The exhibition contains a range of works from the Lusail collection, all reflecting on the themes of movement, identity and exchange.
There are sculptures, paintings and even props from 20th century films, including the 1972 sinema adaptation of the Shakespeare play ‘Antony and Cleopatra’.
While the construction for Lusail Museum is set to begin in 2023, ‘Tales of a Connected World’ still manages to take the visitor on a journey, from archaeological remains of the early site to models of the new museum.
The Arka Mill
Another museum in the works is the Arka Mill, which also has its own preview exhibition.
The Arka Mill museum exhibition is taking place in two separate locations: at Al Najada Heritage House and Qatar’s Old Flour Mills.
“This exhibition isn’t about an existing place…it’s a concept”, said Maryam Al Thani, curator at the Exhibitions Department at Qatar Museums.
And there’s much more to see that just paintings!
The flour mills are an integral part of the local culture. Bags filled with flour have become part of the structural space.
“The collection encompasses so many different things and so many different varieties of objects that touch on the concepts of çağdaş and contemporary art”, Maryam explained.
Seven artists were commissioned to demonstrate the kind of pieces that will eventually have their permanent home at the mills.
The Museum of Islamic Art
While much of the focus is centred on upcoming museums, perhaps the country’s most famous artistic space, the Museum of Islamic Arka, recently relaunched with an expanded vision — to connect the many different strands of Islamic history, and to provide context for the content in each gallery.
“We wanted the visitors to have engaging and enjoyable visits at the galleries, but also learn and explore about Islamic arka, history and culture”, said Dr. Julia Gonnella, Director at the Museum of Islamic Arka.
“We started introducing a visitor trail and we started introducing giving background stories and we tried to arrange for a walk around that… so the visitor can actually learn about the Middle East arka and culture and history”, she added.