Art is an important part of any society. It serves as a mirror that reflects all society corners to the world, preserves its history in a beautiful and transparent framework, and gives us a glimpse of the world’s history and other cultures. Most importantly, art is a way of life, as it helps to purify the soul, and could be a platform and a strong voice for the artist and society when words fail to express their feelings. Without art, colors, life, spirit, and all meanings of luxury and education disappear from society. All types of art are a part and parcel of society; they represent it in the most beautiful ways. In Qatar, the world of art has developed; we have a lot of art galleries, artists, workshops, laboratories available to all residents, and all Qatari art professionals and amateurs have distinctive local and international characteristics. Amal Abdulla Al-Aathem is one of the Qatari female artists who contributed to developing and enhancing awareness in this field and changing the Qatari world of art for the better. Her role in the Qatari art community is not limited to local participation; she has a special presence in international exhibitions, where she represents Qatar. Recently, she established a unique art center to spread artistic awareness in society. So, who is Amal Al-Aathem?
When I introduce myself, I like to call myself just a “plastic artist.” I work as a consultant in the Ministry of Culture and Sports.
What attracted you to the world of art?
Like any child, I had a hobby developed through my parents’ encouragement. In addition, as a part of my personality, I love to master whatever work I do to the fullest. This commitment made me practice art every day to master it until it became a large part of my identity. As I was a shy child and at a time when women had no way to express their feelings freely like now, I found that art is the most appropriate way to express myself. My work could embody what I love, what I hate and my feelings for which I could not find the proper words. Thank God, my artwork appealed to others, which I considered as an acceptance of me as well. My artwork contains my soul and reflects my personality, which increased my love for this type of art and expression. On the one hand, as an integral part of the society, it gives me a sense of responsibility for my society in representing its members and acting as a loud voice for them. This is because many people do not find time to express themselves, and here comes the role of the artist, writer, poet, and sculptor to make the voice of the people around heard to the world. On the other hand, my ability to search for beauty and find it around me played a role in the formation of my artistic tendencies, as I find harmony between idealism and refinement of the soul with art. These qualities, in particular, create a kind of rapprochement between members of society and develop one’s spirit of love, cooperation and happiness. Through these aesthetics, a harmonized society is created, which increases the attraction to art to create a unique environment where these beautiful qualities flourish. However, my artistic style is a modern one, in which I use different materials to highlight the identity of Arab and Gulf women. My work still preserves the originality, which increases the demand of the local and external communities for it. With the continuity and acceptance of my work, I worked harder from the art perspective. I studied art academically and attended many workshops given by old and young artists in many countries to learn different approaches to art. During my work as an art teacher, my learning journey in this beautiful field did not stop. I learned courage and transparency from children; two essential parts of the artist’s work. If the artist does not have these qualities, his/her work will not be distinctive or a true reflection of their spirit. Finally, the history of art itself increased my persistence and attraction to it. Different art schools tell the history of those artists’ societies, represent other civilizations and cultures and create a kind of interaction with the public. In artistic terms, when I look at art from this standpoint, I feel that I have not accomplished everything I wanted. This feeling motivates me to delve deeper and go further in this field.
Have you always wanted to be an artist?
At first, I did not think I would ever be an artist. In fact, I wanted to be a doctor because my parents wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer. When I joined high school, I was obsessed with the idea of becoming an artist and studying art. In my art studies, I was overwhelmed by the question “Why do not I become a famous artist like those who influenced the world of art to express myself and my society?”
To which artistic movement do you belong?
I studied many different schools of art that passed the trial and error stage in education. I mean those schools went through many artistic experiments to be successful. That helps reduce the artist’s time wasted in explaining what is unsuccessful and what is successful. In other words, it is the artist’s duty to complete upon the works of others rather than start from scratch. After I studied the various artistic movements, I was keen on exploring contemporary and modern art, as I wanted to simulate and highlight the modernity of society, but with my own touch, to stand out among the crowd.
Could you talk about the artistic life in Qatar?
