With reporting by Jaimee Haddad; Photos by Penny Yi Wang
Hot on the heels of one controversial art installation (Adel Abdessemed‘s “Coup de Tête” on the Corniche), the Qatar Museums Authority has just unveiled something else that is sure to get people talking: Damien Hirst’s specially commissioned “The Miraculous Journey.”
The collection, a group of 14 sculptures, was unveiled tonight in a spectacle of lights and pomp and is located at the under-construction Sidra Medical and Research Center near Education City.
The work – which shows 14 different stages from conception to birth, including a sperm fertilizing an egg, a fetus, a twin pregnancy, a breech birth, and finally, a fully-fledged newborn baby – was commissioned by Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, chairwoman of QMA.
Speaking to the New York Times, the sister of the current Emir and daughter of the former Emir said:
“To have something like this is less daring than having a lot of nudity. There is a verse in the Koran about the miracle of birth. It is not against our culture or our religion.”
Hirst, whose largest exhibition ever and Middle East debut opens in Doha on Thursday, also attended the unveiling, as the huge statues were revealed from beneath giant white balloons.
Weighing in collectively at 216 tons, each of the bronze statues packs a huge visual punch – the newborn baby, for example, is 46 feet (14 meters) tall.
Speaking to Doha News, Hirst acknowledged that the set – which has been in the works since 2005, and specifically for Qatar since 2009 – might prove controversial:
“I suppose the cultural differences are a bit difficult. You know in England, there wouldn’t be a problem with a naked baby, you see the embryo and the egg and sperm.
You know culturally, it’s the first naked sculpture in the Middle East… It’s very brave of Sheikha Mayassa to go with the whole thing.”
He added that he has dedicated the work “to the people of Qatar” and that Sidra, a hospital and research center dedicated to the health of women and children whose opening has been delayed to 2015, is “like a dream setting” for the piece.
QMA has previously told Doha News that it wanted the unveiling tonight to be a “surprise,” but efforts to keep the artwork a secret were stymied when images of the final sculpture, the baby, appeared online after one of the balloons floated off after installation. Some residents also spotted the works while in transit, and tweeted about it.
Officials have not disclosed how much QMA paid Hirst for the work, but the NYT reports that it cost at least $20 million.
UPDATE | Oct. 9, 2013
QMA said that because Sidra is an active construction site, the statues will be covered on and off over the next few weeks as lighting and other elements are retooled.