Art depicting chickens on fire at Mathaf ruffles feathers in Qatar

A glimpse of the Printemp film

Faisal Marzoqi

A glimpse of the Printemp film

The Qatar Museums Authority is standing by a controversial film on display at the Arab Museum of Modern Art (Mathaf) following a number of complaints about its content. Titled “Printemps,” or “spring” in French, the video depicts several chickens screaming while appearing to be on fire as they hang against a wall.

The film, which can be viewed in part here, was produced by Algerian-born French artist Adel Abdessemed, as part of an homage to the suffering of those involved in the Arab Spring revolutions. It is part of the L’âge d’Or (The Golden Age) exhibition that is on display at Mathaf until Jan. 5, 2014.

Abdessemed is also the artist who created the controversial Zinedine Zidane headbutt statue that was recently installed on the Corniche.

On Twitter, Qataris have expressed shock and disgust at the film, saying it is distasteful and offensive.

(On the right: “these things were successfully burned down in the exhibition of the so-called Adel Abdessemed;” on the left, underneath the chickens, it says: “law, ethics, humanity and Islamic values.”)

Yesterday, rumors began circulating that the museum took down the video over the controversy.

But officials told Doha News today that the exhibition is still up. And Mathaf has been responding to the criticism online by explaining that the chickens are not actually being burned alive. In a Facebook post yesterday, the museum said:

“The artwork Printemps (Spring) by Adel Abdessemed is a FILM. It is an artistic constructed image. The artist uses violent images to denunciate violence.”

It has also been tweeting a photo of Abdessemed applying the same flammable gel to himself to show that his technique was not painful.

However, the curator of the Mathaf exhibition previously told news media that the artist did not plan to recreate the work because it was so violent.

Pier Luigi Tazzi added, as quoted by the Peninsula:

“He (Abdessemed) wants people to face violence, in a very brutal way. There is no aesthetic reason behind it. It’s not beautiful but you have to be confronted with it.”

Meanwhile, the Qatar Museums Authority has confirmed to Doha News that its Board of Trustees last week established a new committee to improve transparency and accountability in the organization.

QMA in focus

The move comes amid increasing criticism of the organization by some Qataris, who have alleged corruption and questioned whether public money is being squandered on the purchase of unnecessarily expensive artworks that does not stand in-line with local traditions or views of what is appropriate.

However, over the past few months QMA has been restructuring itself from a state-run organization into a “private entity for public good,” meaning it would no longer be subject to certain government regulations such as hiring and other processes and would operate under an endowment.

QMA has also been in the spotlight this month after unveiling artworks by iconic British artist Damien Hirst. Last week, “The Miraculous Journey,” 14 sculptures depicting the different stages of pregnancy from conception to birth were revealed at the yet-to-be-opened Sidra Medical and Research Center.

But because the art is located at an active construction site, QMA officials said it will be covered up on and off as they work out proper lighting and other factors.

Damien Hirst’s largest solo exhibition “Relics” also opened to the public last week at Al Riwaq exhibition hall, and is raising eyebrows for different exhibitions that remind visitors of the circle of life and death, including a shark encased in formaldehyde, diamond-encrusted skulls and maggots feeding on a severed cow’s head.

Have you seen any of the artworks? Thoughts?

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