In the past, there were not many opportunities and places for Qatari artists to display their works. Over the years, the reality of art has changed radically in Qatar, where art galleries in Qatar are countless. When I started my art career in 1995, there was only the Fine Arts Association, in which I participated through my personal and joint exhibitions. Later, the Visual Arts Center (VAC) was established under the umbrella of the National Council for Culture and Arts (known now as the Ministry of Culture and Arts) through which I exhibited my artifacts locally and internationally. In 2002, I held my first art gallery in which workshops presented by major artists contributed to refining the artist’s style. Art and places that offer artistic opportunities in Qatar are so many, but all of these opportunities depend on the artist’s own diligence. In other words, artists may only draw and sell their artifacts, or develop themselves, learn new methods, discuss topics through art and try to create new artistic schools that are approved by international art critics. The difference between a local artist and a global one becomes apparent as there is a difference between drawing and art. The life of Qatari artists is also not limited to Qatar, as there are now many opportunities available to exhibit their artwork abroad. For example, every year, I travel three to four times to attend international exhibitions, as well as display my personal galleries. Last year, I held two unique galleries, one of which was in April at Anima Gallery in Qatar, and the other one which was hosted by the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters in Kuwait, was entitled “Attraction” and included 38 artworks.
Could you talk about Seven Heaven’s initiatives?
As the manager of the Visual Arts Center (VAC), and as a consultant at the Office of the Minister of Culture, I realized that society needs an advanced and real art center that would serve as a development center as well. Such a center provides programs for all segments of society: the young, the professional and even the disabled. We have partnered with government and private institutions such as Qatar Cancer Society (QCS), Qatar Diabetes Association (QDA) and the Scout and Guide Association of Qatar. All these partnerships stem from our vision “Art is Everywhere and for Everyone”. Art brings satisfactory outcomes, such as creating a dialogue between cultures. Thank God, through VAC, I was able to achieve a set of my personal goals related to helping society. VAC is my gift to my society as a token of gratitude and love. In VAC, we believe that art is an accumulative study; there is continuity in the workshops offered. Every day, the artist comes with his/her own schedule to learn different arts such as printing, ceramics, graphics and various types of drawing. Besides, we teach the principles of academic drawing taught in colleges. We also focus on establishing different techniques and regulations in the heart of every artist. Artists who do not learn all types of art, produce artwork of low quality. A lot of private schools visit VAC, which they consider a lifesaver because it helps to upgrade their advanced art modules. VAC also allows coaches to visit schools to offer after-school activities and courses for students. We established our distinctive character, Thank God, due to our personal style, our ability to introduce art modules, and the constant development of our modules.
In your career, have you encountered any obstacles?
Of course! In the beginning, I was apprehensive of society. I thought, as a Qatari female artist, I would be rejected when I appear in the newspapers. However, with God’s grace, I was confidently supported by my family and my artworks that highlighted my society artistically. As a result, my society respected and appreciated me. It is normal to find dishonorable competitions that try to obstruct anyone’s progress. If a person depends truly on God, s/he will be given the power to overcome any challenge. Many fight success and destroy creative productivity, but through persistence and fruitful production, these people become weak. In a certain period of my life, I faced many difficulties and challenges. I used to work as a teacher, coordinator, and collaborator at UNESCO, and I was presenting a TV program called “Artistic Morning.” Thank God, the Council of Culture and Arts put forward many opportunities, due to my continuous work and new ideas. However, others used to antagonize me because of my success. But when a person persists, shows their work and avoids quarrels, they will overcome these obstacles. I found obstacles in building my art center in terms of foundations and obtaining licenses from the Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Education, and other departments. From a financial point of view, it was very costly as I established VAC independently. Thank God, I managed to overcome these challenges through perseverance and persistence.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
I always repeat the saying “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, and “When there is a will, there is a way” so through patience, perseverance, and determination, one will reach the highest positions. The most important thing is to depend on yourself rather than your father or your husband’s savings. So “Be Yourself”. My advice to Qatari girls is “make art a part of your life.” Women, by nature, are interested in beauty, arrangement and elegance; some characteristics that art helps them to achieve. Moreover, art allows women to learn patience, perseverance, arrangement, accuracy and order. Practicing art nourishes and purifies the soul and helps to create a spirit of cooperation and love that increases soul purity.
- Interview written by Al Anoud Al Kuwari .
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.