Art students from Qatar Foundation (QF) have exhibited their creations at France’s annual trade fair, Maison & Objet, as it teamed up with the Qatar-France 2020 Year of Culture initiative.
The event is an opportunity for both experienced and up-and-coming designers to display the latest innovations as well as classic works that have solidified many brands’ reputations. To mark the year-long annual cultural exchange programme led by Qatar Museums, its 2020 edition featured an exhibition dedicated to ‘Emerging Talents from Qatar’, and the work of 13 designers, ceramicists and artists from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar), a QF partner university.
The exhibition included works from Levi Hammett, Maryam al-Homaid, Hessa al-Ali, Hazem Asif, Reema Abu Hassan, Thomas Mooden, Hana al-Saadi, Aaqifa Altaf, Noora al-Melhim, Alaa Bata, Aisha al-Sowaidi, Mohamed Jawad and Sheikha Reem al-Thani. The creators were all tasked with representing the common theme of identity in their installations, at an event that not only provided an international audience with a window on culture, but also helped set the stage for greater cultural understanding and appreciation between Qatar and France, QF said in a statement.
“Design can be used as a tool for both differentiation and integration,” said Francois Leblanc Di Cicilia, the curator of the installation. “It can adapt Occidental objects to create new usages, and through this adaptation, it creates a particular identity. But it also creates integration: by using the same processes (of design), all of these creations come together with a common language.”
Multi-disciplinary designer Aisha al-Sowaidi captured this juxtaposition between new and old, traditional and contemporary, with her three projects on display: a modern take on traditional Arabic-style floor seating, as well as a series of glass jars to hold charcoal for burning incense.
“I designed them in a way where form follows function because we use this object for many things – for hair, for home, for clothes,” she said.
In addition, al-Sowaidi showed off a set of three round plush seats, originally designed for the VIP entrance of the National Museum of Qatar, in another nod to form versus function. The seats, made out of wool and intended for use by visitors, absorb the scents around them to create a unique atmosphere.
Sheikha Reem al-Thani, a featured designer as well as the director of Exhibitions at Qatar Museums, says there has always been a historical link between Qatar and France.
“This year allows us to exchange culturally on different points, and with this being the start (of the Year of Culture), it was very important to create a platform for this idea of perception,” she said. “People are always wanting to present us as this traditional, nomadic culture, when in reality we are global citizens who are presenting work based on what we desire and what we would like to create and show, not necessarily only referential to our culture.”
Sheikha Reem’s abstract, multi-pronged wood piece aimed to show the difference between what the observer might think of the work and how it actually interacts with them.“It’s something that interacts with you and provokes you,” she said. “It looks sharp, but it’s actually very soft.”
Fellow designer Reema Abu Hassan used her training as an architect and digital designer to create a series of tall oval and short round ceramic vases. She produced the collection using red terracotta clay and a 3D printer, in an effort to combine digital tools with an analogue mode of making.
“I’m trying to bridge the gap between my work as an architect and my work as a ceramicist,” said Abu Hassan, founder and director of Clay Encounters, a ceramics studio and design shop in Doha. The pieces are part of a collaboration between VCUarts Qatar and QF, in a project ultimately destined for the National Museum of Qatar.
The Maison & Objet fair is just one of numerous activities taking place throughout the year to promote Qatari culture to France and to strengthen ties between the two countries.
The embassy of Qatar in Paris will work alongside the French embassy in Doha and the French Institute, as well as a host of French and Qatari organisations, institutions and individuals, to create events that bring together the two communities. “It’s very important to show our heritage, and our relationship with France is a long one. Culture plays a very important role in the exchange of views between the two countries,” said Sheikh Ali bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar’s ambassador to France, who visited the ‘Emerging Talents from Qatar’ installation.
“It’s people to people, which is very important.”
Also in attendance at Maison & Objet was HE Dr Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kuwari, State Minister with the rank of Deputy Prime Minister. As the country’s former Minister of Culture, he says the Year of Culture initiative has a great effect on relations between Qatar and other countries, and he is proud that the the accomplishments of Qatar’s young people – especially women – are being shown to the rest of the world.
“When you come here and you meet educated Qatari artists, it reflects our traditions and culture, and at the same time the openness of Arab culture,” said HE Dr al-Kuwari. “It also introduces Qatari culture to others.
“In the last few years, Qatar has seen great cultural achievements in museums, theatre, fine arts and music, and hopefully this year will reflect all of these things.”
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