Muhammad Asad Ullah
Taking on the subject of going down the memory lane and showcasing personal art collection is sometimes daunting but Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed al-Thani, Vice Chairperson of Qatar Museums Authority, Advisor for Cultural Affairs at Qatar Foundation, Founder of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, a Qatari artist, collector, researcher, and educator in the field of modern art from the Arab world, India, and Asia, is fearless. Sticking with contemporary work always helps.
Just when you think you know everything there is to know about Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed al-Thani, regarding his artistic vision and legendary artwork, including Motherland, that is making a statement at newly opened Qatar National Museum, he turns around and surprises you, and for a good reason.
His primary-colour techniques grab your attention as you enter his current show, ‘For the Sake of Art’ featuring three other prominent artists alongside, including Yousef Ahmad, Nazar Yahya and Dia al-Azzawi at Qatar Art Centre. The exhibition features art pieces that have been created within the walls of the Qatar Art Centre for over two decades. The exhibition offers a rare glimpse of the memories, friendships, stories, exploration and processes these artists have shared and experienced over the past two decades. The timeline is diverse and so are the works on display.
When Hassan is using his signature grid pattern and the same self-portrait in his painting, there’s a no-holds-barred freedom that makes them completely alive, nearly abstract, and full of the kind of energy and it’s rare and exciting to see an artist of this vintage going deeper and looser – having and giving viewers so much fun.
The aesthetic and philosophical treatment of the themes of past, present and future have been explored by artists over the ages and across cultures. On the one hand, the transience of good days, beauty and life is something that unifies us all, but on the other, the treatment of moving along with time, its implication and visual representation has evolved over time and differs dramatically across cultures, these four artists pays an ode to the every changing time and accepts future like anything with splash of colours and gold.
Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed al-Thani, Founder of Qatar Art Centre, said, “Qatar Art Centre is a hub which offers space, providing differing and creative talents with an opportunity to engage, be supported and promote their own production. It can be perceived as an ‘artists’ residency. The artwork here goes beyond the time in which it is completed – it communicates with modern day audiences and inspires Qatar’s communities, provoking different thoughts and perspectives.”
Speaking about the role of the students, he said,
“The curators of the exhibition are responsible for creating a narrative from the artwork, by constantly utilising the exhibition space to portray a theme or message. This is reflected with the UCL Qatar student project – the Center offered them a space to display their curation and bring to light their artistic vision. UCL Qatar students have become part of the artistic scene in Qatar, and the academic institution itself has become a partner in the artistic processes and developments here.”
UCL Qatar Masters students on the Museum and Gallery Programme have partnered with Qatar Art Center to curate this exhibition exploring the process of making art.
It’s rare when you witness an art show featuring paintings of teacher and student side-by-side, but when you do, it’s special. You can just realise it with the strokes of the brush and draw parallel how they inspire each other.
Yousef Ahmad was Sheikh Hassan’s Fine Arts teacher at Qatar University back in 1990s. They formed a strong bond due to a mutual passion for art that evolved from a teacher-student relationship to a close-lasting friendship – influencing each others work.
Yousef’s work on display highlighted the specific period in Qatari history, evoking feelings of nostalgia of a simpler and more grounded past. It’s astounding to see his pieces, all created from his memories rather than any archival photographs amidst the hazy hues of Qatar.
“It entices me in old neighbourhoods how the light reflects and shadows shape. That captivates me. Life in Qatar is very very simple and Qatari architecture reflects that. A wall, a door, some windows and a Sidra tree. These are the main elements of an old Qatari house and that is what I tried to document.”
From the mangroves to the desert, such a trip inspired Nazar Yahya, Iraqi artists, some of the works on the display. Whilst the paintings are not a typical representation of Al Khor with its flowers, reeds and birds, Nazar presents his emotions and reflections of the day on canvas and uses yellow tinges, as a representation of Cusranche Tubulosa.
From grey to black, series of four paintings on display defined the timeline of a day. From the dawn till dusk, even featuring the red, reflecting the setting of the sun and how the reddish hues spread over the land and the water reflects a different aspect of experience of the day.
Nazar Yahya was invited by Hassan to come to Qatar at a time of unrest in Iraq that enabled him to continue working on his art, free from any limitations and restrictions. The exhibition also features a particular piece by Yahya which pays a tribute to Sheikh Hassan’s love for cheetahs, sitting calmly next to King Faisal I of Iraq, a mesh of Iraq and Qatar at its best. “I used colours that reflect the truth, but I added my personal taste,” said Yahya.
“A true artist knows beforehand that he will lose a part of his soul because it goes towards the artwork. When one accepts this world, he needs to know that there is a destructive energy to art, as if it’s a sickness that mocks him. You live your life accepting this disease like a person who is born with diabetes. There must be honesty between an artist and his canvas.”
Look at the pieces on display at the exhibition and most of them definitely have his reflection, even the ones created by Sheikh Hassan. The pioneer of modern Arab Art, Dia al-Azzawi, is also responsible for the façade of the building.
The friendship between Dia and Sheikh Hassan dates back to the 1990s, when the Arab Centre was only the villa of Sheikh Hassan with Cheetahs roaming around the centre, as a muse to the artist’s creations and mood. Both, Dia and Hassan used to often sketch and draw together and despite working independently elements of collaboration between the two sometimes glimpsed in Sheikh Hassan’s work. The main attraction of Dia’s work on display was the 4 metre tall sculpture he had created over the period of six years, inspired by his archaeological studies of the Babylonian and Assyrian empires as well as his studies of ancient Egyptian art. The eyes of the sculpture are pronounced, even protruding like almond shaped, taking inspiration from Egyptian heritage. “Having more that one artists working at the same place creates a level of internal dialogue. Artists do not necessarily influence each other, although that is possible in the long ter. Humans by nature seek to know each other closely and artists are the same,” said Dia.
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