We have been reading about war zones in books and watched nations on television that were tortured on daily basis yet we never really understood the situation because we never personally encountered such tragic things. Mona Hatoum is one of the most powerful female artists not just in the Arab region but worldwide, who made “Palestine” her main topic. She literally made us encounter war zones through her minimalist artwork in art galleries. She wanted us to digest the idea of her exhibition by playing the role of a “Palestinian” who fights death every day. In Qatar, I stood in front of an artwork that said “You are still here” which was printed on a mirror. She basically wanted us to understand the value of life and the value of losing it and becoming a “memory”.
Some art pieces were created to challenge us, to help us discuss a topic in a safe environment, a gallery. Adel Abdessemed was commissioned to create a piece called ‘Shams’ at Mathaf: The Arab Museum of Modern Art, which was basically constructed with the help of 40 volunteers. The piece showcased slavery with faces of army soldiers and builders carrying sacks and climbing ladders which was all made with clay that filled an entire room. The clay was wet and malleable and fell off the wall throughout the exhibition which is a resemblance of how we somehow “forget” about these human beings when the work is done.The piece gave the viewers the opportunity to look at the elephant inside the room and understand the core of the issue that humans encountered throughout centuries till this day.
Does Art Seek Acceptance?
Richard Serra isn’t an ordinary artist, he is the master of large-scale installations who also introduces a new genre of art that focuses on balance,mass and gravity. Many think that art can only be represented in a painting, whereas art has various definitions. Richard Serra showed us how steel can define the way we feel when we encounter an object versus space. That piece of steel became a landmark in the desert,a landmark that will carry a lot of stories and conversations when encountered by people in the future.
Many questioned the idea of having Serra in Qatar. We would hear questions like “What will this piece of rusted steel add?”. An object can only “add” to a place when we look beyond its meaning. An object can carry hundreds of various definitions that might include a hundred different reactions to it.To me, Richard Serra’s desert installation “East-West/West-East” explained how Arab tribes used to travel across the desert to explore new areas, a new living or probably a place with a better future because of its resources.Others might explain it as the connection between Earth, the sky and mankind.There is a powerful word that is hidden in the definition of this artwork, which is “connection”.
Art drives people to explore and question.Art can never be shut out from culture because it’s part of our daily lives and conversations. We ask the same question again, “does Art seek acceptance?” No, it can either be completely digested or not. There are no rules set, but there will be always a “conversation”.
A time-lapse video that i created during Mona Hatoum’s opening in Qatar. The installation ‘Hotspot’ displays the reality of the world and explains how borders are boundaries that keep us seperate, surround us with conflict and un-rest.
Students are drawn to stories and activities that touch on the relation between art and every day life. Museum educators open different conversations with students, conversations that result in improving the child’s involvement in conversations with colleagues and adults and enable the child to express his/her feelings. ‘Tell me what do you see? what does it remind you of? what do you feel when you look at this piece? what is the story behind this piece?’ these are some of the questions museum educators use to connect with students, enable them to express their thoughts and feelings and ask them to narrate a story from their own perspective.
Art is one of the strongest tools of conversation. At Mona Hatoum’s exhibition “Turbulence” at Mathaf: The Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, educational lessons introduce students to new minimalist art with powerful messages. The gallery practices offered are an opportunity to discuss new art that resembles issues we see on TV or in newspapers. The museum also plays as a “safe” educational environment that enhances communication and empowers artistic skills. The focus at Mona Hatoum’s gallery practices was on “materials” and enabling students to create pieces of art from materials or found objects provided by the museum educators to help students relate to Hatoum’s work. Gallery lessons and practices create a new way of learning outside a classroom. Knowledge is not necessary connected to a textbook, knowledge is also ‘our reaction’ to things from life.
In October 2013, Doha hosted the first and biggest retrospective solo exhibitioin by Damien Hirst, one of the world’s biggest living artist that has an interesting ‘darkside’ reflected in the art pieces he produces. A big shark shipped in across countries and placed in a tank of formaldehyde, thousands of colored spots across the walls of the gallery,a cow split in half and a box filled with flies feeding from a dead cow’s head. It was certainly an exhibition filled with mad ideas that changed the viewer’s concept of looking at things. This exhibition was a story of life and death that challenged the audience and made them face the reality of death and not ignore it.
