In 2013, we developed a partnership with the UK, working with the British Council and several sponsor organisations. We coordinated an intriguing programme of over 90 activities in both countries, engaging more than 350,000 people.
We aimed to build new audiences for the arts, develop creative talent across both communities, and further mutual cultural understanding. The initiative was a true team effort, with Qatar’s Ministry of Culture, Qatar Foundation, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, MIA, Mathaf, DFI and Katara Cultural Village Foundation all taking part.
A year of firsts
Highlights from the programme included Encounter: The Royal Academy in the Middle East, featuring works by Royal Academicians and artists from across the Middle East; the world premiere of Globe Education’s Romeo and Juliet, ahead of its sold-out run at Shakespeare’s Globe in London; and a series of cutting edge works by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artists at Katara Cultural Village.
We held a family festival called Etifhal at the Serpentine Gallery, the UK’s first major exhibition of Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi at the Tate Modern, and Relics - an exhibition by Damien Hirst at QM Gallery, Al Riwaq. We also ran an ambitious project between the British Library and Qatar Foundation, which is digitising more than 500,000 page of archive material to transform the public’s understanding of Middle Eastern history.
Sharing our pearl collection
As part of Qatar-UK 2013, we took some of the highlights from our magnificent collection of Pearls to the V&A museum. Natural pearls have been global objects of desire for millennia, due to their beauty and rarity – roughly 2,000 oysters need to be opened to find a single, beautiful pearl.
Myths about their formation abound, and jewellers – both traditional and modern – exploit their symbolism, ranging from seductiveness and mourning to purity, luck and power. Natural oyster pearls were fished in the Gulf from as early as the first millennium BC, and the procedure of harvesting oysters has remained unchanged over centuries.
The pearl trade played an important role in the formation of coastal countries, especially Bahrain and Qatar. By the early 19th century, the Gulf was the major global supplier of natural pearls. Today, they remain a rare gem.
A monumental sculpture
Another highlight from the Qatar-UK programme is Rock on Top of Another Rock - a unique installation by the swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss, presented by the Serpentine Gallery and The Royal Parks, in collaboration with Qatar Museums.
It stands over five metres tall and is formed of two giant boulders balanced on top of each other.