Colonialism, upscaled materials – and a ‘female’ art piece – are part of Mathaf exhibition
“This visit is a birthday treat for me,” says Brenda Brown from the US, one of the participants in Qatar Foundation’s latest Art Trail tour. “I turn 70 this month. I’ve visited a number of exhibitions in my lifetime, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this before.
Standing in front of artist El Anatsui’s wall-mounted installations that stretch across the walls of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, you immediately sense the reasons for her reaction. The exhibition is titled Triumphant Scale: the visual result of flattening, cutting, crushing, twisting, and tying together tens of thousands of bottle caps and tin lids to create artwork that touches on African history and culture, including the cross-Atlantic slave trade.
The Ghanian-born artist’s works were the focus of the most recent Art Trail, which took place at Mathaf within Qatar Foundation’s Education City. El Anatsui has presented his interpretation of his continent’s past using a diverse range of media – from wood, to terracotta, to metal.
The media itself are not uncommon, but the manner in which they’ve been used is. The artist has “upscaled” mundane objects to reflect some of the most poignant and sensitive points in Africa’s history.
For the exhibit titled Dusasa II, numerous crushed and coiled bottle caps depict the scores of Africans who were traded as slaves in the 18th and 19th Centuries. El Anatsui made a male and female version of most of this artwork; the Dusasa II was conceived as a female, while the male piece is being exhibited in New York.
It redefines the words ‘imagination’ and ‘inspiration’ and makes you think of humanity as a whole rather than as segments.
Another exhibit, resembling a chiseled and fragmented wooden pole, is representative of the 19th Century Berlin Conference, when European leaders divided the African continent among themselves. One pair of the pole’s opposing faces depict the manner in which African colonies were carved out, while the other pair portrays African motifs in traditional tribal colors of white, blue, green, brown and terracotta. At the bottom of the pole lie chipped pieces of wood, symbolizing the disarray and cultural disintegration that followed colonization.
“The sheer idea of using things that you and I would normally throw away, to create artwork with such profound meaning, is amazing,” says Brown, a first-time visitor to Doha. “It redefines the words ‘imagination’ and ‘inspiration’ and makes you think of humanity as a whole rather than as segments.”
Qatar Foundation’s senior art specialist Layla Ibrahim Bacha said the latest Art Trail exemplifies how art can bridge the history, culture and art of a geographical region or culture with human emotion, illustrating the universality of mankind’s experiences across time.
“The idea behind bringing the works of such an important African artist such as El Anatsui is part of Qatar Foundation’s strategy for the development of art within Education City,” said Bacha.
The impact of the inspiration behind El Anatsui’s pieces is universal; they evoke responses from people from all cultural backgrounds
“We are pleased that we have a platform such as the Art Trail that connects various art-focused entities and organizations such as Mathaf, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar, Northwestern University in Qatar’s Media Majlis, and Qatar National Library.
“The impact of the inspiration behind El Anatsui’s pieces is universal; they evoke responses from people from all cultural backgrounds. Additionally, the fact that these were created from everyday objects helps the viewer relate to them even more.”
Art Trail is a regular series of tours that showcase art across Education City. Further tours will take place at Sidra Medicine (February 1), the Seeroo fi al Ardh art installation (February 8), Qatar National Library (February 15 and April 11), Northwestern University in Qatar’s Pressdock building (February 22), Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar’s Biznest building (February 29), Georgetown University in Qatar’s Humanitarium building (March 7), Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar’s Canvus building (March 12), and the 2015 building (QF Headquarters) on April 4.