Qatari art beyond the headlines – gallerists’ view from the ground

Qatar arts professionals describe the country’s vibrant art scene.

Qatar’s art scene is not limited to oil heiresses investing in western painting: the Gulf state also has a rich network of art spaces and cultural venues, home to both Qatari and foreign artists. The following interview with three Qatari gallerists and one foreign artist sheds light on what is happening in the Qatar art scene beyond the headline grabbing acquisitions of the Royal family.

Aisha Al Mesnd, Untitled, 2009, oil on canvas, 90 x 60 cm. Image courtesy Al Markhiya Gallery.

Aisha Al Mesnd, Untitled, 2009, oil on canvas, 90 x 60 cm. Image courtesy Al Markhiya Gallery.

Art Radar asked three Qatari gallerists from the Al Markhiya Gallery, Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar and Anima Gallery, as well as Qatar-based artist Vibha Nanda, for their opinions on the realities of making contemporary art in a country that, according to The Art Newspaper, is the biggest national spender on blue-chip art worldwide.

Aristotle Fopalan, untitled, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Al Markhiya Gallery.

Aristotle Fopalan, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Al Markhiya Gallery.

Heather Alnuweiri from the Sales and Marketing Department at Al Markhiya

Al Markhiya Gallery’s mission is to promote Arab art in Qatar. The two-storey Gallery was established in November 2008 and is located in Souq Waqif, an old neighbourhood in Doha. The Gallery maintains a permanent collection, in addition to representing a roster of artists from the Arab region. Its “40 Minus” programme supports young emerging artists under the age of forty, enabling them to put together solo exhibitions.

We hear a lot about the Qatari acquisitions policy; how does such a determined investment in blue-chip art affect smaller galleries and less established artists?

Qatari investment in high-end (particularly western) art has affected smaller galleries and less established Arab artists by creating an equal counterbalancing pursuit and enthusiasm in collecting Qatari art, as well as the art of the many locally based Arab expat artists and the work of Arab artists throughout the Middle East and the larger world.

What differentiates Qatari art and the art scene from those of its Gulf neighbours?

What differentiates the Qatari art scene from those of its Gulf neighbours is the huge investment it has made in organic, locally developed institutions such as the Museum of Islamic Art and Mathaf, the establishment of the region’s only art school, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the comparatively large number of artists Qatar produces.

What does the future hold for Qatar’s artists and gallerists? What needs to be done to support the country’s art scene?

The future for Qatar’s artists and galleries is promising. As Qatar continues to focus on the preservation of its own identity and its larger Arab identity, it will continue to fund art as a means to those ends.

In my opinion, to further support the art scene in Qatar, a multinational “artists community” should be developed where there are low rent studios, exhibition spaces for rent, well-stocked art supply stores, and meeting places to facilitate the exchange of ideas, practices and cultural understanding. Good art cannot be created in a vacuum, and a space where artists from all over the world can come and create, teach and learn would be an invaluable investment in further developing Qatar’s art scene.

Hassan Hajjaj, My Rock Stars exhibition poster at VCUQ. 4 September to 24 October 2013. Image courtesy VCUQ.

Hassan Hajjaj, ‘My Rock Stars’ exhibition poster. Image courtesy VCUQatar.

Caitlin Doherty, Exhibitions and Speaker Curator at VCUQatar

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCUQatar) in Doha, Qatar, is the region’s only art school. According to VCUQatar’s website, the school’s mission is to develop “individual capacity to lead innovations in the creative and cultural professions in Qatar and the region.” Currently, the school has 66 faculty representing fifteen nationalities, and 259 students representing 44 nationalities.

We hear a lot about the Qatari acquisitions policy; how does such a determined investment in blue-chip art affect smaller galleries and less established artists?

While this is not something that directly affects VCUQatar or our work, it does mean that there is considerable interest in the region and in Qatar, especially on the international stage. That can have many similarly positive impacts for an emerging art like Qatar’s.

Hassan Hajjaj, 'Simo Lagnawi & Boubacar Kafando', 2010, metallic lambda print on dibond with wood & found objects frame. Image courtesy the artist and The Third Line Gallery Dubai.

Hassan Hajjaj, ‘Simo Lagnawi & Boubacar Kafando’, 2010, metallic lambda print on dibond with wood and found objects frame. Image courtesy the artist and The Third Line Gallery, Dubai.

What differentiates Qatari art and the art scene from those of its Gulf neighbours?

Qatar is growing fast in every way, and the art scene is part of that – right at the centre of things in many ways. When people talk about Qatar in other countries they straight away mention oil and gas, but they also talk about art. That’s a tremendously exciting thing.

What does the future hold for Qatar’s artists and gallerists? What needs to be done to support the country’s art scene?

