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Qatar-USA Year of Culture Exhibition: Meet the Curator

We meet Muna Al-Bader, the Qatari artist responsible for curating What If?, the first in a series of exhibitions celebrating Qatar Museums’ 2021 Year of Culture partner.

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About Years of Culture

Qatar Museums' Years of Culture programme is an annual cultural exchange established in 2011 to deepen Qatar's ties with countries around the world through events such as festivals, exhibitions, competitions, workshops and talks. Each year, a guest country is invited to collaborate and participate in these events. Previous Year of Culture partners include France, India, Russia, Germany, China, Turkey, Brazil, the UK and Japan.

Through the exchange of cultures, countries can explore their similarities and celebrate their differences. There is always something that brings people together. 

To kick off the Qatar-USA Year of Culture, Muna Al-Bader curated the exhibition What If? at the W Hotel Doha. She shared her background and insights with us shortly after the opening of the exhibition.

Qatari artist and Curator of ‘What If?’ exhibition, Muna Al-Bader.

Muna Al-Bader, Qatari artist and curator of the exhibition What If?

When did you become an artist and curator?

I am an IT engineer and a business analyst, but I have always had a keen interest in art since my childhood. Since I won the first prize in the youth salon contest in 2007 and obtained two awards from Sotheby's International Auction house, my love for the world of art has increased due to the support and appreciation of all the people around me. My responsibility is to spread Qatari culture to the world and other cultures, but in a sophisticated and modern way, far from the traditional way of realistic painting.

I had started studying art history and engaging in the exhibitions and museum curation programs in the previous years in several universities. My strong belief is that the artist should be comprehensive and have an artistic eye in directing their artistic work and curtaining the exhibiting space for his artwork.

How did the exhibition come about? 

With our celebration of the cultural year between Qatar and America and the launch of the cultural year in mid-January [2021], it came to my mind that we need to celebrate this year through art; especially since we have a group of talented American artists who reside in the State of Qatar. Despite the current conditions due to COVID-19, art is still an outlet for everyone and a tool that connects people to each other. The idea of ​​this collaboration came to celebrate the strong ties between artists and the two cultures. Moreover, to overcome the crisis of our universe by transmitting positive messages to society and artists.

This year is exceptional. We do not know what may happen in it. Whenever we hope that the COVID-19 disease will fade, new symptoms appear. Nevertheless, we still look with hope and optimism for the future. And we still insist on celebrating this year through art. 

The main concern is: Do you live life in black and white or in colours? Some people live their lives very black and white. They are ruled by the surrounding atmosphere, and grey areas bother them. Because there’s always an element of possible disapproval and the fear of ‘what will happen in this world?’ they resist change and expect everyone to toe the line. But on the other hand, there are people who always change our lives, the way we view things, and it's because of their positive spirit that surrounds us because they see life in colours. 

Art is one of the universal languages that all human beings understand and use to communicate.

Muna Al-Bader, Qatari artist and curator

What stories do the artworks in the exhibition tell?

The artworks broadcast an interactive and optimistic view through the [choice of] colours, the topic of the painting or the installation. All of them were dyed with vibrant colours that give rise to optimism and also dealt with the topic of COVID-19 with eyes of hope and happiness.

Works related to nostalgia and happiness by the artists Shatha Al-Shammari and Eman Al-Sulaiti are some of my favourites because they illustrate exactly how the situation went through during the pandemic. Also, I was very thankful to the art master Qatari artist Ali Hassan for his participation, as he always encourages the young artists. Having him with us was very powerful. 

What do you hope people take away from the exhibition?

Despite all the misfortunes, we must be patient and optimistic, discover the abilities that are within us, and let art always be preserved from loss and extinction.

How do you think art helps connect people across cultures?

Art influences society by changing opinions, instilling values and translating experiences across space and time. Also, art in this sense is communication; it allows people from different cultures and different times to communicate with each other via images, sounds and stories. Art is often a vehicle for social change. Throughout history, art and culture of various kinds and forms has been part of the evolution of our societies.

How has the exhibition been received?

Art is one of the universal languages that all human beings understand and use to communicate. Art allowed us to speak to others across the place. All the participating artists felt that art has a social as well as an aesthetic impact to communicate in ways that can be powerful especially during the current time of the global pandemic. The exhibition fits well within our cultural year between Qatar and the USA, allowing the people to look and respond to the artists’ works as well as to the two cultures' collaboration.

Do you plan to do something similar in the future?

This exhibition has opened the path to more global collaborations in the future. At the end I would like to thank QM, Year of Culture, USA embassy, the W hotel and all the participating artists for their belief in the importance of visual sense and how it connects cultures [as well as] their support in this exhibition.

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