The education team at the public art department at Qatar Museums Authority dealt with a lot of schools in Doha through an educational program that contained tours and practices that focused on enhancing children’s sensory skills. Children observed the details of things, things they often find in boring science classrooms only. The objects they observed in this exhibition had a different scenario, they weren’t just objects and pictures of bodies in a science book, they were objects that told a ‘story’ in a gallery setting.The outcomes of such educational programs are always incredible. These programs enable students to look outside the box, observe objects and discuss them which increases their critical thinking skills not to mention introducing new forms of ‘conversation’ and developing a taste for Art.
Endorsing Art Understanding through Education It is very important to observe art, study it from a different perspective, look beyond it and ‘digest’ it through your own interpretation.Art education focuses on conversation and connects individuals from different cultures and backgrounds. Art is a powerful language; however the vocabulary of art is not made up of words, but rather of visual elements.Museums provide a different unique interactive form of teaching which is by using visual examples instead of theoretical teaching methods.
The museum uses different steps to introduce students to art using observational practices, group discussions, writing practices in the gallery and art workshops. Observing a famous painting for example is a totally different experience compared to looking at a printed version of the painting in a book or magazine. Art Education help children express their feelings through creating artwork related to them which causes an impact on behavior and increases academic performance. Museum practices also improve clarity and creativity in communication of verbal and nonverbal ideas.Art enables deep understanding of important issues such as culture, history, diversity and human behavior including building self-confidence through discussions about the students’ own art creations.
Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art has established a very strong bond with schools in Qatar in the past few years through the organized school visits provided by the museum including different programs and activities that involves the whole community.The education specialists at Mathaf do believe that is it very important to discuss the meaning of the museum as a whole because it does help the child adapt to the place and understand it’s valuable content and the reason of its existence.Mathaf’s structured educational programs enable students to discover their creative skills and think outside the box. For example, during the gallery practice the educators concentrate on various subjects during the group discussion with the children, the child analyzes what he/she observed and starts to think from different perspectives. To endorse that experience the educator provides a small booklet or written practice to enable the child to express through writing and drawing.
Museum specialists and experts understand how depth of experience is very important that is why they have created intensive programs that enable students to question and reflect on the Art they encounter to become more critically aware. Art invites everyone to talk and be diverse.
Khawla Al-Marri - The article can be found in Campus Magazine Issue 20 http://issuu.com/oryxmags/docs/campus_issue_20_low
INTERACTIVE ART INSTALLATION - ‘CONVERSATION’ SHARJAH 2012
I wanted people to be part of my work so i created a piece inspired by an old traditional bedouin seating arrangement,cushions with a coal holder in the middle for making coffee.The main element in this piece is ofcourse coffee so i fixed bulbs that light up resembling the start of a ‘conversation’.Coffee was always a conversation starter,Arabs use it as a symbol of connection whereas some cultures use tea for instant.
STREET ART INSTALLATION PROJECT - LONDON 2011
I suddenly felt the necessaty to introduce something i encounter back home on everyday basis that i could turn into an artpiece.Only this time i wasnt looking for a fancy gallery in the middle of the city,i just went straight to the streets.I used to see all these posters,colorful graffiti and stencils in the urban side of various cities in Europe and i always wondered why dont we ‘Arabs’ have that? is it because we dont have Arab street artists or we dont understand street art? I wanted to experement this artistic ‘non-commercial’ movement and use a powerful element from my Arabian culture,Arabic coffee.I see coffee as one of the most powerful elements,it connects us and creates conversation,it is simply the greatest link that joins cultures.I placed a cultural tool in the streets of London and studied how the people reacted to a different culture.Now coffee (in the arabian culture) is considered a powerful welcoming sign.The story starts when two people encounter each other:first part of the story is getting to know the other side’s briefed introduction then inviting them for coffee.