A Berlin exhibition explores the past, present and future of Qatari art

A Berlin exhibition explores the past, present and future of Qatari art

Opened recently at Berlin’s cavernous Kraftwerk space, Contemporary Art Qatar is a sprawling, three-part exhibition dedicated to Qatar’s current art and design scene. Presented by the Qatar Museums group to mark the end of a year of collaborative cultural projects between Germany and Qatar, the exhibition features more than 30 contemporary makers that demonstrates diversity in the Arab country and a dialectic between the traditional and the innovative, heritage and hybridity.

Take Aisha Al-Suwaidi, a Doha-based designer who looks simultaneously to the past and future in her work, creating domestic designs that celebrate the comfort and nostalgia of home while addressing the changing needs of urban homes as she observes them in her city: concrete teddy bears make the materials of outside more familiar indoors, a ’nostalgic table’ for dining that uses the smell of old houses to trigger fond memories, and a chic, high-cornered ‘Grandma chair’, stuffed with scented habat soda seeds, are among her quirky and thoughtful designs.

Installation view of ‘Contemporary Art Qatar’ at Kraftwerk Berlin

‘Due to constant change in the city, the feeling of belonging might not be the easiest. I try to evoke the past, whether it’s via aesthetics or behaviour, in our daily practices, by redesigning some objects,’ says Al-Suwaidi. ‘The exhibition is a reflection of raising concepts in the society. It’s about change, identity, and culture. Maybe it’s because of the ongoing change in the city of Doha, or perhaps it’s the bigger impact of globalisation.’

Divided into three sections reflecting different media and interests, identity and transformation in contemporary Qatari society – a place that has been by turns colonised and cut off in the course long history – are at the forefront of 115 works included in the Articulating the Particular: Contemporary Visual Narratives, with works by artists from Qatar and foreigners living on the Peninsula. Noor Abuissa’s furniture and textiles, a contemporary take on the emotive symmetry of Islamic design are a highlight; while Doha-born Sara Al Obaidly’s stunning portraits – nominated for the Taylor Wessing Prize last year – also portray Qatar’s past and present, through its people.

Installation view of ‘Contemporary Art Qatar’ at Kraftwerk Berlin

Another standout of the show imploding stereotypes are works from Hey’Ya: Arab Women in Sport, a selection from the powerful, large-scale photographic and video portraits of 90 female athletes shot by Brigitte and Marian Lacombe in 2012. As Nike launches its first Pro Hijab, it seems a timely moment to revisit the project, originally commissioned by the Qatar Museums, to give visibility and presence to Arab women competitive athletes.

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