- Nia Alexander Campbell
The Art Scene in Doha
A list of artsy places and opportunities around Doha
The seemingly constant presence of art around Doha
The art scene at VCUQ
A list of my favorite art projects from the 2018 VCUQ showcase
This is the water jug sculpture on the Corniche. It’s not the best example of art in Doha but bear with me! Some better pictures will follow.
The art scene in Doha is rapidly expanding in a lot of ways. They’ve got a series of awesome museums, a kickass residency program at the Fire Station, a handful of gallery spaces for locals to (easily) showcase art, the architecture around the city is at times mind-blowing, permanent and temporary works from big name artists like Richard Serra, Damien Hirst, & Ai Weiwei, and they’ve got plans to build some more art & culture centers. Heck, even when it comes to Education City, the first university to open was an arts & design school and I think that says a lot about what the country values.
While I was here, I got a feeling that Qatar as a whole deeply understood and valued the relationships between art, design, history, culture, and their vision of the future. It was exciting to experience everything the country had put, was putting, and was planning to put in motion when it came to these things. So, here in this post I’m just going to list a few of the art spots and opportunities that I was super excited to be surrounded by. I’m also going to name drop some awesome artists from the graduating class of 2018. Let’s get to it!
It used to be an old Civil Defense center—a fire station—but it was converted into an art space around 2014. Here’s a link where you can read more about it. It’s got art studios, a gallery, and an art supply store.
They have a phenomenal residency program
I applied for it but didn’t get in (probably because my sponsorship claim was a little shaky). See, the residency requires their artists to live in Qatar, and to live in Qatar you need a sponsorship from your family, school, or work (unless you’re a citizen, of course). I was originally sponsored by VCUQ (through Qatar Foundation), and though my residency permit didn’t expire for years, it was going to be manually cancelled in May after my study abroad program was over. I could have asked Qatar Foundation to not cancel my sponsorship (by essentially saying, “Look, I’ve got a job in the country [the residency], could you please sponsor me for a few more months while I work & hunt for a permanent sponsor?”), but I couldn’t shoot them that request until I knew definitively if I had a spot in the residency. However, I wasn’t going to know whether or not I’d be accepted into the residency until late June. Essentially, my personal timeline just didn’t work out when it came to the residency, but I want you, dear reader, to know that this is still an opportunity accessible to anyone living in Qatar and that it’s worth applying if it fits into your timeline.
I saw an Ai Weiwei exhibit in April 2018 about the refugee crisis in Europe.
I went with another exchange student, but we explored the exhibit “incorrectly”. You see, there were clothes racks lined up in the middle of room; my roommate and I walked around all the racks—the way one walks around a giant sculpture—but come to find out, we were allowed to walk through the rows, the way one walks through grocery store aisles. Oops. It was still a striking exhibition to experience, though; I’m very glad I saw it.
Katara Cultural Village
Katara is an arts and cultural center in Doha. They’ve got a lot going on in there: Gallery spaces, amphitheater, studios, a mosque, cafes, and even a beach. They host all sorts of events pertaining to visual art, music, poetry, and history. It’s pretty dope. I saw one art show at Katara during my stay in the country that featured work from Hamza Bounoua.
The National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ)
They opened up the museum in Spring 2019, months after I left, but wow is it striking. It’s designed to look like a desert rose and is chock-full of art, artifacts, and history about Qatar (including dramatic video reenactments, personal interviews, and even videos of how the peninsula’s geography was formed).
Museum of Islamic Art (MIA)
It’s situated on the Corniche and the museum itself is a beautiful addition to the scenery. As you may imagine, it’s a huge museum full of Islamic art and it’s definitely worth a couple visits. There's also a beautiful park connected to it.
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art
I never got to visit the museum myself, but the simple fact it exists in the city makes it significant, you know? It looks like a great place to explore.
I’m pretty sure this is a part of the Msheireb Museums. I took this photo from Souq Waqif and, at the time, I didn’t realize they were so close together.
I didn’t get to visit these museums, but they seemed super awesome. I talk a bit more about them in the post Having Fun in Qatar, but it’s essentially a collection of four museums highlighting an important aspect of Qatari history and society. Sounds boring, definitely isn’t.
Flour Mills (the Art Mill)
I took this photo the night I visited the Museum of Islamic Art. I photographed it because I liked the way all the hard edges and light interacted, but upon further inspection, I think that white building in the distance is the Art Mills project.
This is an upcoming project. The plan is to convert the old flour mills in a massive gallery space.
Seeing art everywhere in general
I felt like there was art everywhere in Doha, in some unexpected places. These are just a few seemingly random photos that my artist eye couldn’t help but capture.
Then, this is a photo of me in the desert and while I was editing, I decided to play with the exposure. The desert sun is so bright in the original photo, bumping up the exposure just a teeny bit turned the entire scene almost pure white and I think that’s just the coolest, simplest thing ever. (To clarify, the image on the left is not the original photo; it’s an edited version of the original image, one that actually proves I’m in the desert. The image on the right the overexposed image of the original photo).
