By Denise Marray/Gulf Times Correspondent London
The opening night of the ‘Transition’ art exhibition by Reconnecting Arts at the Menier Gallery, close to The Shard and the famous Borough Market, showcased an impressive range of work by emerging artists from across the Middle East. Among the 30 participants were eleven artists from Qatar – each with a distinctive style using a range of media including animation, photography and painting.
Gulf Times was at the packed opening which was attended by Yousef bin Ali al-Khater, Qatar ambassador to the UK, accompanied by several diplomats from the embassy. A young Qatari boy recited a poem about Gulf unity at the opening.
Speaking after meeting the artists, al-Khater said: “I am impressed by the quality of the art. It reflects a lot of new ideas and represents the views of the new generation in the Gulf.
“The energy of these young men and women expressed through their art shows their passion to communicate with people here in the UK and reflect their culture, heritage and future outlook. We are very proud to see them here.”
Fahad al-Kuwari, assistant cultural attache at the Qatar embassy, commented that it was good to see such a positive, inclusive event at a time of tension in the Gulf.
“Despite the situation in the Gulf, these artists have come together in London at this difficult time. We are glad to have been invited and I appreciate Qatar Museums Authority’s support for this initiative,” he said.
The exhibition is curated by Reconnecting Arts’ co-founders Khalid al-Hammadi from Qatar and Sara Foryame, a British/Qatari independent arts curator about to commence her Masters in Museum and Gallery Practice at UCL in Doha. QMA have funded two of her exhibitions.
Foryame spoke about the vision for the exhibition. “It is about how these artists have transitioned geographically, artistically or personally. It is about them taking control over their own narratives and expressing themselves freely without assumptions and without being guided as to what sort of art they ‘should be’ creating. We decided that we wanted to merge Khaleeji (Gulf) with non-Khaleeji artists. So, in addition to artists from the Gulf, we have Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians. We want to be able to celebrate all stories and all backgrounds.
Al-Hammadi, who has just completed his second year at Sussex University where he is doing a BA in Media Practice, explained: “We are not politicians or economists – we don’t have that kind of power - but at the community and student level we have to try to engage and break down walls. I want to do something through media and art which is a language that everyone can understand regardless of language, race or religion.”
Qatari artist Farah Altaweel, who did a BA in Graphic Design at VCU Qatar and is currently doing a Masters in Art & Design Education at Rhode Island School of Design in the US, showed an arresting series of black and white photographs entitled ‘Alternative Facts’.
Her inspiration came from the experience of attending a protest earlier this year against Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ policy. She explained:
“I decided to document this demonstration. Coming from Qatar I had never seen this type of action before. I focused on the protestors and the signs they were holding. I deliberately shot the images in a way that made the messages they were conveying appear to say the exact opposite. So, for example, a poster saying ‘No Muslim Ban’ would appear to say ‘No Muslim’.”
She juxtaposed the ‘cropped’ images with the full frame images to demonstrate how messages can be manipulated.
She observed: “This work is a commentary on alternative facts. Nowadays, you need to gather information from many sources. Everyone should be responsible for searching for the truth as it can be very easily distorted. Today, when we look at the blockade in the Gulf, I feel that the phenomenon of fake news or alternative facts is affecting peoples’ opinions and actions whether on line or off line.”
Qatari artist, Fatima Mohamed, showed artworks using the Batula (a face covering generally worn by older women in the gulf region) combined with the beak of the American bald eagle.
“It is a comment on the westernisation you see in the Gulf States,” said the artist who did her BA in Painting and Printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University, Qatar. This is her first showing in London.
Latifa al-Darwish, from Qatar, showed a moving film animation in collaboration with artist Abdulaziz Ahmed.
She explained: “It is a short experimental animation film. The work is a dedication to our mothers. We see the mother with her son through various stages of their lives. At the end it appears the boy has grown up and gone away, but has returned and the image shows him kissing his mother’s head. He has come home.”
Darwish studied Communications at Northwestern University, Qatar. She then did her Masters in Culture and the Creative Industries at King’s College London. Since graduating she has been working in TV production. She has co-directed some award winning short documentaries and is currently working on a short animation film funded by the Doha Film Institute. It is currently in pre-production stage and should be ready in one year’s time.
Asked about her inspiration, she said: “I have always been interested in drawing and photography and I feel that moving images enable me to tell stories. I want to tell the untold stories of the Gulf region; there a few outlets for these stories.”
She sees a lot of talent coming forward in Qatar in film medium. “Through the Doha Film Institute we have seen artists take their work to the next level,” she said.
Another highly original Qatar artist showing her work was Nada Abdulkareem Baker. Her work depicts a comic book character ‘Laila’ exploring Islamic folk tales and rediscovering her Arab and Persian culture. Baker has just completed her BA in Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts.
She said: “I feel motivated to create games and comics to explore my stories. I want people to discover my culture and traditions through modern media.
“It has been really nice meeting the other artists and sharing our thoughts and ideas.”
Qatar Charity UK deputy director, Fadi Itani, attended the opening and gave his response: “It’s amazing to see young people from different parts of the Arab world expressing themselves about their environment and culture and the changes they are going through. I hope we will be able to hand over to them a more promising and prosperous present so they can transition into the future with a positive outlook.”
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