Censorship in Qatar
Reinventing a nation: How the small and very rich desert state of Qatar invests in art and culture. When the most expensive painting of all time was auctioned off at the beginning of May, even the most hard-boiled snobs could hardly believe it: 180 million dollars for an ordinary Picasso! The buyer, too, knew that this price was exorbitantly high. Nevertheless, he took it in order to outdo his fellow bidder. Both came from Qatar. The bossy demand from the Gulf States has given the art market a dizzying dynamic. Much to the delight of the auction houses, much to the chagrin of the European collectors and museums who have to surrender at such prices. The nasty side glances of the new rich competition are roaming: weren’t their grandfathers still camel drivers? The discussion is somewhat reminiscent of the bloodletting of the 1930s, when European painting went to America in great numbers, whose art banauses did not deserve “our” masterpieces after all.
A Medici of the 21st century: Sheikh Al Mayassa
Who are these Kataris who won the 2022 Football World Cup, who keep migrant workers like slaves? What do they know about culture? A lot when it comes to leading figures like Sheikha Al Mayassa, the head of the state museums. In 2013, the Art Review even named her the most influential personality in the art world. A Medici of the 21st century. One billion dollars are to be made available to her annually for purchases. The focus is on contemporary art, which will soon be shown in the new National Museum. Jean Nouvel has given it the shape of a sand rose. In front of the harbour entrance next door, the Museum of Islamic Art rises as a beacon of civilization, piled up by Ieoh Ming Pei. Rem Koolhaas designed the National Library from an origami-like folded paper model. Metaphorical architecture, famous master builders, first-class furnishings – Qatar is currently developing a wide-ranging cultural infrastructure along these lines, including an opera house, amphitheatre, book fair, film institute and artists’ studios. In addition, a number of western universities are opening branches.
But can you order a country to lead a spiritual life? Since the locals make up only fifteen percent of the two million or so inhabitants, culture is predominantly presented by guest workers for guest workers. Nevertheless, it is unmistakable that a major pedagogical offensive is underway here. It’s no coincidence that many of the switch posts are occupied by women. Sheikha Musa, the mother of the current emir, for example, heads the semi-state Qatar Foundation, which carries out education and development work on a large scale. This, in turn, is of particular benefit to women, who rarely have the opportunity to go abroad.
Her portrait in newspapers and television alone caused unrest.
Ameera Al Aji would also have liked to have studied at a European art academy. But that was still unthinkable for girls at that time. Nevertheless, she made her way and now in her early thirties she has completed her second major solo exhibition. Al Aji works exclusively in the abstract. But not to avoid conflicts – her paintings, installations and animations express these conflicts. The triangle as preferred figure refers to the female archetype as well as to the weaving patterns of the Bedouins. Again and again individual elements dance out of the row and regroup. Titles such as “Differences”, “Change”, “Transitions” postulate self-discovery and space gain. “If I were to work purely decoratively, I could sell well to hotels and private individuals. But conceptual art is foreign here.” The fact that her portrait appeared in the newspaper and was portrayed on Al Jazeera television caused a stir. But she meets conservative reservations with sovereignty: “My art contributes to the development of our society.
Famous artists, too, are not immune to temptation. Damien Hirst created fourteen large-scale sculptures for a women’s clinic in Doha, which celebrate the stages of life from fertilization to birth. The monumental foetuses were unveiled with great fuss and shortly afterwards they were veiled again. But even in every western country they would have caused public annoyance.
Qatar is a constitutional monarchy according to the 2005 constitution. The head of government, head of state and supreme holder of the executive and legislative branches is the Emir (Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, since June 2013).
The Consultative Assembly (Madschis al-Schura) consists of 35 members appointed by the Emir. In the future, a parliament is to be established, of which 45 deputies will be appointed only 15, the remaining 30 will be elected by the people for four years. Active and passive voting rights for women will then also exist. There are no parties or trade unions. The constitution, however, guarantees the population rights such as freedom of speech and assembly, equality before the law and the free exercise of religion.
The legal system is based on the Emir’s verdict. At the same time, there is an established code of rules; in civil law, Islamic law applies. The centrally administered state is divided into seven municipalities (baladiyya).
Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world. The country’s most important and only significant export goods are crude oil and natural gas. They contribute 58 % to the gross domestic product (GDP). Only 0.5% of the population is considered unemployed.
Due to drought and poor soil, agriculture can only contribute 0.1% of GDP, mainly from fruit and vegetables, dairy, meat and poultry farming. Fishing is practised in the Persian Gulf.
In addition to the rich oil reserves – which will probably last until 2060 – the country also has the world’s third largest natural gas fields. The country’s largest heavy industry complex, with an oil refinery, natural gas processing plant, steelworks, shipyard, cement and fertilizer production, is located in Umm Said, which has extensive port facilities. In the longer term, the Emir is seeking to diversify the economy and promote the development of non-oil-related industries. In addition, intensive efforts are being made to find new offshore oil fields.
One of the country’s main problems is the lack of fresh water supplies. Large industrial plants therefore desalinate seawater and make it usable. Almost all food must be imported (from France, Great Britain, Germany and Japan). The largest buyer of Qatar products is Japan with 28%, followed by South Korea and India. The international airport is located in the capital Doha. The currency is the Qatari Rial.