The architecture in Qatar was incredible. Mosques, museums, universities, convention centers, hospitals, office buildings, malls—all the buildings in Qatar were just so different than what I was used to in the U.S., on the east coast, and in Richmond. Some places were left an impression for personal reasons (a situation of “wow, Richmond doesn’t have anything that looks like this”), while other places were just objectively gorgeous like the Education City Mosque or the National Museum. Here’s a good New York Times article recapping a lot of the incredible architecture to be seen around Doha.
Also, the article is called What’s New in Doha? Basically Everything and I think that’s one of the most accurate ways to describe Doha.
Being in an Islamic country meant that the presence of art and the approach to art was different than the way art functions in many Western countries. I talk more about this in the post Being Surrounded by Islam.
The National Museum
You may see the name Sheika Mayassa—or possibly her mom Sheika Moza—pop up when something art-related happens in Qatar. Both of them are passionate about the way art, culture, history, and education intertwine in Qatar. Just a quick highlight for either of them: Sheika Mayassa is the Chairperson of Qatar Museums and has had a lot to do with the growing art scene in Doha. Sheika Moza is the cofounder and chair of Qatar Foundation and a generally awesome social & political activist.
The gallery space at VCUQ
VCUQ hosts art exhibitions and community programs year-round. Some are hosted at VCUQ, some around Education City, and some at other galleries or malls around Doha. There seems to always be some sort of volunteer program, symposium, or art show. Plus, there’s Tasmeem. Click the link, you’ll love it.
Thing is, many of these events are pretty poorly advertised, both in school, in the community, and in Richmond (when applicable). This means that the community turnout is often low.
I’m pretty sure they always have an artist in residence, possibly two. I’d like to think that their Artist(s) in Residence are the students who are selected for the BFA Fellowship and MFA Fellowship (which I think is open to recent grads from VCU-Richmond, though I’m not sure if it’s only for Painting & Printmaking grads or any arts grads).
I’m having a hard time making definitive statements about all this because it seemed like the artist(s) in residence were tucked away somewhere secret. It’s also poorly advertised; even though it’s an opportunity for Richmond grads, the only reason I found out about it was because I was in Qatar. Otherwise, there was no mention of it during the 3 years I studied in Richmond (or much mention of VCUQ in general, to be honest).
It’s an art school. No, seriously; the simple fact it’s an art & design school means that everything they do is about art. They’ve got a great collection of faculty & staff that know their stuff, the opportunities are out the wazoo, and it’s physically situated in a very diverse place, which is always a good thing when it comes to growing as a student artist. To add, Qatar’s geographical location means that international art trips for BFA and MFA students are the norm; students have gone to Italy, Korea, England, the Netherlands, Morocco, and a bunch more I’m probably forgetting. Then, with the art scene in Doha constantly evolving, VCUQ is always up to date on what’s going on; they’re always in the mix somehow, whether it’s through their staff, students, or alumni. Coming here as an exchange student is one of the best things any art student at VCU-Richmond could choose to do.
VCUQ artist highlights
The vinyl for PAPR at Senior Showcase 2018
The BFA/MFA Senior Showcase 2018 at VCUQ is still one of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen. Here’s some excerpts from the artists behind some of my favorite pieces in the exhibition (as well as any links to their websites & social media). And though I was more impressed by other students’ work than my own, I feel like it’s necessary to include my showcase work in here as well. Shameless plugs, right?
Amena H. Al-Sheeb (BFA in Graphic Design): "My stylistic approach is colorful, harmonious and chaotically organized. My goal is to inspire those who see my work to discover the beauty in unusual things. For my thesis project, I wanted to start a business that combines a design studio with a stationary store."
Amreen Ahmedi (BFA in Graphic Design): "As a third culture kid, I have had my fair share of cultural confusion growing up. Born in Dubai and raised by Indian parents, I have always juggled two identities: a traditional desi daughter and a non-traditional version of someone who is not afraid to raise questions and speak about her opinions... My thesis explores some of the roles and pressure that are placed on young desi women."
Asma Hasan (BFA in Graphic Design): "As an avid storyteller, my designs reflect my interests of playfully engaging with complex ideas... I am exploring the notion of 'the future' in my thesis. With a focus on being human and with an intersection with artificiality, I want to use what we know about the present world and its issues, like our reliance on technology, to craft a narrative about what the future could hold for us."
Aysha W. Al-Sayed (BFA in Graphic Design): "Layers of Senses" "Bridging the path from nature to meaning". "We are bombarded with stimuli - visual, audial, and all else in between - to which we struggle to form impactful responses. This thesis investigates the human potential for creating meaningful memories through sensory interactions. I constructed 3D imageries of three natural sceneries and explored the connection between the sensory stimuli and our responses to them."