There are a great many initiatives being developed, museums and galleries being opened, artists coming to Qatar, exhibitions taking place – this is an exciting time for what is an emerging art scene.

Manuella Guiragossian, untitled, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 140 cm. Image courtesy Anima Gallery.

Manuella Guiragossian, untitled, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 140 cm. Image courtesy Anima Gallery.

Noor Karram from the Sales and Marketing Department at Anima Gallery

Anima Gallery, which opened March 2012, is located on the man-made island The Pearl. The beach front gallery exhibits contemporary art ranging from local and regional to international art.  In addition to hosting informal talks by artists and collectors, art classes in painting and sculpture are held in conjunction with universities and artists in Qatar.

What kind of institutions and support networks exist to enable Qatari artists to develop?

A variety of institutions exist in Doha that support artists and their development. These institutions range from governmental to private organisations such as the Museum of Islamic Art, Mathaf Museum of Modern Art, and Katara Cultural Village, which also offer a wide range of programmes and talks targeting the youth and elders.

Universities such as Virginia Commonwealth offer programmes that support locals and expats that have interest in art. In addition, art centres such as the ‘Youth Creative Art Center’ play a big role in developing art skills for those who are interested in art.

We at Anima Gallery also support and encourage art enthusiasts by offering a range of art classes from drawing, painting and photography. We offer art classes for children on Saturdays and mornings are always dedicated for the ladies. Not only that but we hold talks at the Gallery mainly focusing on why collecting art is important and how it can be an investment in the long run.

We hear a lot about the Qatari acquisitions policy; how does such a determined investment in blue-chip art affect smaller galleries and less established artists?

Speaking about acquisitions, [everything] works hand in hand and is a chain cycle where the museums are able to invest in established artists, and the galleries that are established or less established will focus on representing a star artist or invest in an emerging artistwho will one day be a valuable acquisition to the museums, and so forth.

What differentiates Qatari art and the art scene from those of its Gulf neighbours?

The Gulf region [countries] share a lot of cultural and social similarities, yet each has something special to give. Qatar is special in its focus in the art and cultural development. We can see that in the artists’ works: each has something unique to offer, while also complementing the development the art scene in the Gulf region.

What does the future hold for Qatar’s artists and gallerists? What needs to be done to support the country’s art scene?

There is a lot of hard work in developing the art scene in Doha and things do not develop overnight. We are excited about the future. The government is doing a lot in supporting art and artists through its museums and art programmes.

We at Anima gallery are proud to be part of the emerging art scene and as a private gallery we are excited to see what the future years will bring.

Vibha Nanda, 'Schism', mixed media on canvas, 1.5  x 1.5 m. Image courtesy the artist.

Vibha Nanda, ‘Schism’, mixed media on canvas, 1.5 x 1.5 m. Image courtesy the artist.

Vibha Nanda

Vibha Nanda is a visual artist originally from India. She moved to Qatar about ten years ago and works as an artist there. She joined Qatar Youth Creative Arts Center to study ceramics under famous Iraqi ceramist and sculptor Waleed Qaisi.

What kind of institutions/support networks exist to enable Qatari artists to develop?

Several institutions exist in the local market including some tertiary training institutes such as the Qatar Art Institute. VCUQatar provides the university level education. Although expatriates do have access to these institutes, [access is] limited in terms of promoting artists other than Qatari nationals.

We hear a lot about the Qatari acquisitions policy; how does such a determined investment in blue-chip art affect smaller galleries and less established artists?

Qatar has been investing resources in developing an extensive asset base of art and craft to promote cultural development in the country. This is a long-term strategy to develop a national cultural base and will add to the [number of] smaller galleries as knowledge of art and culture increases in the country. Demand can only come about once knowledge is gained at the grassroots of the country.

Vibha Nanda's 'Backstreet Blues', 2012,  acrylic on canvas,  57 x 30 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

Vibha Nanda’s ‘Backstreet Blues’, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 57 x 30 in. Image courtesy the artist.

What differentiates Qatari art and the art scene from those of its Gulf neighbours?

Most of the other countries do not have such a focused strategy as Qatar has. That being said, the commercialisation of art in Dubai is much more extensive than in Qatar.

What does the future hold for Qatar’s artists and gallerists? What needs to be done to support the country’s art scene?

The future looks bright as the country develops its art and cultural network and invests in education and an asset base. It is imperative that not only Qatari artists, but all artists residing in the country, are provided with opportunities to show their skills. This would also allow a wider demand base, and commercialisation would further the long-term objectives of Qatar to have a solid foundation of art within the country.

Susan Kendzulak

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Related Topics: Qatari art and artists, galleries in the UAE, interviews, overviews

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