Is the France-Qatar Year of Culture doomed only a week into 2020?
In Doha yesterday, programming for the year-long cultural exchange was announced to great fanfare, but one planned exhibition is already catching flack.
“Notre monde brûle” (Our World is Burning), an exhibition organized by Mathaf, Qatar’s state-run Arab Museum of Modern Art, is set to open at Palais de Tokyo on February 21 (through May 17), but critics say the collaboration, between a French museum that espouses a LGBTQ-friendly ethos, and the Qatari state, which criminalizes homosexuality, is unacceptable.
“This is part of the Qatari government’s shameless and long-term strategy to bribe French society and soften its stance on human rights issues in the Persian Gulf region,” Yves Michaud, the former director of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, told the Art Newspaper.
Curated by Mathaf’s director, Abdellah Karroum, with French art historian Fabien Danes, the exhibition is a “committed look at contemporary creation from the Persian Gulf” amid the wars and diplomatic tensions that defined the beginning of the 21st century, according to the show’s organizers.
Drawn from Mathaf’s collection, the exhibition is slated to feature works by international artists including Francis Alÿs, Wael Shawky, and Yto Barrada, and will touch on everything from the Arab Spring to the impact of climate change.
The backlash against the show, first reported by the Art Newspaper, comes amid growing scrutiny over Qatari investments in France, especially in the cultural sphere, and growing global concerns over the nation’s stance on homosexuality in the prelude to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which Qatar will host. The travel safety blog Asher and Lyric in December ranked Qatar the second-most-dangerous country in the world for LGBTQ travelers.
Museums in France have faced mounting scrutiny over the past decade for taking money from nations that have poor human rights records.
In 2017, the celebratory opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi was tarnished by the poor treatment of South Asian migrant construction workers who built the museum. Yet the Louvre will bring in €974 million ($1.12 billion) from the UAE over three decades, some of which will be spent to bolster operations at the Paris flagship.
Yet the Al Thani family, which rules Qatar, has been a growing force in the art world. Sheikha Mayassa Al Thani, the sister of the Emir, was reported to have spent over $1 billion on art in 2013, and in 2017, the family paid $300 million for Paul Gauguin’s 1892 painting Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?).
The exchange with France marks the ninth Year of Culture organized by Qatar. The annual cultural exchange is intended to foster “mutual understanding across borders” and opportunities “to encounter and appreciate one another’s creativity” through exhibitions, festivals, bilateral exchanges, and events, according to a statement. Among Qatar’s previous partners are Germany, India, and Japan.
Neither the Palais de Tokyo nor Mathaf provided comment by the time of publication.
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