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Public Art: Activating Spaces Through Beauty

14 January 2021

In December 2020, 18 local artists set to work at sites across Doha, with one goal in mind. To bring the city’s walls to life through murals, colour, art and beauty. Named JEDARIART, it is the latest programme in a long line of public art commitments across not only the capital, but the country – and you’ll be immersed from the moment you enter.

Anyone who’s ever passed through Qatar's Hamad International Airport (HIA) will have seen Urs Fischer's 23-foot canary yellow Lamp Bear, a playful work of art that has become one of the country's most beloved landmarks. The famous bear is just one part of a much wider commitment by Qatar Museums to public art, and if you know where to look, you can experience some of the most striking works of art around every corner in Qatar. 

 

Urs Fischer’s Lamp Bear at Hamad International Airport (HIA) © Qatar Museums 2020
Urs Fischer’s Lamp Bear at Hamad International Airport (HIA) © Qatar Museums 2020

As well as the now-iconic bear, there are many other works that have been thoughtfully selected by the curators of the Public Art Department at Qatar Museums. These significant pieces include Maman by Louise Bourgeois at Qatar National Convention Center, Subodh Gupta's Gandhi's Three Monkeys at Katara Cultural Village, and Calligraffiti by El Seed at Salwa Road.

 

Qatar Museum’s public art collection displayed at various locations © Qatar Museums 2020
Qatar Museum’s public art collection displayed at various locations © Qatar Museums 2020

Added to the mix is an impressive display of temporary public art installations such as Martin Creed's Everything is Going to be Alright, (outside the Al Riwaq gallery) Ghada Al Khater's A Blessing in Disguise, (at the Fire Station Artist in Residence) and the Berlin Wall panel presented at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) in celebration of the 2017 Qatar-Germany Year of Culture.

 

Qatar Museums Temporary  public art collection displayed at various locations © Qatar Museums 2020
Qatar Museums Temporary public art collection displayed at various locations © Qatar Museums 2020

Beyond their impressive size and photographable beauty, these grand-scale public art pieces have a deeper collective meaning and purpose, one that unites communities and inspires creativity.

"The main aim of public art is to spark dialogue and bring art outside the four walls of the museum space,” explains Sarah Foryame Lawler, Curatorial Assistant for Public Art Department at Qatar Museums. "Unlike art exhibited in museum spaces that are often temporary and indoors, public art creates a more accessible link to art, where it is brought to the public instead of the public having to actively seek it in a gallery or museum space. More so, art displayed publicly has its own permanence as the artists take into account the fabrication, longevity, materials and its widespread impact on the general public."

She continues: "What's interesting is that public art is always perceived differently by everyone in the community, which in turn creates diverse conversations about various works, topics, and interpreted themes. The public often take ownership of the narrative and it is interesting to witness that"

For Sarah, public art is seen as a way to "activate" spaces and the overall landscape through artistic expression, public engagement and open dialogue. At the same time, it adds character and distinct personality to spaces, making them attractive to a larger community.

JEDARIART

Speaking of activating spaces, Qatar Museums recently introduced JEDARIART, a mural project that provides local artists opportunities to showcase their talents while adding vibrancy and meaning to various walls across the city. 

The mural project is designed to foster artistic interventions in high traffic areas that engage directly with the community. These murals set inaccessible spaces, allow the public to explore various artistic expressions on display ranging from cultural contexts to contemporary aspects. More than that, the program seeks to increase footfall, activating these spaces into places and creating a greater sense of bonding within the community.

 

Selected artists working on their allocated locations for JEDARIART © Qatar Museums 2020
Selected artists working on their allocated locations for JEDARIART © Qatar Museums 2020

JEDARIART features 18 local artists, each given ten days to create works in spaces allocated in partnership with WOQOD, Qatar Rail, Ashghal and the Fire Station. Unique in its way, JEDARIART sets apart as it encourages artists to manifest their distinct styles and themes with complete artistic freedom when decorating these mural spaces.

The program also supports an anti-vandalism message, which ties into the ongoing national campaign #OurPublicArt. "Often graffiti and street art is blurred into the same category, but graffiti is this sense is mostly tagging and without permission, which is illegal," says Sarah. "Therefore, through JEDARIART, we want to encourage the community to better understand street art. This includes commissioned work through partners providing walls to legally use. This is very different to what we are seeing being done by the general public and tourists on Richard Serra’s East-West/West-East sculptures. “

#OurPublicArt

As mentioned, #OurPublicArt is an anti-vandalism campaign launched by Qatar Museums (QM) in September 2020 to encourage a collective effort to protect and preserve Qatar's many public art pieces. Part of the campaign is directly related to Richard Serra's iconic East-West/ West-East at Zekreet that has been tagged, scratched and vandalized by visitors throughout the years. 

 

East-West/West-East by Richard Serra at Zekreet © Qatar Museums 2020
East-West/West-East by Richard Serra at Zekreet © Qatar Museums 2020

An essential aspect of the campaign is educating the audience about the significance of public art and fostering an appreciation of artistic expression. 

 

Routinely cleanup of the steel plates of Richard Serra’s East-West/West-East that have been vandalized  © Qatar Museums 2020
Routinely cleanup of the steel plates of Richard Serra’s East-West/West-East that have been vandalized © Qatar Museums 2020

As part of the campaign, a specialised team had been dedicated to cleaning and restoring the East-West/ West-East during November 2020. Simultaneously, anti-vandalism signage was placed in the Zekreet vicinity to remind residents and tourists of their communal responsibility to cherish and maintain public art. Qatar Museums is also working with multiple governmental organisations such as Qatar Debates to spark discussions and awareness to further spread the anti-vandalism campaign message. 

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Find out more about the anti-vandalism campaign by following the hashtag #OurPublicArt on social media channels, and don't miss out on a chance to get involved in spreading awareness in the community. 

Curious about JEDARIART? Stay tuned as we introduce the 18 artists and their large-scale murals from Qatar's various locations. Follow us @Qatar_Musuems to keep up with our social media coverage of the ongoing project.   

Learn more about Qatar Museums’ Public Art installations and activities.

Learning materials are being created but by our central learning team.

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