REVIEWS: Hirst, Abdessemed, QMC & Hajj exhibitions

Just a couple of weeks left to catch some amazing exhibitions around town.

Here’s my quick review. There are 4 exhibitions currently on, that will wrap up in the first week of January.

If you had time for just one, make it Damian Hirst; if you can accommodate two, make it Hirst and Qatar My Country… if you stop pretending to be busy, attend all 4.

Damian Hirst

If you ignored the smell and gore of some of the exhibits, this one is such a feast for the eyes. I took my 12-year-old along with me. And this image here shows both her and my favourite exhibits.

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The kaleidoscope of  butterfly wings are brilliant. One display looks like the stained glass works you usually see in Churches. There were others of pastel hues. If for a moment you could set aside the fact that thousands of butterflies were captured and dismembered for the sake of art, then you can take in the sheer brilliance of the arrangement.

My favourite is the St Bartholomew sculpture.  Every muscle and sinew so fabulously crafted, and you could almost envision the skin flutter. I’ve seen images of Michelangelo’s painting of St B, but somehow this sculpture was more haunting. Sunken eyes, a flawless fig leaf attempting to put a shine on an otherwise cruel image… To have this in the same room as the other art, where butterfly wings are removed from its body to create art. Brilliant!

There were at least four rooms that I had to rush my daughter out of; it was way too much to take.

Then the baby skull with pink diamonds… what perversity. Yet, when you read the inscription, and learn that he was inspired by how Mexicans tried to beautiful death and dull the pain, you kind of get it.

Some stuff was gimmicky, but it’s a fun experience, despite the fact that you are not allowed to forget your mortality even for a moment. The animals are a like a train wreck from which you can’t take your eyes off, even if it nauseates you.

Hirst’s exhibition was well-curated, and you don’t need a guide. The notes on the wall serve well.

You may even come away with a DIY idea. As I write, shoe boxes are being assembled for a wall like this at home:

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Qatar My Country

I have a personal interest in this project. It’s a hint of what I worked on for nearly a year, but I can’t really share more at this point.

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This exhibition of a private collection of photos is the story of one man, and his life in a country that grew along with him. There you see him, a worker like many others, in a country that was struggling to move out of poverty after second world war.

And then he and the home he adopted both grow and develop and reach dizzying heights of success. Through photographs that journey is recorded.

You see a young Sheikh Hamad (former Emir), you see the leaders of a nascent Gulf Co-operation Council, you see Souq Waqif in its organic state.

Adel Abdessemed

I should probably go for a second visit, as I skipped some of the more gory exhibits, as my daughter was with me.

Here are the first impressions.

As you enter Mathaf, there is repetitive sound, which you take a few moments to place. A balloon bursting or a car backfiring, maybe a gunshot? Then you see on the TV screen a rose being stepped on with a loud pop. As you buy your tickets, and take in the exhibits in the lobby, this sound stays with you.

It will be the last thing you hear too as you leave, but the image you carry out with you is different. The flower is replaced with a skull.

Above are the two exhibits that I liked most. But the last two shots are from a narrow room that is both disturbing and brilliantly done. The expressions on the faces of the people are so real, you are tempted to reach out and touch them. To ease a frown, to wipe away the agony.

This experience would have been better with a guide, so I strongly advice you to book a Mathaf voice. I am sure I missed many of the interpretations.

This image below, only days after the visit appears on my favourite list. O is writing a ‘script’ as part of a winter workshop, and this work is what inspired her.

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The Journey of Hajj

This is the worst curated exhibition I’ve ever seen at the Museum of Islamic Art. I am sure it’s of great interest to those familiar with Islam and the Hajj. But I was so disappointed, because of both the way it was organised, and by the lack of information to guide the ‘foreigners’.

O and I were quite lost. There were so many exhibits, so many screens, in such a cramped space that one just could not take it all in at leisure or with comprehension. The screens were jammed between glass cabinets containing displays, and the reflection of one disturbed the view of the other.

Fortunately, there are at least some brilliant photographs at the entrance, especially ones by Juliette Sawyer.

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Photography was not allowed for this exhibition, so no relevant images.

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