Looking To The Future Through The Lens

Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art continues to reach out to the community through exploratory workshops. Artist Encounters with J&K pictured Doha in the future.

The architectural and cultural face of Doha is ever-changing, as highlighted by recent events at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. In sync with its series of outreach programs that are dedicated to interacting with local communities, the events offered individuals the opportunity to explore their artistic abilities by focusing on change in Qatar.

They included workshops and collaborative initiatives, and were intended to inspire community engagement and increase awareness of how museums promote education. Designed to fit the public’s needs, they also encouraged dialogue while interacting with the museum’s collection.

At present, the most evident changes occurring in Doha are visual, and can be seen in places such as West Bay, where skyscrapers sparkle in the night sky. There, an ever-increasing population, mainly due to a steady influx of expatriates, is diversifying the make-up of this fast-developing nation, which in turn has enabled cultures to mesh.

With this in mind, those who participated in Mathaf’s two-week Artist Encounters workshop, led by renowned artists J&K, predicted and visualized the future of Doha society and culture. The result was five staged photographs in well-known areas of the city that reflect present cultural changes and what might happen in the future.

In preparation for the photography shoots, the 10 participants from various cultural backgrounds took part in brainstorming sessions to generate ideas.

“It didn’t take us very long to express our opinions of Doha’s cultural evolution,” says participant Ana Nomico. “Learning the artists’ special techniques, and being taught by the artists, was a wonderful experience for us all.

“The goal was to envisage Doha in terms of culture and the relationship between nationals and expatriates. They are topical issues, as Qatar is undergoing major changes so quickly as more and more people come to work here from abroad.

“We were keen to embrace all aspects of what makes this country a great place to live, work, raise a family, and interact with new people from different backgrounds. I think we achieved this through our photographs.”

In a fast-paced world, people strive to find their place in society. For those who are relatively new to Qatar and the Middle East, this search can take time. There are numerous cultural differences for newcomers, as participant Kavitha Gobinathan explains.

“We set out with some simple yet very clear questions that we wanted to answer through photography. Firstly, what is Qatar and what does it mean to each of us? We also wanted to figure out where our place is in Qatari society.

“I think our collective mix of nationalities, cultures, and heritages have a true resemblance of how much Qatar has changed in recent years. There are many layers to the population nowadays, and we attempted to give an appropriate reflection of that through our photos.

“The props and costumes we used in the photos were essential to achieving our aim. For example, all the workshop participants displayed their passports in one photo to represent the diverse nationality mix in Qatar.

“We also used recycled materials to express the importance of sustaining the environment now and in the future. The images give people a lot to contemplate, and, in my opinion, present moral and ethical questions that we all have a responsibility to answer.”

The offerings from Mathaf’s outreach programs, such as Family Fridays and the Maktaba Reading Circles, are attracting people of all ages. Both programs are aimed at encouraging young people to take an interest in the arts, whether through literature or art itself.

Says Michelle Dezember, Director of Mathaf: “Since our outreach programs began in January 2012, we have seen many people participate in workshops and events, which have inspired them and triggered an interest in art.

“We try to offer individuals opportunities that they can incorporate into their busy schedules, as we understand it is not always an easy task to commit to a two-week workshop, for instance.

“Mathaf is the Arab Museum of Modern Art, and I think it is fitting that the Artist Encounters workshop has been ultra-modern, with an eye on the future and thought-provoking results borne from collaboration by the participants.

“It is encouraging for the Arab art world that people from all walks of life are willing to express themselves through art, and we look forward to many more creative endeavors from newcomers.”

On the final day, J&K gave a presentation of their own creative projects and led a discussion in which participants spoke of their experiences and answered questions relating to the photographs.

Participant Mahmoud El Achi, Multimedia Program Producer at QF Radio, gave his verdict. “I think it’s important to express ourselves freely through art in order to learn from one another in a country that is evolving.

“Looking at life through the lens is a wonderful thing, which anyone can learn to do. More importantly, learning about staged interventions was very interesting. The more we interact with each other and our cultural environment, the more we can learn about our past, present, and future.”