A contemporary twist on Arab heritage

The launch of two new exhibitions at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art – Tea with Nefertiti: The Making of the Artwork by the Artist, the Museum, and the Public, and Forever Now: Five Anecdotes from the Permanent Collection – are a reminder of the innovation and diversity within the genre.

Tea with Nefertiti is the brainchild of curators Sam Bardaoil and Till Fellrath. Mathaf is the first stop on Tea with Nefertiti’s world tour before the exhibition travels to Paris and Berlin, among other major cities around the world.

It has taken the curators two years of intensive research and planning to arrive at Qatar with this exhibition of Egyptian collections, which have been amassed in international museums from the 19th century onward.

Fellrath says that the process of selecting and acquiring loaned artworks is not straightforward business, while the operational element to a new exhibition requires precision work. “Many people mistake the work of a curator as simply picking 10 paintings and putting them on a wall,” he remarks. “There is much more to it than that. The connections we’re trying to explore through the exhibition are on an intellectual level. Everything on display is meticulously chosen and placed accordingly to our thought pattern. It’s a process that doesn’t happen at the last minute.

“One of the challenges we face, as Tea with Nefertiti will move from museum to museum over three years, is ensuring we keep the same curatorial argument we set out with. You never have exactly the same footprint for the exhibition in each museum. Sometimes you have more or less space to work with. And as these are all loaned artworks, sometimes lenders do not agree to give pieces for 10 museums.

“We also take into consideration that these historic pieces from Egypt are very sensitive to light, so after one particular piece has been displayed for six months or a year, the conservators will keep it in storage for five years. This means the exhibition will be modified, but what will remain is the intellectual argument behind it.”

Building on its mission to advance the understanding of its unique collection and the visual history of modernity in the Arab world, Mathaf also presents Forever Now. Featuring 57 works from five artists’ works in the museum’s collection, Forever Now examines artists’ interactions with their immediate environments, histories and cultures.

The launch of two new exhibitions at the same time adds to the sense of frenzy that always accompanies the launch of any new season, Michelle Dezember, Acting Head and Head of Education and Public Programs at Mathaf, says. “It almost always gets quite hectic in the final few weeks and days before a launch,” Dezember says. “I think there is an excitement here with what we want to say through these exhibitions. There is a boom in the arts in Qatar and the region at the moment. Schedules for art and literary events are packed, and we have to time ours to mesh well with others.

“I think there is an excitement here with what we want to say through the Forever Now collection in particular. It offers a critical perspective on how we perceive art, and we ask the visitor to finish the story instead of telling them what to think.