Gaza in Our Eyes: Winning hearts and minds in Qatar's bazaar
Living in the Middle East, one cannot escape Israel's assault on Gaza.
In Qatar, a country that is actively working towards a peaceful resolution to the crisis, it is common to see the Palestinian flag flying and to hear troubling news about friends' families back home.
It can therefore be difficult to express these emotions, but artists have found an outlet at the Souq Waqif Arts Center. Located in the heart of Doha's bustling Souq Waqif, this centre has been bringing together local artists since its opening in 2013.
"Throughout the exhibition, the keffiyeh, the Dome of the Rock, and the Palestinian flag are recurring symbols, tying the artwork together and emphasising the exhibition's focus on Palestine and Gaza"
The Art Center has opened its exhibition, Gaza in Our Eyes, which aims to spread awareness through artistic expression. The exhibition takes up the two gallery rooms at the front of the centre and features pieces of art created by 32 artists representing the multi-national population of Qatar.
These artists come from various countries, such as Qatar, Syria, India, Thailand, Yemen, Egypt, and Morocco, among others. They have come together to express their thoughts and feelings about Gaza by putting them on canvas.
The exhibition opened at the end of December 2023, almost three months after the Gaza war began. Rowdha Al Mansoori, the Art Center’s manager, explained that the title of the exhibition "implies that all artists participating in the event are embodying the artistic paintings based on their perspectives, how they view Israel's assault of Gaza, to further translate their feelings and depict them through colours on artistic paintings."
The exhibition features a diverse range of art forms, including oil paintings and watercolours. Among the highlights is a beautiful and intricate papercutting of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, surrounded by doves of peace, created by Thai artist Sinchai Zonputh. Additionally, there are stunning 3D collages by Iraqi artist Laila Al-Ani.
The images on display reflect the cultural backgrounds of the artists and include powerful depictions of children being forced to grow up too soon, as well as depictions of animals like the falcon and Arab thoroughbred horse, both of which are associated with Arabian culture. These animals are depicted wearing the black-and-white keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian headdress.
Throughout the exhibition, the keffiyeh, Al-aqsa, and the Palestinian flag are recurring symbols, tying the artwork together and emphasising the exhibition's focus on Palestine and Gaza. Another prominent image is that of the white dove, a symbol of hope and peace that appears frequently throughout the exhibition, adding to its optimistic and uplifting message.
Despite the efforts to remain positive, it is challenging to feel hopeful when faced with the devastating impact of war and conflict. One of the most heart-wrenching depictions is by Philippine artist Eduardo Aguinaldo.
The painting portrays crying children standing in front of Al Aqsa, with a smoke-filled sky in the background. The only source of colour in the painting is the Palestinian flag that the children hold.
Another striking artwork is a large canvas by Algerian Muammar Tazi, which shows a lone little girl standing on a bombed-out street with buildings on fire and the sky black with smoke.
The girl holds onto a toy plush lion that is almost as big as she is as if trying to cling to her childhood for dear life. The painting is undeniably beautiful, but its depiction is too close to the harsh reality of war.
Hope for Gaza
Throughout the gallery, there are also a few instances of vibrant colours and a sense of optimism. One such example is the quadriptych created by Indian artist Rajeesh Ravi.
It features four images, each connected by the streaming Palestinian flag. One image showcases a mother and daughter with the Dome of the Rock in the background, both smiling.
Another illustrates balloons, one of which is wrapped in a kaffiyeh, flying into a blue sky, with a white dove holding an olive branch. The third image portrays an upturned umbrella as if discarded in a hurry.
The final image brings all four together, depicting a young boy flying above a bombed Gaza on a magic kaffiyeh while holding onto balloons, with a sad expression.
The artist from Kerala explained in an interview with Doha News that his four-part work, and in particular the last image titled 'War' highlights the impact of war on children. The theme of the exhibition is the effect of war on innocent individuals, especially children.
Indian artist Sheetal Dandekar, one of the few women exhibited, named her painting of a young girl in front of the Al Aqsa Mosque, simply 'Hope'.
While the girl's face is dark, and the looming bombed city of Gaza is to her right, she faces a yellow, bright sky filled with white doves.
Dandekar said: "[I feel that] The exhibition serves as a ray of hope... Art possesses a transformative quality, capable of building bridges. An artist always influences society. It's inspiring to see artists come together for such a meaningful cause.
"Each artwork, including my painting 'Hope,' adds to a visual story that encourages positivity and resilience in times of difficulty," she explains.
"Hopefully, in the near future, exhibitions such as Gaza in Our Eyes won't be necessary, even though the individual artworks are inspiring and touching.
Gaza in Our Eyes continues to show at the Souq Waqif Arty Center for the foreseeable future
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey is a freelance journalist, author and translator. Ulrike specialises in travel and lifestyle, with a leaning toward the Middle East. Her bylines have appeared in international publications such as BBC Travel, Positive News, Good Housekeeping, Lonely Planet, Travel + Leisure, Nat Geo, The Independent, Fodor’s, TIME, Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, and many more
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