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The Cultural World Gathers in Qatar to Inaugurate MATHAF: Arab Museum of Modern Art
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. Installation view of inaugural exhibition Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art. Gallery 2 - Nature © Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art.

DOHA, QATAR.- In the presence of His Highness the Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, international dignitaries, leaders of prominent cultural institutions, scholars and more than eighty artists join the inaugural ceremony for Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art today. An unprecedented new center for Arab culture and creativity, Mathaf (pronounced MAT-haff, meaning “museum” in Arabic) will open to the public on December 30, 2010, in Doha, Qatar.

The first institution of its kind in the region, Mathaf will foster creativity, promote dialogue and inspire new ideas about modern and contemporary Arab art. The 5,500-square-meter (59,000-square-foot) Museum, located in a former school building in Doha’s Education City, has a collection that represents the major trends and sites of production of modern Arab art spanning the 1840s through the present. Offering a rare comprehensive overview of modern Arab art, the new museum is presenting three inaugural exhibitions, including the first survey of its unparalleled collection of more than 6,000 works. Equally important, Mathaf is presenting programs that engage the local and international community, as well as encourage research and scholarship, contributing to the cultural landscape of the Gulf region, the Middle East and the Arab Diaspora.

The inaugural ceremony on December 14 will feature a program of live entertainment and musical performances spearheaded by Yassin Alsalman (aka The Narcicyst) under the heading Identity Card: Who We Were, Where We Are. The line-up of music and poetry underscores the opening event’s theme of the resurgence of Arab artistic expression from the East and the West. Alsalman has selected poets, singers and MCs including Omar Offendum, Shadia Mansour and Suheir Hammad for the event, juxtaposing the modern with the classical, presenting an homage to history and modernity and creating a new space for the voice of Arab art.

Continuing the celebration, a two-day academic conference will take place on December 16 and 17, presented as a collaboration between Mathaf and AMCA (Association for Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Iran and Turkey). Scholars and artists will discuss topics including major genres of Arab modern art, the history and implications of art education in the Arab world, the function of critics and curators in defining the field, and the growing role of multi-nationalism and markets.

To welcome the public when it opens on December 30, Mathaf will offer free activities for all ages, including a variety of tours in Arabic and English throughout the afternoon and evening, family programs (including hands-on workshops and a “creativity scavenger hunt”), poetry readings in the galleries (in which authors will recite recently composed verses inspired by works in the collection) and a film screening and discussion.

Mathaf is the outgrowth of more than two decades of activity by the Vice-Chairperson of the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), His Excellency Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani. The collection was adopted originally by Qatar Foundation, which safeguarded it for four years before QMA took on the Museum as a project in partnership with Qatar Foundation. As the catalyst of this project, H.E. Sheikh Hassan has encouraged creativity in Qatar and throughout the region with his longtime commitment to Arab artists.

“With the opening of Mathaf, we make Qatar the place to see, explore and discuss the creations of Arab artists of the modern era and our own time,” stated QMA Chairperson Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. “We are proud that Qatar is now revealing these artistic achievements in unprecedented depth and breadth, just as our Museum of Islamic Art opened vast new perspectives on our centuries-old heritage.”

According to H.E. Sheikh Hassan, “We warmly welcome the people of our own country and region, and visitors from around the world, to a center of knowledge and creativity that has long been needed. Collectors and curators are increasingly drawn toward the work of contemporary Arab artists, which is a very welcome development. But today’s artistic activities can truly flourish only if they are connected meaningfully to the important history that lies behind these achievements. Mathaf deepens the conversation about Arab art and helps advance the creativity of the Arab world.”

Abdulla Al Najjar, CEO of QMA, commented, “Mathaf was born out of Sheikh Hassan’s profound, ongoing engagement with Arab artists and his desire to share their works with our own people and a global audience. This is the perfect illustration of our mission at QMA: to build understanding across borders and welcome the world to Doha. Mathaf fulfills this mission, and does so with the element of innovation toward which we always aspire.”

Roger Mandle, Executive Director of QMA, stated, “Mathaf demonstrates how Qatar is redefining the role and function of museums in the 21st century. The Mathaf experience is based on dialogue and interactivity. It is designed from the first to engage the public at every level, here and around the world. These are goals for all of QMA’s institutions—but they are especially important for Mathaf, given the role this Museum plays in a living, ongoing arts community.”

“Mathaf aims to become a resource for its visitors—both physical and virtual, local and global—to learn about modern Arab art,” said Chief Curator and Acting Director Wassan Al-Khudhairi. “We are proud to follow His Excellency Sheikh Hassan’s lead as pioneers in this growing field, and to honor the seminal artists who have profoundly impacted the art of our time.”

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