Artist from Arabia

In a peaceful neighbourhood in the heart of the Qatari capital of Doha is a calm but productive artistic guest house.

Shaikh Hasan talks to about his photography
Shaikh Hasan talks to about his photography

The house is intended to host Arab artists. It consists of spacious studios and workshops equipped with everything a painter or a sculpture might need.

The house is sponsored by Shaikh Hasan bin Muhammad Al Thani, who is also a painter and professional photographer.


Shaikh Hasan, 45, is a holder of a PhD in the modern history of the Arab Gulf region. He says he discovered his painting talent late when he was in his mid-30s.

The idea behind the house is to foster Arab art and provide Arab artists with the aid they need when their governments fall short of their support. spoke to Shaikh Hasan and asked him about the motivation behind establishing his guest house.


Any Arab artist is a fellow coun-
tryman, Shaikh Hasan says

Shaikh Hasan: My main motivation was the hardships the Iraqi artists saw during the 13-year UN sanctions imposed on Iraq. I visited Iraq on several occasions. No doubt Iraq is one of the leading Arab countries in art in general and plastic and fine art in specific. It introduced to the world great painters and sculptors like Ala Bashir, Faik Hasan, Shakir Hasan Al Said, and Ismaayl Fatah al-Turk and others.


Let us take al-Turk for example… I know it is not practical to rate artists, but personally I can say that al-Turk was the best Arab sculptor. All Arabs should be proud of this artist.

When I visited Iraq during the sanctions, I noticed that artists in general were facing real privation, but their determination to keep their art alive amazed me, so I decided to help them as much as I can. Also I would like to say that Iraqis have always been so generous, so it is our duty to help them through the hard time they have been going through.


I was so sad when I received in the mid-1990s paintings from young Iraqi artists done on canvas or pieces of cloth. They did not have the proper materials because of the sanctions. However, I bought many works from that era to document a certain age of Iraqi art. So is it for Iraqi artists?


Of course not, but the thing is they were the most needy ones; their country has been living in the most difficult situation in the region.


For me an artist from any Arab country is a fellow Arab artist, I do not care about the passport he carries. I am just an artist and I do not care for borders; I consider an Arab artist from Iraq or Morocco is a Qatari.


But at the end of the day, I am one person, I am not a state, and I cannot support all Arab artists from Mauritania to Yemen. I chose the neediest ones, Iraqis. However, our organisation supports many Arab artists to hold their exhibitions and get their names known.


You know why I felt Iraqis deserve help?

I used to organise artistic exhibitions there, and even during the years of sanctions when people used to struggle to put food in their children’s mouths, my exhibitions used to achieve considerable turnout and higher than that achieved in other relaxed Arab countries. That showed me Iraqis do care about art.


How does your guest house work?


Either I invite the artists, or they inform me of their desire to come to Doha. When an artist is hosted in the guest house, he will find everything he needs to do his work; sleeping space, servants, workshop and materials.


The artist works here peacefully and at the end either he takes his work and organises an exhibition by himself or we buy the work from him.

Sometimes I used to ask the artists – especially if a talented one like Ala Bashir or Ismaiel Fattah al-Turk – to do three copies of each piece they create in the guest house.


One for the artist himself, one to be sent back to the Iraqi museum – if I knew it would be vandalised I would not ask for a copy for it – and one for the guest house.


How does the guest house benefit?


It is a non-profit organisation, but usually artists who come and enjoy the peaceful inspiring environment here present some of their works as gift to the guest house.


We have now hundreds of artistic works presented from artists we hosted.

How do you evaluate the guest house’s contribution to Arab art?


Frankly speaking, my experience with the Iraqi artists needs to be studied and analysed properly. I mean in terms of the relation between environment and creativity.

I noticed that Iraqi artists become creative when we host them in our guest house in Doha. I could feel that they used to get rid of the tension they have been living in Iraq.


The atmosphere here unleashes their artistic imagination.
Starting from early 1990s until 2005, when Iraq entered its second ordeal in less than two decades, I succeeded in documenting the art in that stage and managed to provide Iraqi artists with a proper environment to unleash their talents.

We definitely know that any artist needs a peaceful and relaxed environment to create, but in our guest house we have works done by Iraqi artists in Iraq, and works by the same artists done here in the guest house; if you study the difference between them you will be amazed. Sometimes you cannot believe that they were done by the same artist.


Shakir Hasan, for example, did his greatest masterpiece, The Squares, here in this guest house.


Salim al-Dabbagh, an abstract artist, when we hosted him in Doha he unleashed his utmost talent in painting the black Arab tent. You look at his pieces and you see a pure Arab version of the European abstract art.


Do you run or help run some museums in Qatar?


It is not exactly like that – you have to know that I have never accepted any government post.


I am a collector in the first place, so in addition to the presents from my colleague artists I have collected some masterpieces from around the Arab world and kept them in a special house.


This house has become a potential Museum for Arab Arts and covers arts in the Arab world in the last two centuries. It was a personal initiative, but it has been widened and I cannot carry on alone, so the state of Qatar will take charge of, and it will be a very interesting project, the first of its kind in the region.


It will contain the first Arab painting ever – it was done in Algeria in 1847 – and the first painting for Baghdad; ironically it was after one of the wars between the Turks and the Persians and the painting clearly shows the destruction done to the city.


Living artists will enjoy the seeing their early works and compare it to what they are doing now.


The museum will contain a department for Arab calligraphy since its early beginnings. Sadly there is no museum for Arab calligraphy in the whole Arab homeland, so this will be the first of its kind as well.


A non-Arab researcher, for example, has to visit several Arab countries to understand Arab art, but the Museum for Arab Arts in Qatar will contain Arab art under one roof, from its early stages to the present time.


The museum will be useful even for Arabs, for example, the great Egyptian artist George Sabbagh. This artist was one of the artists who kept the artistic movement in Egypt in parallel with that in Europe.


He had his first exhibition in Paris in 1917, but sadly he is widely unknown in Egypt itself, let alone the Arab world. We managed to acquire some of his greatest paintings and they will be shown in the museum. 

Source : Al Jazeera

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