For the love of learning

Layla Ibrahim Bacha,  Project Manager, Art Portfolio, at Qatar Foundation, talks to ArtScoops about the powerful, yet evolving role of public art in educating and expanding horizons

‘Seeroo fi al Ardh’ installation by Maqbool Fida Husain

Admiring displays of great art is always a special treat. However, when a meticulously curated exhibition or trail also has guides on hand to give context to visitors and encourages stimulating discussions amongst the group, it takes a cultural experience to the next level.

This is the ethos behind the projects and installations that make up the art component of the Qatar Foundation (QF) and is championed by its proud team. And the good news is that the foundation has now resumed many of the initiatives that inevitably ground to a halt in the pandemic, much to the delight of both organisers and visitors, as Layla Ibrahim Bacha,  Project Manager, Art Portfolio at Qatar Foundation, explained.

“It’s almost a case of business as usual, with our public tours now under way and an exciting schedule in the pipeline,” she said with a smile.

High on the list of much-missed projects now welcoming back visitors are the popular art trails. Long a favourite with visitors, the itinerary offers participants a double treat by giving them the opportunity to enjoy a range of impressive artworks up close in the magnificent surroundings of the Education City’s beautiful buildings.

“A huge amount of thought and care has been given to the positioning of the art, which is explained to visitors as they progress along the route through the campus buildings, all of which have their individual architectural characteristics,” Layla explained. 

She added that guides not only provide information and context about the exhibits during the tour, but also encourage dialogue from visitors. “In fact, the tours often evolve into discussions, almost like a cultural club, so each one is different and that’s undoubtedly part of the attraction.” 

Home to a comprehensive art scene, complete with galleries, libraries, museums and student spaces that showcase more than 150 artworks, the site merits being described as a “city within a city”, according to Layla. “Our aim is to educate rather than to solely entertain, albeit in an informal and interesting way,” she explained. “We want visitors to leave us with some insight and additional knowledge.” 

Against that backdrop, the permanent works on show and those featured in temporary exhibition are varied and thoughtfully presented, often supported by other initiatives, such as workshops and talks, while curators and even sometimes the artists themselves act as tour guides. The range of works on show is suitably diverse, encompassing international, regional and local pieces that champion global art and the Arab world’s rich cultural legacy, alongside Qatar’s unique heritage. Brilliant international talents, such as the artists Tracey Emin and Jaume Plensa, from the UK and Spain respectively, are among those featured.

Students also act as tour guides themselves, with the concept now a key component of the educational curriculum, as Layla explained. “The move chimes with our aim of offering young people opportunities to thrive by becoming involved in a broad range of experiences, including discussions and dialogues,” she explained.

Those interactions can now be held face to face again with the pandemic having subsided and, with partnerships now being re-established, Layla is optimistic about the coming season. Several promising projects are in the pipeline, including an exciting public art commission inspired by the FIFA 2022 World Cup competition, which takes place in December. “The project takes the form of a tribute to all the workers who played a part in the construction of the stadiums for the competition and will include an incredible installation by a Korean artist,” she said.

Projects that had to be put to one side but are now back welcoming visitors include the landmark ‘Seeroo fi al Ardh’ installation by Maqbool Fida Husain, known as the Picasso of India, which closed in February 2020, just a couple of months after it opened.

Layla explained that the undisputed master of modern Indian painting had been working on the epic-scale, multi-disciplinary work about Arab and Islamic civilisation in Qatar when he died in 2011, leaving the team to collaborate with his family to complete it. “It was vital that we finished it in keeping with Husain’s vision, since it felt as if he’d taken everything from his life and put it into this work,” she said.

The Anooki 25th anniversary installation

More akin to a show than an installation, the work encompasses multiple components, including light, music and moveable stage components. In keeping with QF’s ethos, the project is followed by a short information art exhibition on the huge project, held in the same location.

QF was also able to mark its 25th anniversary in February 2021 with a public art event, which included a showstopping Anooki video mapping light show, commissioned specially for the occasion, and included six-metre-high, inflatable characters installed at buildings around the campus.

Layla explained that while the work told QF’s story, it also highlighted key topical issues, such as the importance of putting sustainability at the heart of future plans and warnings about global warming, which chime with the foundation’s vision. “The video illustrated the growth story of a seed, which was a great way of celebrating QF’s own development through metaphor, since our symbol is, in fact, a Sidra tree,” she said. “It also gave viewers a glimpse of our broader goals, which include recognising that education is a process. The more we interact, the more we learn and improve, whether through shows, conferences or discussions. We are also keen to share the message that public art is an evolving concept. It’s about so much more than just permanent pieces in public spaces as our projects confirm.”

Layla Ibrahim Bacha

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