Qatar plays a key role in arts and culture, says director Kandi Boultbee

My childhood was so far removed from the mainstream I was clueless about culture’s biggest art stars. How could I be exposed to Chuck Close, Carsten Höller, Frank Stella, Glenn Ligon, for example, when…

My childhood was so far removed from the mainstream I was clueless about culture’s biggest art stars. How could I be exposed to Chuck Close, Carsten Höller, Frank Stella, Glenn Ligon, for example, when all I thought of were monochrome cabinet rotaries?

It wasn’t until I travelled and visited galleries in cities including Athens, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Barcelona, Beirut, Montreal, Lyon, New York, Paris, Zurich, Reykjavik, San Francisco, London, Tallinn, Tallinn and Turin that I started to understand how art history shifted and diverged.

On these trips, I also got to know leaders in non-profit organisations, arts service projects and documentary film-making, as well as the younger generation of collectives leading contemporary art. I found my roots and my calling. So much so, that shortly after arriving back in the UK in 1999, I left university as an accomplished researcher and published articles and books about galleries and artists. This has led to several well-received interviews, culminating in 2007 in my first major publication in New York called, Undercover in Studio 17 – the first book in its kind to explore the rise of the artist.

Doha has become an important platform for international arts and culture, thanks to its successful efforts to diversify the art scene. This explains, among other things, the first-ever major international exhibition in Qatar of graffiti artist and performance artist Banksy, which sold for a stunning $1.8m. The city is also home to Damien Hirst’s Brontë Project, curated by the artist’s wife-and-children. I find Brontë Project fascinating in several ways: first of all, it is the first time the artist has collaborated outside of his native United Kingdom since opening the mysterious and audacious Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire in 1974. It is also an impressive show highlighting the writer’s influence on art and society today.

For seven years in a row, Qatar is hosting the inaugural Documenta – one of the world’s most important biennials of contemporary art. It is considered by many to be the most political world event outside the United States, and follows closely the Qatar exhibition of International Contemporary Artexternal link in 2017, which strongly pushed the boundaries for a country deeply insecure about its own identity and pushed through government-owned entities in its bid to become a global hub for culture.

The show offers Qatar people a platform to interrogate how their culture, beliefs and customs reflect on artworks as also visual art, music and sculpture. Documenta Qatar 2018 asks: “How can we live in a world where one single story of corruption or extremism is enough to terminate careers?”

In my years of cultural exploration, I realise more and more that projects such as these are essential for the diversification of Qatar’s cultural landscape. They can boost confidence and ability and also open the doors to other countries and individuals to visit, invest and stay. Projects such as Documenta, Inter Canto (a contemporary art residency programme), Al Waida Cultural Village, Al Mouraina collection, come at a price. Projects such as these also bring back our cultural identity, which is one of the pillars of Qatar’s future. Artists and visual artists hold a key role in setting the ground rules for Qatar’s future.

Kandi Boultbee’s new book, The Legacy of Mattress Cash Fires, will be published by Oxford University Press later this year. She is currently a director of the Getty Institute Qatarexternal link. end of infobox

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