Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art has concluded its Our World Is Burning exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo-Paris, featuring the work of more than 30 artists from around the world
The art it has displayed ranges from a 1985 oil painting by artist Inji Efflatoun called Greetings to A South Lebanon Bride’, illustrating a bride carrying a gun, to the artwork of Moroccan artist Mustafa Akrim, the Moroccan artist, who placed the word "Right" in an iron mold behind bars, sending a message to the world about the dangers of restricting people’s rights.
It has featured the work of Syrian artist Bady Dalloul, who illustrated the tragedy of children in Syria through an artwork titled A Country Without a Door or a Window – a series of mini drawings placed inside pocket matchboxes, reflecting human dreams and sorrows which have become hostages to fires and wars. And it has provided insight into Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz and his replicas of archaeological treasures from the Iraqi National Museum that have been destroyed and looted since 2003 – created through the use of food containers, scraps of newspapers and other materials.
The exhibition in question is Our World is Burning, which was held at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, from February-September 2020 in cooperation with Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art – which is based at Qatar Foundation – to mark the Year of Culture Qatar-France 2020. More than 30 artists from countries, including Qatar, France, Afghanistan, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Kuwait, the US, the UK, Nigeria, and Congo participated.
Today’s artists can’t simply isolate or distance themselves from what societies are experiencing. Today we must think collectively, instead of isolating ourselves in a tower while its base is already on fire
The artworks displayed in the exhibition reflected the artists’ attitudes towards the existential crises facing people today, at a political, social, ethical, and environmental level. It also reflected the state of uncertainty that the world is going through, and particularly the people of the Arab region, following the transformations that the Middle East has witnessed during the Arab Spring and beyond, and the geopolitical conflicts that the region is experiencing – from the blockade of Qatar to the war on Yemen, the conflict in Syria, and uprisings in countries such as Sudan, Lebanon, Algeria, and Egypt. And it also depicted environmental disasters such as fires in Siberia, Australia, and California through artistic eyes.
Dr. Abdellah Karroum, Director of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, says: “Every artwork in ‘Our World is Burning’ is related to the existential crises that we live in nowadays.
“Today’s artists can’t simply isolate or distance themselves from what societies are experiencing. Today we must think collectively, instead of isolating ourselves in a tower while its base is already on fire. It is important to encourage artists to communicate and to keep the dialogue going between all people on what is going on in this world of phenomena.
The aim of this exhibition has been to look at the world around us, and think of the convergence between time, place, and phenomena, whether political, humanitarian, environmental, or societal
“The Our World is Burning exhibition has expressed this awareness. The title of the exhibition does not only reflect the thousands of fires that devour forests on every continent, but also refers to the hell of wars, which claim thousands of lives. The aim of this exhibition has been to look at the world around us, and think of the convergence between time, place, and phenomena, whether political, humanitarian, environmental, or societal.”
Qatari artist, Buthaina Al-Muftah, was among the participants in Our World is Burning with an artwork titled Tag Tag Tagiya - the first sentence of a song that is usually sung during a traditional game for boys and girls across the Arab region. She framed this traditional game through her personal memories, deconstructing its forms to reformulate the cultural narrative, and present a symbolic experience in which the past intersects with the present, and directs people towards the future.
Artist Wael Shawky, presented an artistic trilogy called Buried Araba, with its material being derived from the works of the writer Muhammad Mustagab. In his works, he used soundtracks which portray children speaking with the voices of adults ], tracing the interdependence between generations. Meanwhile, Qatari artist Sophia Al Maria presented her famous artwork Scouts, which is a sculpture and sound-and-light installation inside carved fiberglass, embodying the concept of Gulf Futurism.
If we really want our institutions to be firmly anchored in the real world, we must act as a platform for dialogue in order to strengthen the link between the artistic work and the contexts that drove the artists to create it
“If we really want our institutions to be firmly anchored in the real world, we must act as a platform for dialogue in order to strengthen the link between the artistic work and the contexts that drove the artists to create it,” said Dr. Karroum. “This contributes to enhancing our own influence on the world, and makes it easier for others to understand our vision and the work we do.”
The exhibition also included the Raqs Media Collective by the artists Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta. in which the concept of infinite transformation is embodied by presenting digital images of insects that adapt and change within their natural environment in a permanent movement that reflects the coexistence of materials and organisms. It emphasizes the ability of living organisms to adapt and continue to search for some form of balance, despite the threats posed by human colonies that occupy large areas of land at the expense of the natural environment.
The work of Qatari artist Faraj Daham, titled Street Language, explored the transformation of lifestyles in Gulf countries, especially the urban transformation in Doha and its impact on Qataris’ lives, and the dilemma that comes from balancing the preservation of human relations with economic requirements. This was reflected in a painting which portrayed anonymous workers on construction sites, trying to protect themselves from the heat of the sun, the dust and sandstorms. The artist portrays them as invisible heroes in our daily lives, reflecting the difficult social reality that people who have moved away from their families face.
The exhibition gathered works from the Mathaf collection and other works that were produced specifically for Our World Is Burning, which shed light on the role of art and its ability to respond to human issues, as well as Mathaf’s role in helping to drive societal change.