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In Conversation: Hala Mohammed Al Khalifa

In this 2014 interview, artist and curator Hala Mohammed Al Khalifa discusses the ambitious initiative that is the Fire Station: Artist in Residence, a space for our flourishing creative community that supports emerging artists in Qatar.

Portrait of Hala Mohammed Al Khalifa smiling and talking to people in a desert background

After completing her studies in America, Hala Mohammed Al Khalifa arrived in Doha in 2008

Tell us 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 a 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.

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 calibre of artist, but we can be more experimental. We can take more risks.

Later, we’ll open an annexe 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.

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 MIA. I was head of the art education department. I organised a calendar of lectures, seminars and extensive community events. It’s interesting to see kids using 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.

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.

The role of an artist is as important as any other in society.

Hala Mohammed Al Khalifa, Artist and Curator

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.

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.

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

What legacy do you hope to leave?

I hope Fire Station artists will be recognised 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.

Interior view of the Fire station: artist in residence exhibition space

The interior of Fire Station: Artist in Residence

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