Daily Picture Show

A Surgically Implanted Camera And More At New Arab Art Museum

The tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar is often overshadowed by its neighbors. But the country is gaining its own reputation — as a player in the art world.

  • Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art, opened to the public Thursday in Qatar. Located in front of the museum is Adam Henein's Al-Safina (The Ship).
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    Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art, opened to the public Thursday in Qatar. Located in front of the museum is Adam Henein's Al-Safina (The Ship).
    All photos courtesy of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art/Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • The museum boasts more than 6,000 pieces of modern art. This piece is part of the exhibit Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art. Jassim al-Zainy, Features from Qatar, 1973
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    The museum boasts more than 6,000 pieces of modern art. This piece is part of the exhibit Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art. Jassim al-Zainy, Features from Qatar, 1973
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • Sliman Mansour, Perseverance and Hope, 1976
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    Sliman Mansour, Perseverance and Hope, 1976
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • Mahmoud Said, Title Unknown, 1938
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    Mahmoud Said, Title Unknown, 1938
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • Louay Kayyali, The Mother, 1961
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    Louay Kayyali, The Mother, 1961
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • A view of the exhibit Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art.
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    A view of the exhibit Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art.
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • Neziha Salim, Tea, 1975
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    Neziha Salim, Tea, 1975
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • Cesar Gemayel, Title Unknown, Undated
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    Cesar Gemayel, Title Unknown, Undated
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • Georges Sabbagh, Maternites Arabes (Arab Motherhood), 1920-21
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    Georges Sabbagh, Maternites Arabes (Arab Motherhood), 1920-21
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • The Mathaf is part of a countrywide initiative to build half a dozen new museums by 2016.
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    The Mathaf is part of a countrywide initiative to build half a dozen new museums by 2016.
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • The museum commissioned 23 contemporary artists, including Khalil Rabah, to produce original works. Above, the multimedia installation from Rabah's BIPRODUCT, 2010
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    The museum commissioned 23 contemporary artists, including Khalil Rabah, to produce original works. Above, the multimedia installation from Rabah's BIPRODUCT, 2010
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • Jeffar Khaldi, from Fade Away, 2010
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    Jeffar Khaldi, from Fade Away, 2010
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • Youssef Nabil, from You Never Left, 2010
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    Youssef Nabil, from You Never Left, 2010
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • Khaled Takreti, from Generations, 2010
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    Khaled Takreti, from Generations, 2010
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • Ahmed Nawar, Defiance 2, 2010
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    Ahmed Nawar, Defiance 2, 2010
    Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art
  • An artist's rendition of the Mathaf at night.
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    An artist's rendition of the Mathaf at night.
    L'Autre Image Production 2010/Courtesy of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art

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Qatar is on an ambitious construction schedule to build some half-dozen museums by 2016. The newest of these is the Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art. And unlike the Guggenheim in Dubai or the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, the Mathaf is not a branch of a Western museum.

It will be home to more than 6,000 pieces of modern and contemporary Arab art. More than 200 of these will be on display initially, some of which push traditional cultural boundaries.

Wafaa Bilal implanted a webcam in the back of his head. The camera is taking a picture a minute for a year and the images are being streamed live at Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art. i i

Wafaa Bilal implanted a webcam in the back of his head. The camera is taking a picture a minute for a year, and the images are being streamed live at Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art. Wafaa Bilal hide caption

itoggle caption Wafaa Bilal
Wafaa Bilal implanted a webcam in the back of his head. The camera is taking a picture a minute for a year and the images are being streamed live at Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art.

Wafaa Bilal implanted a webcam in the back of his head. The camera is taking a picture a minute for a year, and the images are being streamed live at Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art.

Wafaa Bilal

Wassan al Khudairi is the director of the museum. She's tired of talking about perceived censorship in Arab art instead of the actual artwork. Many people assume that modern Arab art is somehow innately different than Western art.

"Arab artists were engaging with the modern art movement in the West," she says. "What makes it Arab is that the artist is coming from an Arab context. And so you will find works that are abstract, cubist, surrealist ... You know, it's about an engagement with what was happening at that time, and not an alternative modernity."

The Mathaf has commissioned 23 contemporary artists to produce original pieces of art. Wafaa Bilal is one of those artists; he had a webcam surgically implanted into the back of his head. The camera takes a picture every minute and sends those images to the museum.

Bilal believes photographers hold tremendous power to shape images, depending on how they look through the lens. "I wanted to lose that subjectivity over the image and arrive to the objective image that is not influenced by the power of our eyes," he says.

The Mathaf's opening has been anticipated not only in the region, but in the rest of the world as well. Shadi Hamid, the research director at the Brookings Institution's Doha Center, thinks the museum may be a sign of shifting power in the region.

"It's not just about diplomacy or traditional foreign policy," he explains. "It's about getting involved in the arenas of culture, the arts and education, and this has been the area where Arab countries have been lagging."

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