CIMAM’s 2014 Annual Confe-rence in Doha has predetermined two important contexts that defined the event. I was really happy to be one of the recipients of the travel grants supported by the Getty Foundation. This gave me the incredible opportunity to be able to explore these contexts directly on site.
The first context of the conference logically was predetermined by the program, speakers and panel discussions. I was really impressed by the selection of the invited guests. The conference gave me a wonderful chance to communicate with them. In terms of the presentations, we can distinguish two main directions. The first direction was given by the global paradigm of the importance of the museum of modern or contemporary art in the context of social, political and economic conditions. Historicity and practices of the museum activity as a phenomenon in the field of contemporary art (Bernard Blistène); the conditions (Olav Velthuis); the conceptual framework of the concept of public interest and its institutional forms (Maria Lind); the importance of the archives and documents in the local collective memory (Kate Fowle), and of course the deconstruction and at the same time influenced by the mythologemes of our time perspective of Hito Steyerl.
The second direction inevitably implies the specific context of the Middle East and Africa. Most presentations were related to the conditions of this dynamic region (Rana Sadik, Zeina Arida, Suha Shoman, Salwa Mikdadi and others). They differently placed the accent less on the classic post-colonial theories, but rather outlined a post-globalization discourse.
The important questions were: Which of the generally accepted museum practices is applicable in this region at all? What is the specific social function of the museum here, given the geopolitics and the different cultural background? What is the economy of art here and whether it is relevant to the Western model? What is the role of the curator –as a mediator, acting in different intellectual and social needs?
All this leads us to the second important context of the conference in Qatar. It was particularly important to explore the functioning of the cultural institutions in Doha. In this sense, the presentation of Abdellah Karroum on the activities of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, was extremely important shared experience. The visits to the Museum of Islamic Art, QM Katara Gallery and the Fire Station Artists in Residence –also contributed to understand the scene in Doha.
My conclusions are product of all these meetings. In Qatar there is no official state document about a program for cultural policy, but in fact such a policy is carried out intensive and targeted. At the airport in Doha we can see the Lamp Bear by Urs Fischer. Then we saw Maman by Louise Bourgeois at the Qatar National Convention Center or Richard Serra’s installation, and the installation of Damien Hirst in front of the new hospital.
Contemporary art in Qatar has the function of one of the main sources for national representation internationally. The existing museum institutions and the construction of the new National Museum are essentially a political and a statesmanlike gesture –related to the perception of the country “outside”. In this sense, we can compare the state’s commitment to the art as to the state’s commitment to the FIFA World Cup in 2022, for example.
The local art scene is small and the activities of the artist or the curator are still not professionalized enough. This poses exciting challenges for the museums in Qatar. They should collaborate intensively with the educational institutions to build a solid base of the national art scene, market and art education.
This process should be determined by active communication with international experts –curators, academics, artists, representatives of the art market, analysts and theorists.