Mathaf is giving art lovers who fled Qatar for holidays and parts unknown this month a reason to come back early. With the launch of the gallery’s newest major exhibit, ‘Swalif: Qatari Art Between Memory and Modernity’, the curators have released another chunk of their staggering collection of more than 6,000 pieces, and highlighted some of the most inspiring Qatari modern artists. ‘The exhibition represents a great opportunity for visitors to explore the development of modern art in Qatar,’ says HE Sheikh Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al Thani, vice chairperson of Qatar Museums Authority and Mathaf’s patron.
With more than 75 works by 23 artists, including oil and watercolour paintings, prints, ceramics and works in mixed media and wood, the exhibit promises to focus on the changes over four decades, from the 1960s to the present, to Qatar and the Qatari lifestyle. ‘Mathaf will showcase some of the best artwork by Qatari artists, demonstrating that there has been a vibrant art scene in Qatar going back several decades,’ Al Thani adds.
According to museum insiders, though, it’s an artistic tradition that goes back far longer than a few decades. ‘Art is a long standing tradition in the Arab world. If you look at ancient Mesopotamia, or ancient Egypt, some of the places at the beginning of civilisation, there was always some form of art, whether it was through painted tombs to sculptures to statues. Granted they had a different purpose at that time, but we look at them today as art,’ says Mathaf’s director, Wassan Al Khudairi. ‘I think it’s easy maybe for people to think that there isn’t anything, because this field is not yet developed, and so if you take an art history course, you only get a very particular view of art history.’
Al Khudairi also explains how the art has a role in history. ‘This is an opportunity for Qatar to be able to contribute to a sort of scholarship from a moment of time, that still deserves a lot more research. It’s a part of the history, of the activity of what was happening in the Arab world at a particular moment.’
This particular exhibit does just that, focusing on the rapid changes of a revolutionary time period: after oil was discovered, and what that did to Qatar and Qatari culture. During the period from 1960 to the present, when the works on display were produced, the way Qatar functions as a country and the population itself, not to mention the landscape, changed dramatically. While the previous major exhibition, Sajjil, meant ‘act of recording’ and looked back over the history of modern art in the Arab world for the last 100 years, Swalif translates from Arabic to ‘a friendly, informal conversation’. It’s meant to discuss modern history that is still developing now, to help viewers engage with the world around them and the recent past in a new way.
‘We look forward to inspiring our visitors to engage in new dialogues about Qatari modern art, and to explore for themselves how artists in Qatar have responded to the tensions between nostalgia, modernity, and
the search for an aesthetic identity,’ says Al Khudairi. ‘Each person brings something to the work, so if an English person is representing something that is of their world, it would maybe look different because the colours in their world are different, or the interactions of people are different. People will be bringing their perspective to the work, and sometimes that’s manifested in an image of where they live, a city they’ve travelled too, or inspiration from the past, so it’s really what the artist brings to the work itself.’
Swalif: Qatari Art Between Memory and Modernity runs from Aug 14- Oct 29 at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art (4487 6662), alongside Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art, which runs until Oct 1. The exhibit
will also be tied to workshops as part of the ongoing Artist Encounters series, along with educational programmes. Admission to Swalif and Sajjil is free of charge. A catalogue including artists’ biographies will be available at Mahal, the Mathaf gift shop, along with a variety of exhibition merchandise. See www.mathaf.org.
23 artists are contributing to the exhibition, including:
• Mohammed Ali Abdulla
• Yousef Ahmad
• Ahmed Al Asadi
• Mohammed Al Atiq
• Faraj Daham
• Wafika Sultan Saif Al Essa
• Essa Al Ghanem
• Ahmed Al Haddad
• Wafa Al Hamad
• Ahmad Al Hamar
• Ali Hassan
• Mohammed Al Jaidah
• Saif Al Kuwari
• Salman Al Malik
• Essa Al Malki
• Abdulwahed Al Mawlawi
• Hassan Al Mulla
• Abdulrahman Al Mutawah
• Majid Hilal Al Naimi
• Ali Sharif
• Sultan Al Sulaiti
• HE Sheikh Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al Thani
• Jassim Zaini