Online event in collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts explores art, identity, and conflict.
Art must be inclusive, open, and used for expression rather than propaganda, and artists who take risks and work against a backdrop of challenges are “heroes”, the latest edition of Qatar Foundation’s Education City Speaker Series has heard.
In collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts (VCUarts), the online discussion – Art and Conflict: A Window on the World, A Window Into Us – focused on how creativity can be both a response to conflict, and a communicator of the human stories behind it, while also exploring what arts tells us about our own identity.
Drawing a picture of someone is an international language
The first edition of the Education City Speaker Series to be jointly held with the main campus of one of Qatar Foundation’s (QF’s) international partner universities welcomed speakers including visual artist, designer, and graffiti artist Assil Diab, a VCU alumna whose street artwork came to global attention during the Sudanese revolution in 2018 when she painted dozens of martyrs on the walls of their homes in Sudan.
And she told viewers of QF’s global platform for dialogue: “Art can be more effective than news coverage and reportage.
“Drawing a picture of someone is an international language, and seeing a picture [such as those of the martyrs she painted] forces you to think and talk about what’s happening regardless of your personal views.”
Dr. Abdellah Karroum, Director of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art – which is based in QF’s Education City – told the discussion that “art adapts to conflict”, saying: “It is an expression of the complexity within our societies.
“I believe artists who work in challenging contexts are heroes and always find ways to communicate people’s struggles. They take risks, and they work for change. And that’s why art is so important; it’s not on the side of society, it’s within everything.”
Any communications can amplify expression, but an ideological project can never be stronger than real expression
According to Dr. Karroum, “responsible” investors in and supporters of art ensure its freedom and inclusivity, rather than making museums “podiums for propaganda” and “exclusive spaces for formal expression”. As he told the discussion: “The most interesting things happen when artists are given the space to produce images that are stronger than any propaganda - any communications can amplify expression, but an ideological project can never be stronger than real expression.
“Art institutions do not define art; they are just the frame. A good art institution is one that listens to the artist, sees what is happening in society, identifies art projects that can comment on it, and creates an experience that helps people who stand in front of an artwork feel they are involved.
“There is no good art and bad art – only differences in how much every person is able to investigate, search, learn, and express their ideas and dreams.”
If you want to get closer to the pulse of humanity, turn to art
Moderated by Basma Hamdy, Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar – a QF partner university – the Education City Speaker Series also heard from art dealer, curator, activist, and arts journalist Zayna Al Saleh, who shared her belief that creative spaces, while they may not be able to prevent conflict, can mitigate its impact.
And speaking about the lasting effect of art, she said: “For the last 60,000 years, we’ve looked back at examples of marks made in caves, so art is the act of leaving a trace of physicality and materiality, and that lends itself to humanity.
“It’s about leaving a trace and an element of your spirit in something physical, which has been happening for far longer than we were able to write books. If you want to get closer to the pulse of humanity, turn to art.”
For more information about the Education City Speaker Series, and to keep up to date about upcoming editions, visit www.qf.org.qa/education-city-speaker-series