Eman Al-Mansouri (BFA in Graphic Design): "I am interested in exploring, restoring and educating people about traditional Qatari herbal remedies that can be used to treat a wide range of ailments and diseases that for many years our ancestors relied upon."
Hazem Asif (MFA in Design): “The Mall”, a world-building speculation on the future of privacy. “... a science fiction exploration of a future dystopian world where privacy becomes a dominant currency that is distributed according to social class and ranking mechanisms."
Nia Alexander Campbell (BFA in Painting and Printmaking): "America's history of racism has barred me access to the stories of my ancestors. This denial of learning about my mixed ancestry inspired me to research narratives that were a part of their storytelling traditions. The narratives I chose are creation stories from West Africa and Virginia's Chickahominy tribe, the two cultures my ancestors stem from...My goal with this collection is to express my relationship with a lost heritage and to have the audience consider the implications of their own community's storytelling tradition."
Noof K. Al-Heidous (BFA in Graphic Design): Techno Retro, Museum of the Nostalgic and the Ordinary. “In the course of interaction, some objects lose value almost immediately, whilst other objects retain their value for a long time after the interaction. Guided by our eyes, we choose the objects we need. Guided by our hearts, we keep the objects we value.... This thesis explores the concept of the sentimental value of objects and depicts the value journey of selected personal objects."
Norah Al-Shammari (MFA in Design): Social Soul. "...research warns that social media perpetuates loneliness, caused by reduced face-to-face interaction... By isolating and documenting expressive facial reactions to a curated selection of tweets, the thesis creates a commentary on our contemporary digital existence, specifically articulating how the use of social media limits basic social interaction."
Nourbanu Hijazi (MFA in Design): "ANXIOUS?" Re-designing women's jewelry to aid the management of symptoms of anxiety disorders. "My design solution tackles behavioral symptoms of anxiety; specifically two conditions that fall under obsessive-compulsive disorder: Dermatillomania and Trichotillomania. By redesigning women's jewelry as specialized accessories, my intention is for these objects to help destigmatize these conditions and relieve the symptoms of maladaptive behaviors and hurtful impulses."
Sara Al-Fadaaq (BFA in Painting and Printmaking): "After a field study in Msheireb area in Doha, I took an interest in found objects that have been discarded, forgotten or left behind. I soon developed a further interest in geographical location and origin of these objects, and the stories of the owners that have left them behind. My work often explores themes of nostalgia, memory, and identity... My work aims to trigger a sense of familiarity and understanding within people who are familiar with Qatar's visual and material culture and spark curiosity in those who are not."
Shaika Al-Hardan (BFA in Graphic Design): "My thesis is a study of how feelings and emotions play a role in our being...By using visual language, I'm designing instillation that represent examples of social data gathering, playful research and experimental inquiry"
Sidra Zubairi (MFA in Design): Gender Beyond Binary: Pakistan's Hijra Community. "... my thesis explores the obstacles that transgender individuals face in the course of everyday survival . . . By designing transformable apparel for these individuals, informed by primary and secondary research, my goal is to help them cope with the everyday struggles of being transgender in Pakistan."
Allow me to be hippie dippie for a moment, my friends. Here we have two photos from a dhow boat on the Corniche; one frames the Museum of Islamic Art, the other frames the Doha skyline. And all I can think about is 1) How pretty the night is in downtown Doha and 2) How people frame things. Our experiences, our perspectives, how we interpret the world.
After experiencing the art culture around Doha, there were two things that stuck out to me:
1) The oddly specific similarities between the art scene in Richmond and Doha. For example, Richmond has two arts centers—a gallery and a theater—that are renovated fire stations. Or, the simple fact Richmond is an artsy city; that’s part of “our thing” and it’s grown a lot in the past 20 years, like just in Doha. I’ll even include a story about my personal relationship with desert roses. See, when I was 10, my family moved into a new house. In the cellar of that house were desert roses, apparently shipping in from Iran (likely connected to the fact the previous owner’s husband was in the military). We kept these desert roses in the living room; they were part of the décor, normal parts of my visual environment for 10 years. So, when I saw the National Museum was essentially a giant version of “those things” in my parents’ living room, it struck something special inside me.
2) The differences between the Richmond and Doha art scene. Richmond is full of art students, art museums, murals, galleries, and a lot of history. Doha had many of those things too, but in different ways. Instead of giant wall murals there were images of the Emir graphic speckled with overlapping messages from locals written in a hundred different colors. Instead of preserved 19th century homes, there were artifacts from 19th century sea trade. Art in Doha couldn’t help but be different than what I was used to in the U.S. because they had different resources, a different historical timeline, and a different vision of the future than the U.S. As a result, all the art, architecture, and value of art took on different themes and inspired different opportunities.
Everything I saw and experienced in Qatar as it pertains to art made my stay in the country as an artist and a student so much more impactful; it got me excited and really opened up my art perspective in ways I never anticipated.