The first phase of a new art center that replaces the former Civil Defense headquarters in Wadi Al Sail will open on March 15, Qatar Museums officials have announced.
Once the Fire Station opens next month, it will host an artists in residence program, with an inaugural exhibition titled 555.
Hala Al Khalifa, director of the program, said the goal was to support locally-based artists (both Qataris and expats) through a nine-month residency.
She added that so far, some 150 artists have submitted applications online to use the 20 studio spaces available. The applicants hail from all disciplines – “painters, sculptors, multimedia artists,” she said.
They will be screened by a panel of six judges, including Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, the president of Hamad bin Khalifa University and vice president of Qatar Foundation; Jean-Paul Engelen, QM’s head of public art; and Fatma Al Remaihi, the CEO of the Doha Film Institute.
In addition to the 20 artists chosen to partake in the program, there are also four studio spaces reserved for renowned international artists who will be invited to the station for a few months at a time.
“It’s a (great) dynamic…it you are just starting your career as an artist, and you’re joining the residency, for you to be working in a space that has someone with much more experience in the art field…is definitely an enriching experience,” Al Khalifa said.
Initially, organizers had been eying a November 2014 opening.
But Al Khalifa said that date was fluid and it was an achievement to be opening within two years.
Plans may have fallen behind schedule after the construction site caught on fire twice last fall.
Adjacent to the artists’ studios is the “annex building,” which houses space for workshops, cafes, restaurants an art supply shop, and a cinema.
Though the building has already been constructed, and will be open for public viewing next month, the interiors have yet to be furnished, Al Khalifa told Doha News.
Additional care was taken to preserve the original form of the fire station tower, which will be used, according to Al Khalifa, as a way for artists and management to broadcast messages to the public.
Last year, Engelen explained that QM chose the former Civil Defense headquarters because of its large garage, “which is very preferred for the gallery space.”
The building, which was built in 1982, was used for 30 years before being turned over to QM in 2012 for preservation and conservation.
Each digit in the inaugural exhibition 555 refers to an important date in the program’s past, and serves as a sort of tribute to 999, the phone number in Qatar for fire, ambulance and emergency services.
According to Al Khalifa:
“The first ‘5’ refers to 1995, when Sheikh Hassan (bin Mohammed bin Ali al Thani) opened his own residency featuring himself and other artists in the region. It’s a tribute to what he did to the arts scene in Qatar. The second ‘5’ refers to the end of the program, which completed in 2005. The third ‘5’ refers to the present, 2015, when we are opening the program.”
The exhibition will feature work from various local and regional artists who participated in the original residency program, including pieces by Sheikh Hassan, a renowned Qatari artist and founder of the Arab Museum of Modern Art (Mathaf).
Yousef Ahmed, a Qatari artist whose exhibition Story of Ingenuity is currently on display at Katara, will also showcase some of his work next month, including installations, photographs and videos of the original program in an homage to the role it played in fostering and mentoring an arts scene in Qatar.
In the coming months, the Museum of Islamic Art plans to open Marvelous Creatures: Animal Fables in Islamic Art and Qajar Women: Images of Women in 19th Century Iran, on March 4 and 25 respectively.
Elsewhere, Mathaf will open a solo exhibition, Wael Shawky: Cabaret Crusades and Other Stories, on March 17. The display will feature the works of the titular Wael Shawky, an acclaimed Egyptian artist.
His films, installations and performances explore history, culture and the effect of globalization on contemporary societies through fact and fiction. The exhibition will also include two newly completed film trilogies, each inspired by past tales and literature – Cabaret Crusades and Al Araba Al Madfuna.
A fifth exhibition, Ismail Azzam: For Them will open on April 25 at Katara Cultural Village, and will showcase the artist’s exclusive portraits of painters and sculptors who have made a significant contribution to Arab Art.