Qatari Artist …/… Artist from Qatar
Qatar today can be regarded as a ‘melting pot community’ consisting of people from diverse backgrounds, or at least that is my personal perspective. It is an ever growing and expanding population of expatriates, where the local population makes up a small percentage of the overall community. Over the past three years, my research has consisted of documenting and studying Qatari artists. My research involves exploring and understanding the art scene in Qatar, both as an artist and a curator. In principle art is liberating, however, this period has also shown me how art within the notion of nationality can in fact be restrained and contained within a defined framework.
What is Qatari Art, exactly? Qatar is a small country, Qatari nationals make up approximately ten percent of the total population, Qatari artists make up an even smaller portion of that small segment of society. Throughout my working history, I have wondered how nationality ties into art. This experience also made me question how nationality comes before the word ‘art’. Can’t an artist simply be labeled ‘from’ a certain nationality instead? Whilst working in Qatar Museums, I have had opportunities to co-curate exhibitions, mainly segments that consist of Qatar made by Qatari Artists. Here There, an exhibition that opened in December 2014, is a showcase of works from both Qatar and Brazil as part of an initiative titled the Years of Culture, organized by Qatar Museums. Like many of the artists I research, I am an artist first. I was born here, many of us were, but some weren’t. A question I keep asking myself is, what is the notion of ‘Qatari Art’; does it have to focus on specific subjects, created with certain techniques? Does it document who we are today, or is it a representation of a platitude of things we associate Qatar with? Should Qatari Art be oriental, or ornamental?
To take that outside of what it is, this so-called ‘box’ we restrict ourselves within thinking that in order to be somebody related to somewhere, that would mean we have to conform to what should define us as humans as opposed to just being. With the new-generation of artists, a lot of the topics they cover refer to themes from nostalgia, to the changes occurring via the restructuring of the entire nation toward something new. They are a documentation of the inevitable change, yet somehow embracing elements in society that resonate with us, that perhaps future generations may slowly take for granted. Another art exhibition I co-curated, that opened in November 2014, was a showcase of Yousef Ahmad’s career, an established Qatari artist. Yousef’s work has evolved significantly since his earlier work as a post-modern painter in the 1970s. Today, the artist’s works revolve around utilizing the medium derived from raw materials found in his surroundings, whether it is local palm leaf paper or grains of sand. Yousef Ahmad’s career illustrates the different ways in which an artist can in fact use nationality as a means of differentiation rather than a means of constraint.
Traditionally when we talk about “Qatari Art”, certain clichéd works of art run across our minds. Usually, it is paintings depicting scenes of nature, wildlife, pearl-diving, hunting, or figures in traditional garment. Perhaps some sculptures come to mind as well such as the Oryx roundabout, which has recently been demolished, or the pearl structure on the corniche. They are perhaps objects we associate with our culture, and some may consider them works of art Can these monuments be considered public art, categorized along with sculptures present around the country by renowned international artists, such as Louise Bourgeois, or Richard Serra? They could be more relevant to Qatari culture in the eyes of the public, but Qatar is a place that connects people and cultures. Maybe this is how I see the place I was born and raised in, and my relationship with art grows and evolves more with the visibility of objects in surroundings that enhance the way my country looks, whether they are concerned with beauty, or are part of a ongoing discourse on contemporary art.