By Raynald C Rivera
Qatar was in the international media for a different reason this time — for the display of public art in the form of huge statutes and sculptures.
For the global media, the installation of these sculptures pointed to changing trends in what is largely considered as conservative Qatari society.
Not surprisingly though, the move attracted huge public criticism with people expressing their views openly on the local social networking sites.
Qataris could not help but pour their sentiments on the Twitter and other social networking sites about the public sculptures set up as part of Qatar Museums Authority’s public art program.
Commentators seemed mostly riled by these sculptures.
One of them said Doha was “now filled with strange sculptures”, while another talked of “a shameful episode in the history of football”. He was referring to British artist Damien Hirst’s “The Miraculous Journey” and Algerian-born French artist Adel Abdessemed’s “Coup de Tete.”
Hirst’s 14 monumental sculptures depict the gestation of a foetus from conception to birth and were unveiled outside Sidra Medical and Research Center on Monday, while Abdessemed’s “Coup de Tete,” which was installed on the Corniche last week, shows Algerian-French football player Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt on Italian footballer Marco Materazzi.
A Twitter hashtag in Arabic, “statues zidane corniche”, quickly grew to dozens of outraged tweets.
“We in Doha feel ashamed of this five-metre sculpture fixed on the Corniche,” said one Twitter user referring to the “head butt” sculpture.
While the sculpture enraged many, they also became the subject of jokes with one Twitter user saying “Soon the name of the Corniche road will be changed to Head Butt road.”
A tweet in Twitter hasthtag in Arabic “remove statues corniche” called the Zidane sculpture “haram” and expressed fear that the visually arresting “headbutt” figure might be imitated by children.
Abdessemed’s sculpture, which was also displayed in Pompidou Centre in Paris, was reported to be permanently fixed on its present location as part of a series of public art displays under the QMA’s public art programme.
“These idols should not be placed on the streets even for one day. The fact that they would be there permanently is alarming because they would be familiar to people who see them every day,” said another Twitter user.
While some could not see the rationale in erecting the statues, others question the reason for particularly choosing the statues.
“Why immortalise this headbutt scene? How about the best moments in the history of football?” one Twitter user questioned.
“Zidane’s head butt is not something to be proud of but rather the worst act in the history of the sport because France lost in World Cup 2006 after that incident,” commented another.
Jean Paul Engelen, Director of Public Art at QMA, explained that the sculpture shows the “human” side of footballers who are almost worshipped by their fans.
“Adel Abdessemed’s sculpture tells a 21st Century story in a 19th Century style. It looks to the ancient Greek tragedies to trace doomed heroes and the frailties of human nature.
“In our world we look to football players as super heroes like their classical forebears, ultimately they display the same faults and defects we have particularly when family honour is at stake.”
Some critics say the Zidane statue does not have a rightful place in Qatar and that there are other historical figures whose exceptional deeds need to be remembered by everyone, thus deserve to have statues erected in their memory.
“Why are they giving a lot of importance to this (statue) disregarding significant figures in the history of Arab Muslims such as artists and scientists?” one asked.
Others suspect acquiring the “head butt” sculpture was part of Qatar’s preparation for the World Cup 2022.
“I think fixing these statues in various areas in Qatar is to show that the country is qualified to host the World Cup and that we love football because this shows a part of the history of the sport,” a Qatari reacted.
While there are many who attack the statues as inappropriate, others are campaigning toward its removal, with one saying, “I hope the youths go there at night and turn the statue into a Picasso.”
Responding to a media query about the reactions of the community regarding the sculptures, Kimberly French, Chief Marketing Officer at QMA, said, “The purpose of public art is to encourage discussion and debate about what it means whether you like it and how you feel about the art, so we’re very excited that the public is engaged and interested in all of the installations that we had this week.”
“I think what is more important for the community is to be able to talk about the art and to be able to express their concerns. We are very sensitive to the community and we are listening to their comments,” she said, adding the statues are part of a big slate of programme by the QMA.
The sculptures were installed following QMA’s recent announcement of a series of public art initiatives whose purpose is to bring art out of the walls of the museum making it accessible to the public every day, and encourage discussion and debate.
“Rock on Top of Another Rock” by acclaimed Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss will also be installed on a major location in the country next year. It is a 5.5-metres-high sculpture of two large granite boulders seemingly balanced one on top of the other.
Other projects under the programme included the monumental sculpture resembling a spider titled Maman by French-American artist Louise Bourgeois at the Qatar National Convention Centre, American artist Richard Serra’s 7 at the Museum of Islamic Art, Gandhi’s Three Monkeys by Indian artist Subodh Gupta in Katara, the 53 pannels by Tunisian graffiti artist eL Seed along Salwa Tunnel and Sarah Lucas’ Perceval at the Aspire Park.
Of all the public artworks already installed the sculptures by Abdessemed and Hirst however were the only ones which have attracted criticisms from the public.
Meanwhile, Qatari columnist Faisal Al Marzouqi is critical of the display of public art in the city for a different reason and says even if the sculptures are not forbidden (haraam) in Islam, they are not part of Qatari culture and people don’t accept them.
In remarks to The Peninsula, he said yesterday the problem with the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) was that it didn’t involve Qataris while planning exhibitions or installation of sculptures or anything of that sort.
Qataris, he claims, are not represented on the committees that are tasked with holding such events or carrying out such installations. “Why don’t they involve citizens, for they know the local sensitivities?”
According to Al Marzouqi, the QMA instead depends on foreigners who have no familiarity at all with local culture, values and sensitivities. “They need to consider the taste of local people and their sensitivities. Ignoring that leads to a gap between the Authority and the Qatari community.”
Zinedine Zidan’s statue is okay from sporting point of view. “It depicts an incident in football’s history, but such statues are simply not accepted by Qatari people and society,” said Al Marzouki.
He said some subways here were painted by a French artist who, obviously, didn’t know the local culture and values and taste. “Eventually, the artist sought help of locals to complete his work,” said Al Marzouqi.The Peninsula