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Friday, January 21, 2022

Doha Fire Station launches its first artists-in-residence exhibition


All photos by Lesley Walker

Art that reflects multi-cultural identities, childhood memories, life in war-torn Syria and the connection Muslims feel with the Kaaba are among several pieces of work that debuted at the Doha Fire Station this week.

The exhibition is the result of nine months of work from 18 Qatar-based up-and-coming creatives who were part of the station’s inaugural artists in residence program.

The display, located in the center of the Garage Gallery, includes photography, sculptures and other pieces made from elements such as sand, concrete, resin, charcoal and wood.

It is open to the public until the end of November.

Fire station

Last year, the former Civil Defense headquarters in Wadi Al Sail was relaunched as a creative hub by Qatar Museums.

The station’s first big move was to bring aboard 18 artists, including 10 Qataris, to produce original work within the studios.

Those selected were given use of individual studio space which is open 24 hours a day, plus a QR4,000 monthly stipend.

Included in the program were weekly meet-ups with the other artists and mentoring sessions with established local and visiting international artists, QM said in a statement.

Hana Saleh Al-Saadi
Hana Saleh Al-Saadi

A concrete sculpture, molded to resemble cinder blocks in an infinity shape by Hana Saleh Al-Saadi is the first work that visitors see as they enter the gallery.

Many of the other works reflect the changing landscape of the Middle East.

For example, Bahraini artist Othman Khunji’s five-piece installation, titled The Selfless Holy Ground, uses technologies including laser cutting, 3-D printing and waterjet engraving to create works that examine the changes taking place in Makkah.

Othman Khunji
Othman Khunji

And Syrian artist Waseem Marzouqi’s painting Fighter Jet incorporates symbols and diagrams to portray the conflict in Syrian, juxtaposed with the ongoing construction in his now-home city of Doha.

Sand rug

One of the highlights of the exhibition is Shifting Identities – a 7m x 4m installation made from Qatar sand that has been dyed with pigment from India and designed to look like a carpet.

For artist Emelina Soares, the work is a comment on her mixed heritage, reflecting her Indian ethnicity, Portuguese ancestry but birth and childhood in Qatar.

Emelina Soares - Shifting Identities
Emelina Soares – Shifting Identities

Speaking to Doha News, she said five garbage cans full of sand were used to make the rug, which took a full 36 hours.

She added that she wants visitors to interact with the artwork:

“I want people to walk over it – to move the sand and the patterns which reflects my identities also shifting,” she said.

Soares, who works for Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar and is also studying part-time for a Master’s in museum and gallery practice at University College London Qatar, said she had been inspired to make the rug after a visit to India.

Keen to develop her skills, she plans to apply for other residencies abroad, she added.

Ghanim the Winner

Also on display is work from photographer Sara Al-Obaidly, another Qatar artist of mixed heritage.

She said she was moved by the determination and strength of her cousin Ghanim Al Mufta and created a series of five portraits of him showing off his varied sporting achievements, under the title Ghanim The Winner.

Sara Al-Obaidly - Ghanim the Winner
Sara Al-Obaidly – Ghanim the Winner

Al-Obaidly chose one of him in his diving gear to showcase digitally at the Fire Station exhibition.

Speaking to Doha News, the photographer said she is about to diversify her skills into movie-making, having won a $30,000 grant from Doha Film Institute to create the feature film Coming of Age, about her British mother Maureen.

Al-Obaidly has teamed up with an experienced British scriptwriter to write and develop the film over the coming 10 months, which will tell the story of her 17-year-old mother who left the UK in 1963 and hitchhiked around the world with a friend.

“She ended up in the Himalayas, and she had a dream to visit the Middle East. Mum was a mod, she has these amazing stories from when she was younger, she was a very inspiring woman in the 1960s.

The story is about her younger self, based on fact but elaborated,” Al-Obaidly said.

The future

During Thursday’s launch, QM Chairperson Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani toured the exhibition and met the artists.

The Fire Station opened last March after the interior of the building was stripped and repurposed to create galleries, art spaces, and studios with a raw, industrial and minimalist vibe.

There are artists’ studios over five floors, while the former garage for the fire trucks has been transformed into a gallery.

The residency program for nurturing Qatar-based talent is one of the main features of the center.

A total of 152 artists, including 38 Qataris, have applied for the next round of residencies and a jury is currently selecting the final 18 for the second residency which will start in September, Khalid Al-Obaidly, director of the artist in residence program, told Doha News.

This should coincide with the planned opening for the annex of the complex, which includes an eatery called Café #999, a cinema, workshop space and an art supply shop.

Fire Station opening 2015
Fire Station opening 2015

Improvements will be made to the structure and content of the next wave of residencies, which will be “in a new spirit,” of greater support for emerging creative talent in the country, Al-Obaidly said.

“There are a lot of artists here (in Qatar) and we are creating an inspiration for them with the Fire Station.

Sheikha Mayassa has been trying to inspire young artists – to support them and develop their artwork and the art scene here in Doha,” he added.

Do you plan to check out the exhibition? Thoughts?

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