The most exciting thing about living in Qatar right now is that it is a country in the process of carving out its identity on the world stage.
This cultural precipice means that much like Rich and I, who are constantly looking for every opportunity to improve our experience in order to make a fulfilling life for ourselves out here, Qatar is reaching out and taking advantage of everything it can in order to showcase to the world that this is a country which is not just about money and oil, but is a great place to live and work, and that it’s really going somewhere.
But it’s still a bit of a blank canvas, so where that ‘somewhere’ is, we’re all still a bit unsure.
One interesting way that the country is developing its cultural identity is through ‘Qatar UK 2013’; a partnership with the UK aimed at increasing engagement, innovation, openness and learning between the two countries. One of the missions of this collaboration is to “foster the exchange of culture and ideas between institutions and individuals in the arts, sport, science and education”.
Rich and I are going to have first hand experience of one such UK-Qatari collaboration when we fly back from London after Christmas to watch (me) and produce (Rich) the coverage of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, which will feature our very own Andy Murray.
Inspired by all the consequential tennis chat that’s been going on in our flat over the past few weeks, we headed down to the courts on The Pearl yesterday evening for a late night hit around.
Now it’s lucky that Rich is such a tolerant coach, because having not played for a few years I was a little rusty, and despite trying reeeaaaallllly hard…
I generally ended up hitting the ball out of the court
And watching forlornly as Rich became increasingly smug.
He was a good sport however, and stopped play to re-teach me a few of the basics.
“Look Polly, this is how you hit it over the net”
“Make sure you bend your knees”
“Christ, not like that!”
“Keep your eye on the ball at all times…that means facing in the right direction”
“AND STOP POSING!!!”
I’ll be a pro in no time.
Another benefit of this Qatari-UK collaboration is that Doha is showcasing a lot of cultural exhibits from back home at the moment.
Today, as Rich didn’t need to be at work for La Liga until late, we headed to the Alriwaq Doha exhibition space, where Damien Hirst is displaying the largest retrospective study of his work, spanning 27 years; ‘Relics’.
Now anyone going to view anything of Damien Hirst’s needs to go with an open mind if they are to get anything out of it. He uses the shock factor in order to challenge your normal perception on things, and you need to be prepared for it.
Despite hearing so much about them, I don’t think I was quite prepared for the formaldehyde animals that he uses to depict the irony involved in killing something in order for us to look at it. Animal lovers beware, you may want to skip past this bit…
Some of these exhibits were made all the more disturbing by the various stewards standing around barely blinking an eye at what’s in front of them. Have they spent so many hours guarding these tanks that they’ve lost all feeling for what is actually inside?!
I wasn’t a huge fan of the pharmaceutical cabinets full of drugs or the cigarette-focussed displays either, despite the positive messages about addiction and our mortality.
And don’t even get me started on the dead flies.
I much preferred the floating objects, which depict the fragility of existence and a “fairground kind of magic”…
The famous spot paintings which are simply a way of “pinning down the joy of colour”…
The patterns inspired by science and nature…
And the coloured sandwiches in the cafe.
Afterwards, we walked back out into the sunshine and marvelled at how green the grass could grow in the desert (it’s all in the irrigation system Mummy Bags).
And how diverse the architecture of the city is.
It’s an exciting time for a country wishing to stamp out its identity.
And art is a great place to start.