Fostering Qatar’s art industry

by  — 12 September 2012

Katara Cultural Village is home to many of Qatar's artistic and cultural organisations, such as the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and the Doha Tribeca International Film Festival. The village was created to help position Qatar as an international cultural lighthouse through theatre, literature, art, music, conventions and exhibitions.

The Visual Art Center offers art workshops for the local and expatriate community throughout the year.

For the past two years, the Visual Art Center (VAC) has been committed to encouraging the practice of art, and provide adequate facilities such as galleries, workshops, educational programmes and venues for artistic performances in Qatar. Located in the heart of Katara Cultural Village, it currently has 11 art galleries where local, regional and international contemporary artists can exhibit their artwork. VAC also invites international artists to teach artwork to Qatari artists in order to support the development of local talent.

“We have Dutch, British and Argentinian artists”, says Sa’id Costa, curator of the visual arts exhibitions and educational programmes, adding that, “What we do is try to get these foreign artists engage with Qatari artists that do not travel to engage with other art practices. Different languages, aesthetical views of art and what art is…it is about bringing other realities of the art world into the folds of Qatar’s reality and building bridges, looking at how the Qatari art scene and its artists can improve their skills.”

Costa highlights the fact that Qatari artists are learning through this kind of exposure. At the same time, expatriates and foreign artists who visit the VAC are also learning how to reconstruct perceptions they may have of art in the Gulf region, and what type of art they would like to see.

“Of course,” adds Costa, “art is not just about understanding the medium and concept, but it also comes down to taste. For example, if someone from the region has only seen Arabic calligraphy and sees an abstract contemporary painting, he or she might think of it as not being a form of art. It is a question of cultural context and the possibility of exposure when they travel.” Although most Qataris love to travel throughout the year, they tend to do so with a different mindset, such as shopping in Paris instead of visiting the Louvre Museum.

Due to the country’s efforts of displaying local, regional and international exhibitions, there seems to be a high level of Qataris interested in buying art. However, according to Costa, they do not know where to find and buy it. Qataris may purchase what he dubiously terms as the “art in a mall”. There have been very disparate things appearing in the malls, supermarkets and outside markets that are labeled as art, but a painting is perceived only as an object until it is displayed on a wall in a gallery or museum. Art, indeed, needs validation.”

Costa feels that Qatar is trying to change this perception. There are now new structures emerging to legitimise artwork and exhibit it in the appropriate context. The Souq Waqif Art Centre is another authentic art venue. “You don’t need to go to Dubai, London or New York to buy artwork. In Doha there are exhibitions where real pieces of artwork can be acquired,” says Costa. In the past, Qatar has had some minor auctions. “While Qatar has been voted by the arts newspaper as the country that buys most artworks in the world, it is not buying from within its own market,” explains Costa, adding that “having an auction here means securing clients because it is all about selling. The auction house engages itself with the client, with the consignee of the work that they will sell the artwork, but sell to who?”

On the other hand, the Qatari royal family has been an active buyer at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and other auction houses featuring a wide collection of artworks, which will be displayed at the National Museum scheduled to open in 2014. In 2010, HH the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said he might be interested in acquiring Christie’s, reported by the Financial Times, after months of speculation about a possible Qatari bid. However, nothing has been disclosed yet. Meanwhile, Edward Dolman, former chairman of Christie’s International has left the auction house to join the board of the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA). He is now the executive director for the office board of Sheikha Al Mayassa bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who according to Forbes, is one of the most powerful women in the art world today. Forbes estimates suggest that she controls an annual art-buying budget of USD250 million (QAR910 million).

Qatar’s royal family’s interest in art

In 2007, HH the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, purchased Damien Hirst’s pill cabinet (filled with 6,136 painted, bronze cast pills) Lullaby Spring at Sotheby’s for USD19 million (QAR69 million), setting an auction record for a living artist. The Emir’s daughter, Sheikha Al Mayassa bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani chairs the board of the QMA and his son, Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammad bin Ali Al Thani founded the museum of modern Arab art named Mathaf.

Thriving Industry

Despite Qatar’s efforts in displaying various artworks, it is not yet a profitable career for an artist. “It is becoming one and this is one of the things that we are struggling to achieve through the exhibitions that we have with Qatari artists for instance, which is giving an opportunity to them to not only exhibit but to also sell their artwork, enabling them to live as artists,” says Costa. VAC is trying to motivate and create a dynamic environment for the artists, by producing, exhibiting, selling and collecting art.

Abdulla Salem Desmal Al Kuwari, art workshop supervisor of the VAC tells The Edge, “Qataris are not so keen on buying art, especially works that are considerably expensive, because they are searching for what is on offer and the market has only originals from big names. I can see that artists are rarely selling their work.” Nonetheless, Al Kuwari feels that there will be more demand with the construction of large projects underway as a Qatari artist might be commissioned to provide certain art pieces to decorate the interior of a new or existing hotel and organisation among other venues.

However, the local concept of art is still a work in process. Al Kuwari mentions that Qataris are more interested in realism art, meaning a painting that looks as real as a photograph. “It is very difficult to sell abstract art. We may have a demand for calligraphic art such as mixing calligraphy with other mediums. Otherwise it is difficult for Qataris to accept other kinds of art.” On average, the price for a painting may range from QAR5000 to QAR20,000. The price varies depending on the artist’s experience and stature.

Al Kuwari adds that in the near future, VAC will document the works of every Qatari artist. The purpose is to have an official record of Qatar’s art history and how it has developed. He mentions the importance of workshops and exhibitions being held as a force behind the cultural movement that Qatar wants to realise. Additionally, educating Qataris and the community is the key to further understand art and its value, and to expose Qatari artists internationally.

The National Development Strategy 2011-2016 foresees a vibrant community of artists living and working locally, but a thriving culture sector needs to be supported by a highly qualified talent pool. There are several areas that present challenges to professional development of art, such as limited opportunities for specialised training and a negative public perception on the value of an arts career. Through the National Development Strategy 2011-2016, the government will develop high quality artistic talent to inspire and stimulate growth by expanding its knowledge of the arts industry, and by implementing a comprehensive artist development project to create a more enabling environment for aspiring artists.

“I want to see the day when Qatari artists can really work without worrying about selling his or her artwork. We should encourage more artists to reach that goal, and there will be more demand so the artists would be able to work and be assured that their artwork will be purchased,” concludes Al Kuwari.

Like this story? Share it.



21-25 Feb Qatar Motor Show

Qatar National Convention Center

22-23 Feb Tourism in Tomorrow’s World: What the Future Holds for Tourism in the Region

Renaissance Doha City Center

23-25 Feb Facade Design and Engineering Middle East

Oryx Rotana Hotel

24-25 Feb Entrepreneurship in Economic Development

Qatar University

24-25 Feb MICE Arabia Conference

Grand Hyatt Doha

view all events ›