If you’ve got even a small interest in art and culture in Doha, there’s a good chance you’ll have heard of the Fire Station.
The contemporary art space regularly makes waves with its exhibitions and events, and it’s definitely the place to be and be seen.
But for those of you who aren’t in the know, we’ve created this handy guide to get you up to speed.
What is it?
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the building itself was once a working fire station, serving the community from 1982 as the location of the first civil defense authority. It continued in this role until 2012, and was eventually handed over to the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) in 2014.
The QMA was committed to preserving the iconic building, hiring renowned Qatari architect Ibrahim Al Jaidah to redesign the inside while keeping the original honeycomb façade intact. He turned the garage, which covers around 700 sq m, into an exhibition space, and other floors of the building into studio space. There is also an art supply shop and cinema on site, and an annex was built in the same industrial minimalist style as part of expansion work.
Visitors to the Fire Station can also swing by the aptly-named Cafe #999, which also has a food truck housed in the second oldest fire truck in Doha. Cafe #999 is currently only open for takeaway orders, but serves up everything from pizza and pasta to eggs benedict and falafel.
What’s on now
This summer the team behind the Fire Station are showcasing another brilliant exhibition entitled Picasso’s Studio, which focuses on the world-renowned artist’s places of creation throughout his life. Split into eight galleries, each representing a different time period, the exhibition features 108 artworks. The various paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and ceramics offer an intimate look into Picasso’s mindset, as these were the pieces he did not want to part with.
Sheikha Reem Al Thani, director of exhibitions at Qatar Museums, said: “We are absolutely delighted to finally be able to share with the public this exceptional exhibition we have organised in collaboration with the Musée national Picasso in Paris.
“Picasso’s Studios is a celebration of a great artist’s career and gives us a unique view into his art practice. All the works at one time belonged to the artist’s personal collection, and all are grouped within the exhibition to recall the places in which they were created. It is especially appropriate that we are presenting Picasso’s Studios at the Fire Station: Artist in Residence, where outstanding contemporary Qatari artists produce and show their work in Doha today.”
Curated by Virginie Perdrisot-Cassan, curator of paintings (1921-1973), sculptures and ceramics at the Musée national Picasso-Paris, the exhibition will be on display until November 1.
Al Markhiya Gallery, which has workspace at the Fire Station and Katara Art Centre, also has an exhibition at the moment. Entitled 2030, the showcase features the work of a number of Qatar-based artists and is part of efforts to stimulate the growing art scene. It is part of a series of exhibitions celebrating Qatar’s history and future growth.
Picasso’s Studio: QR25 (resident, student), QR50 (adult), free (kids under 16). Sun-Thu 9am-3pm. Garage Gallery Fire Station, visit.qm.org.qa.
2030: Sun-Thu 9am-3pm. Al Markhiya Gallery, Fire Station, www.almarkhiyagallery.com/.
Artists in Residence
One of the most important roles the Fire Station plays is to support and help Qatari artists to flourish. Every year, around 20 artists are given studio space across the building’s five floors to use for nine months between September and June. During this time, they have mentors who can help them develop their skills in areas including 3D printing and woodworking, as well as networking opportunities at workshops and talks. They are also given a monthly per diem so they can focus on their work.
Current residents include photographer and filmmaker Hadeer Omar, architect Haytham Sharrouf and virtual reality designer Mariam Rafehi. The Fire Station also runs residency programmes in Paris and New York.
Artists who have previously benefited from the Fire Station’s scheme include Sara Al Obaidly, who was named Artist of the Year at the Grazia Arabia Style Awards in 2019, and Zoe Hawk, who has since collaborated with global fashion chain Zara.
The Fire Station has an annual open call for potential residents, with this year’s deadline falling on December 1. It is open to all Qatar-based artists over the age of 21, with the exception of current students. Artists in any discipline can apply, and you can find out more details on the Fire Station website.
Since opening to the public, the Fire Station has hosted some major exhibitions. One of the most famous - KAWS: He Eats Alone - was the first solo exhibition for Brian Donnelly in the Middle East. Famed for his sub-vertisments, the exhibition featured more than 40 major pieces including a five m tall sculpture while on display in 2019/2020.
The Fire Station also hosted an exhibition of the works of Kazimir Malevich, who created the Suprematism movement back in 1915 that would define the language of modern art, in 2019.
Laundromat by Ai Weiwei, which features possessions left behind at an abandoned refugee camp on the border with Macedonia, also had a stint at the art gallery in 2018.
Doha Fire Station at a glance
How many people are allowed inside, at the time of writing
The number of current artists-in-residence
The starting price, in riyals, for tickets to the Picasso’s Studios exhibition
The name of the on-site café, for obvious reasons
When the building was built (and was an actual fire station)