Georgetown professor puts QF’s art ambitions in historical context
January 16 2020 10:58 PM
Dr Reza Pirbhai
Dr Reza Pirbhai, associate professor of history at Georgetown University in Qatar

In an increasingly globalised world, analysts and observers are quick to point to the role of national art investments as increasingly important soft power tools of cultural diplomacy. But as Dr Reza Pirbhai, associate professor of history at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) shared with Qatar Foundation in an interview about the Seeroo fil Ardh exhibit by the late Maqbool Fida Husain, art has always been critical to human progress, and inextricably linked with both politics and commerce.
As the biggest buyer in the global art market, Qatar is used to garnering international headlines for its major investments in fine arts. Most recently, the unveiled Seeroo fil Ardh exhibition, the renowned Indian artist’s final art installation, made waves as both a feat of artistic brilliance, and great historical achievement. Commissioned by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation, only two years before the famed artist’s death in 2011 at the age of 95, the installation required nearly ten years to bring the masterplan he left behind to life.
“When we look at history, art has always been a part of the broader equation of progress in any civilisation,” said Dr Pirbhai, whose academic focus includes South Asian and world history, with a focus on Islamic thought and institutions in modern South Asia, colonialism, nationalism, and gender. He noted how both wealthy Italian patrons and rulers of the Mughal Empire negotiated a host of social, economic, and political challenges and crises at home and abroad while simultaneously investing in art and cultural projects.
“For them, the pride associated with promoting a great musician or owning a beautiful painting was no less than that they would get from a political achievement,” he said, adding that “Consequently, they proceeded to enrich their personal lives and the lives of those around them with the works of some of the finest artists and musicians of their times.”
Husain has become a towering figure in the world of modern art, with the Seeroo fil Ardh exhibit featuring powerful representations of the progress of humanity on land, air, and sea. Dr Pirbhai said, “The fact that members of the public can view the works of international artists such as Husain, is a sign that Qatar Foundation is keen to provide Qatar’s diverse population with artwork that is relevant to different cultures.”
A holistic approach to national development, he added, is in fact one of the drivers of Qatar Foundation’s art ambitions. “That’s why its medical and engineering universities in Education City are flanked by universities that teach art, media, communication and culture.”
The installation, which is being housed in a permanent building near the Al Shaqab equestrian centre within Education City, will be open to the public starting from mid-January.

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