In Conversation

Hala Mohammed Al Khalifa

03 April 2014 , Doha

Hala is a practicing artist and runs the Fire Station Artist in Residence – a space for our flourishing creative community that supports emerging artists in Qatar.

In our interview, she revealed more about the ambitious initiative, talked about her personal motivations, and described the long-term impact she hopes to have.

She is quite an inspiration.

Question 01

Tell us more about the Fire Station and how Qatar Museums is involved

We’ll have studio spaces for new artists who live in Qatar. An independent panel judges entries and successful applicants are with us for nine months – that’s quite a long time. It makes sure we get real commitment.

It’s interesting, special and different. It promotes and encourages new artists. It shows that Qatar Museums wants to play a role not only in major collections and shows, but also in creating opportunities for creative minds.

It gives them the support they need to grow, and they’ll really benefit from the international network of contacts that Qatar Museums has. They’ll get guidance and mentoring from people from across the art world. We’re shaping something new here, and it’s exciting.

Question 02

Can you describe the space?

The building has a nostalgic feel. It had a function – it was an actual fire station – and we’re repurposing it to do something else. There’s a wonderful tower, which the firemen used to use. It’s covered in LED lighting and there’ll be announcements here. The location is special too. It overlooks the heart of Doha.

It is a space for the community. There’s a fabulous gallery, which will be dedicated to emerging artists. It won’t be about the big names. MIA and Mathaf of course have a certain caliber of artist, but we can be more experimental. We can take more risks.

Later, we’ll open an annex with a cinema seating fifty people, a restaurant, a café, a bookshop, a plaza for families and space for workshops on all kinds of things, from print-making to metal-working. It’s going to add a beautiful layer to the artistic scene in Doha.

Question 03

How can people take part?

We’re hoping to open the programme at the end of November. Check back here for more details soon!

Question 04

Tell us more about your background

I’m an artist – I’m from the region. That’s why for me, seeing this level of support makes me extremely happy. I studied abroad – in Boston and then at the Slade School – because things like this weren’t available to me at the time.

I came to Qatar in 2008 for the opening of the MIA. I was head of the art education department. I organized a calendar of lectures, seminars and extensive community events. It’s interesting to see kids using the MIA, and it’s great to see schools using the museums. In Europe and the States, it’s common to see kids sitting on the floor in museums and sketching. For me to see this in my region, it’s very fulfilling.

I then went to the Public Art department as my heart’s in contemporary art. The Fire Station was a golden opportunity. We’re a small team of dedicated people. Many of us are products of the contemporary art field – like Noor Abuissa, our assistant curator who’s a recently-graduated art student. We work with lots of love and passion, and we’re happy to grow alongside our artists.

Question 05

What inspires you to do the work you do?

Working with emerging artists. We can open their eyes to a different world. They’ll benefit from the type of support I had in Boston. Alone, it’s hard for artists to progress, but interaction helps people develop artistically.

I do this work out of love. I don’t want to be overly-romantic – of course there are obstacles, but if you believe in something, you do it.

Question 06

What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity is the essence of developing an idea and making a statement. Creativity is adding your own take, and building on what exists already - rather than copying. The role of an artist is as important as any other in society.

Question 07

Do you have a favourite object in our collection?

In the first gallery at MIA, there’s an object I fell in love with. I’m still in love with it now. It’s a tiny old ceramic bowl with a short inscription. Though it’s in the MIA, it’s contemporary and modern. It could be a product of our society. It’s cutting-edge.

Question 08

What excites you the most about your work?

The fact that we’re going to become part of the tapestry of Qatar, and of the region. We’re working with VCU and the galleries, gaining strength from connections with other institutions rather than simply doing our own thing.

We will start from within and eventually, we’ll reach out internationally. We will effect other parts of the world.

There’s huge opportunity for unique things at the Fire Station – concerts, films, who knows? The sky’s the limit and there’s a great buzz.

Question 09

What legacy do you hope to leave?

I hope Fire Station artists will be recognized internationally, on a big scale. I hope we will guide them in the right direction and play a key role in their careers.

We’ve made massive leaps in the art world in Doha already – it’s thrilling.

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