Arab Museum Approves Nudity
DOHA, QATAR – The Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art has created controversy by announcing that it will exhibit works containing nudity and politically radical ideas. They will not be subject to censorship, according to Wassan Al-Khudhairi, Chief Curator of the Mathaf.
The museum was founded by powerful Qatari art patron and vice president of the Qatar Museum Authority, Sheikh Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al-Thani and it is due to open in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on December 30th.
Based in Qatar, looking forward into the 21st century, we want to offer a platform for all kinds of local and international visitors, scholars, artists, collectors and enthusiasts to meet, converse and engage more closely with the art of the Arab world and beyond.
The museum aspires to highlight and share contemporary art by Arabs and artists living in the Middle East that might challenge some preconceptions. It will also serve as a research center, an exciting prospect for the regional arts community. Mathaf, which simply means “museum” in Arabic, will be housed in a in a 5,500-square meter former school that has been converted by the French architect Jean-Francois Bodin.
The inaugural exhibition, titled, “Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art,” will include works from Mathaf’s permanent collection of over 6,200 pieces dating from the late 1800s to the middle of the 20th century, all of which were donated from Sheik Hassan’s private collection.
Skeptics have wondered aloud whether politics will play a role in the acquisition and exhibition of certain works, excluding pieces that might be considered politically or sexually provocative. “Sajjil,” which roughly translated as the act of recording features paintings and sculptures by more than 100 key modernists, is aimed at bringing contemporary Arabic art to a wider audience.
“Our first exhibition, ‘Sajjil’ is about the interaction and about the contribution of Arab artists to a larger art historical context,” Al-Khudhairi said. “By making it public, we are able to open it up to everyone in Qatar, in the region, internationally.
“Crucially, adds Al-Khudhairi, it will also draw attention to a contemporary art scene that developed in parallel with European movements but has been largely overlooked. “The exhibition will give exposure to these artists to fit into history a period of time that’s missing from art historical books and accounts,” she said.
“The collection has nudes; the collection has political works. These things are part of the collection — we can’t deny it “We are not trying to present some sort of new canon, this is why we stress multiple modernities and contemporary art. She added that Mathaf was willing to risk criticism for showing controversial works.
“I think there will be all kinds of feedback and the museum is about creating a space for dialogue; a platform for discussion,” Al-Khudhairi said.
Saleh Barakat, a Beirut-based leading expert in contemporary Arab art, described the museum’s opening as “an exceedingly important moment in the history of modern and contemporary art.”
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