When I think of Qatar or Qatari culture, my thoughts tend to sway towards the Gulf region as opposed to Qatar itself. I haven’t been able to distinguish the individuality of Qatari culture from the collective Gulf culture, which is why I was keen to visit Reconnecting Arts’ Contemporary Art from Qatar exhibition. Reconnecting Arts have provided a platform for twenty established and emerging Qatari artists and six filmmakers at the P21 gallery in London. At a time when the Gulf peninsular is changing and progressing rapidly, the exhibition allows us to witness that change from the perspectives of those who are experiencing it. The exhibition touches upon each artists’ experience, life and thoughts and the ways in which they connect with their identity, culture and surroundings.
Qatari artist Ahmed Al Jufairi, one of the twenty showcasing their work at the exhibition, is behind my favourite piece at the exhibition, “Pretty Hurts”. We spoke about all things Qatar, art and Beyoncé.
ZAT: When did you discover your love for art and was your journey like to becoming an artist in Qatar?
AAJ: Ever since I could remember I was drawing on walls, my hands and then eventually on paper. I come from a family of artists on my mother’s side. Her father inspired her and I in turn inherited the gift of art from my mother.
Unfortunately, a Fine Arts degree in Qatar is not taken as seriously as we would like it or as it should be as there are a lot of great artists to uncover here. As a Fine Arts graduate in the country, it is difficult to find a job as it’s currently still seen as more of a hobby than an actual career. I believe what Qatar needs are artists who pave the way for others and make the arts more into a viable career option than a hobby to indulge in. This is a movement in which I am pursuing an active role.
ZAT: I feel that your art is quite expressive, particularly the piece “Pretty Hurts” where we see the duality of a modern Arab man. Do you ever think twice about creating pieces that push barriers in a society which is very conservative and promotes privacy?
AAJ: If I was not allowed to express myself fully through my art, I would give it up instantly. Yes, Qatari society today is still quite conservative but I believe that art can shape a society and the mindset of those who indulge in it. I am hoping that with artists expressing themselves through their work, the audience will then follow and inherit the idea of fearlessness and the importance of individuality into their own personal lives.
ZAT: Tell me about your muse – Beyoncé.
AAJ: We go back a long way. When I first started as a student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, I would merely make portraits of Beyoncé, which I suppose could be categorised as fan art. I then wanted to elevate my work and make it more of a personal narrative that happens to be inspired by Beyoncé as opposed to complete fan art. It wasn’t easy for me to make this shift and took years of experimentation, focus and determination. My art now focuses on my dreams, goals and views on contemporary issues in Qatar whilst of course also including a hint of a Beyoncé-inspired essence in every art piece I make.
ZAT: At a time when Qatar is progressing at such rapid speed and becoming more prominent on the world stage, what is the one thing you look forward to welcoming with the shift?
AAJ: Qatar is truly progressing at a rapid pace, which in my opinion is a positive thing. It is important to remember that Qatar is a globalised country where we are aware of what is around us and we are willing to learn and grow. I’m looking forward to adopting the positive philosophies from countries around the world and attempting to implement those ideas within our own culture to further our own growth.
ZAT: Which other Qatari artists do you admire?
AAJ: We have a volcano of talent here and I particularly admire Yousef Ahmed and Ali Hassan. They’re seasoned artists who have paved the way for emerging artists. I not only admire their artwork and work ethic but also admire them as people; they’ve been a great source of inspiration to look up to.
ZAT: Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects that we can look forward to?
AAJ: There are many projects I am working on that aren’t quite set in stone but I will say that I am currently one of 20 resident artists at the Doha Fire Station. It’s special because we’re all from different countries and backgrounds and will be exhibiting together in June 2017.
ZAT: I look forward to seeing that next summer. Thank you for your time.
AAJ: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
The exhibition runs from November 11th 2016 – December 20th 2016. You can follow Ahmed Al Jufairi on Instagram: @AJARTQA
Reconnecting Arts is a platform that supports Arab artists and have hosted this exhibition independently and voluntarily. You can find out more about their work on their website . A limited edition catalogue that features articles, bios and project statements from all 26 artists is available to purchase here.