The Palais de Tokyo in Paris has been criticized for agreeing to host the exhibition “Notre Monde Brûle” (Our World Is Burning), which was organized by the Arab Museum of Modern Art (Mathaf) in Qatar and is scheduled to open on February 21. Those opposed to the show are arguing that Palais de Tokyo’s collaboration with the state-run Qatari museum is an affront to the LGBTQ community in France since homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.
“The gay community shall fight for the cancellation of the exhibition,” the Azerbaijani artist and Paris-based LGBTQ activist Babi Badalov told the Art Newspaper. Philosopher Yves Michaud, the retired director of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, also said that the partnership between the two institutions “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.”
The backlash over the show follows concerns over Qatar’s human rights record—the country previously came under fire after media outlets learned of the poor conditions endured by the country’s migrant laborers who built the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2017—and Qatar’s interest in investing in France’s cultural sector. The country has purchased several properties in Paris in recent years, and in 2018, provided funding for the renovation of the city’s historic exhibition venue the Hôtel de Marine.
Curated by Abdellah Karoum, the director of Mathaf, and Fabien Danesi, the exhibition “offers a fully political view of international creation seen from the Gulf” and will address “numerous societal transformations in the Middle East in the context of the global crisis of political debate and environmental fragility.” It will include work by John Akomfrah, Francis Alÿs, Yto Barrada, Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Faraj Daham, Khalil El Ghrib, Mounir Fatmi, Fabrice Hyber, Shirin Neshat, Otobong Nkanga, Michael Rakowitz, Danh Vo, and the Raqs Media Collective.
The show is part of the Qatar-France 2020 Year of Culture, a series of exhibitions, festivals, and other events that are set to take place in both countries over the next twelve months. Qatar has teamed up with a different country every year since 2012 as part of its effort to promote cross-cultural understanding. The program will be inaugurated with a concert by the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra at the Katara Opera House on January 10.
“The Qatar-France 2020 Year of Culture will continue the advances in mutual understanding, friendship, and support that our nations are so proud to have achieved,” Franck Gellet, Ambassador of the Republic of France to the State of Qatar, said in a statement. “In the past year alone, we exchanged visits of high-level delegations and signed seven important agreements in defense, security, higher education, and culture.”
He added, “The dynamic bilateral trade between our nations is flourishing, having increased only recently by a remarkable 33 percent for the year, and the Institut Français du Qatar has just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. By encompassing visual arts, music, cinema, sport, literature, and scholarly and scientific exchanges, Qatar-France 2020 will broaden these existing relationships among our people while elevating them to an even higher level.”
Other events being held in France include screenings of works from the Doha Film Institute at the Cannes International Film Festival and the Short Film Festival in Clermont-Ferrrand and the presentation of Qatar Culture Week at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris in October 2020. In Qatar, an exhibition of Pablo Picasso works loaned from the Musée National Picasso in Paris will go on view at the Fire Station Garage Gallery in March 2020 and a show of Yto Barrada works will open at the Arab Museum of Modern Art. More events will be announced in the coming months.
The Palais de Tokyo did not immediately respond to Artforum’s request for comment.