Qatar aims to increase its influence in the realms of art and cinema

The future of art is the main theme of “Your Ghosts Are Mine: Expanded Cinema, Amplified Voices,” a film and video installation that coincides with this year's Venice Biennale. Organized by Qatar Museums and featuring around 40 artists from the region, it speaks to the emergence of the Middle East as a force in various art forms, not to mention the force in changing the narrative on how the region is represented in films and 'art.

The future is in the mind of Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, president of Qatar Museums and the Doha Film Institute. Al Mayassa sees this year's Art for Tomorrow conference in Venice, convened by the Democracy & Culture Foundation, with panels moderated by New York Times journalists, as an opportunity to raise the profile of artists from his home country, the Qatar, and beyond. Among the conference events is a visit to the installation at the ACP Palazzo Franchetti, home of the Biennale.

“In Qatar we have been working for years to support the work of directors and video artists from the Arab world and others from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia,” Al Mayassa said in a recent interview. “This exhibition continues our work of bringing their ideas from the margins of international debate to the center.”

The installation, which runs until November 24, also plays with the Biennial's theme of “Foreigners Everywhere” with excerpts from films and videos in 10 of the palace's galleries by more than 40 artists from around the world. Each gallery has a theme, ranging from deserts as cradles of civilization and places of rebirth to borders as border lines between free and forbidden places.

This high-profile exhibition reflects Qatar's emergence as an artistic powerhouse over the past two decades. Several existing museums, including the Museum of Islamic Art, known locally as MIA, and the National Museum of Qatar, have gained visibility thanks to the turnout of around one million visitors to the World Cup in 2022.

More museums are expected in the coming years, notably the Art Mill Museum, with a planned 23,000 square meters of exhibition space in a repurposed and expanded waterfront mill, scheduled to open in 2030, and the Lusail Museum, which will house the country's vast collection of so-called orientalist art, which will open in 2029.

Alongside these major projects is Qatar's commitment to public art.

“We work in cities and neighborhoods to engage communities with regional and global art to inspire residents and visitors about what creativity can do, and we placed nearly 80 public art installations during the World Cup,” said Al Mayassa. “But it's not purely about art. It's also about urban planning. We continue to think about how culture and art change the atmosphere of the communities we support.”

For her, “Your Ghosts Are Mine: Expanded Cinema, Amplified Voices” is ideal for the conference. While not public art in the traditional sense, cinema has been part of Qatar's effort to reorient how the public consumes art.

“In Qatar, over the last two decades, with the new museums and the Film Institute, the way we see things has changed,” said Fatma Hassan Al Remaihi, chief executive of the Doha Film Institute, during an interview last month in his office in Doha. “The way people here perceive art has changed. Before it was just entertainment. Now people see that it changes the way you think about the world, how you think about yourself and how you identify with others.”

“Your Ghosts Are Mine: Expanded Cinema, Amplified Voices” celebrates in a big way the emergence of the Doha Film Institute, which sponsors an annual film festival. But the idea of ​​creating an installation during the Venice Biennale was about global visibility.

“It is a great platform for stories from the region and the Global South to find a different way of presentation than the usual cinema environment, as viewers see these films spread across 10 different rooms with 10 different themes,” said Al Remaihi . . “Being in Venice is a huge platform, even if we are not on the official program of the Biennale. But we are there at the same time as artists and industry people coming from all over the world.”

Excerpts from works by over 40 directors from the Middle East and Africa will be included.

This visibility is what the film institute aspires to, especially as it supports filmmakers from the region.

“For us it is a celebration of everything the institute has done for almost 15 years now, including supporting more than 800 films from around the world,” Al Remaihi said. “Those films garnered so much acclaim. It is a huge story that the institute has built in a very short time.”

The substance of the installation is vast. Each of the 10 rooms not only has a different theme but also a different presentation method. The installation weaves a story about the lives of people and places into a single narrative.

“The exhibition has a beginning and an end, so it is a journey, and the magic is that the curator managed to tell a story with so many excerpts,” Zeina Arida, director of the Arab Museum of Modern Art, known locally as Mathaf, he said during a recent interview. “It's a journey that takes you into the lives of these people.”

The first room, for example, is about deserts, which obviously represent an important part of the identity and history of the Middle East and North Africa.

“In that first room there are two screens tilted to different film excerpts,” Arida explained. “Aesthetics are important. You are invited to sit. It rebuilds a cinema.”

The atmosphere – and presentation – changes as the viewer moves through the rooms of the palace.

“In the other rooms you watch movie clips on small television monitors,” he said. “It doesn't overwhelm you with size and sound. It's more intimate. It's a lot about people bearing witness to their own stories.

As Art for Tomorrow coincides with the installation in Venice this month, it seems like the perfect time and place to portray the Middle East and the Global South in a new way, Al Remaihi said.

“We've been painted in a very dark and inauthentic way for so many years and decades, and now we have a way to balance the narrative and tell our stories the way we want to tell them,” he said. “It's a completely new era and a golden age for cinema in the Middle East.”

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