Ablaze with art

Ablaze with art

Built in 1982 as a civil defence building & occupied by the fire brigade till 2012, The Fire Building is known for its art residency programmes

At the corner of Doha’s tidy Mohammed Bin Thani street stands a flat-nosed fire truck. Fiery red. Shining bright. A ladder perched on its head and the shadow of palm fronds falling sublimely on a hot September afternoon. On the wall behind, a muscular pair of hands with strings tangled between its fingers holds the number 100 painted in dark charcoal. There’s no fire. No smouldering building. No shrieks for help. No firemen in khaki onesies and hard hats, either. Only art. Statements. And Dual Inspiration. 

Inside The Fire Station, an old fire station turned into an art space, are charred books intact on a shelf. As if fire devoured the books while they slept on the shelf. The grey, glum dead books offset by a row of pink flamingoes. A flock of fuchsia-pink birds with burnished-orange ground under their feet. On a wall, a man’s metamorphosis is chronicled into a video installation. Not too far away, three long pencils start writing randomly on a white board, but only if someone walks on the frame around it. In stark contrast is a woman who is part-Arab, part-American bald eagle wearing the batoola (face-cover) as a protective golden beak. She is wingless. And fearless.

Space for creations

In Dual Inspiration, the current exhibition theme at The Fire Station explores the ideas that revolve around inspiration as a platform through which 18 artists experimented in relation to the creative process. 

Says curator Dr Bahaa Abudaya, “Here, abstractionism becomes a free form in the context of the juxtaposition. The city is presented as a busy place swamped with with signs and ever-changing urban landscapes; Memory is presented as a nostalgic longing emerging from the past and presented as an expressive beauty, while Contemplation flies away within the infinite concept of the self.”

That September afternoon, when I walked into the Fire Station, the artists were not there. But their voices started reverberating through the white walls as I read aloud their notes from a hardback book with a grey spine. Aisha Al Malki, a 30-year-old, self-taught Qatari artist, speaks of how she is breaking the curses of misogyny through her everyday life. “I am inspired by the image of the skull, remembering that with every conflict, hardship, obstacle and sorrow, this is what we share, and this is what connects us all.” I can almost hear Malki’s resin skull narrating its agony and ecstasy. 

Shouq Mana Al Mana delves into poetry and works in the expanded practice of performance art, sculpture and abstraction, often using gesture and body language to emphasise the story behind her artwork. Ahmed Nooh, the artist of the burnt books on a white shelf, coaxes artists to resist preconceived and fixed templates; he, for one, asks himself so many questions as if obsessed with the quest for art. 

I walk around The Fire Station staring at the different methods adopted by the 18 artists to express their abstract ideas, their memories intertwining the past and the present, and their contemplation fine-tuned through varied media — ceramic, wool, mesh, plastic, copper, fabric. Chunks of salt crystals shaped into mystifying shapes. Canvas and the flat television screens proving equally deft in conveying the process and the minds of the artists. 

Scope for change

Suddenly, I stop silently in front of a television screen. It is Islam Shehab’s idea of metamorphosis flitting on the screen. A man struggling behind a stretched fabric desperately trying to break out of it. He, moulting, trying to slough off something, perhaps his self, perhaps an experience. Or, as Shehab explains, “The function of the human skin as an interface,” the catalyst of his conceptual design that looks towards “the future of the augmentation of the human body and the manipulation of the skin.”

In Doha’s Fire Station, Shehab, Nooh and Mana’s voices were echoing in my head. Memories hurtling in and contemplation getting caught in the crisp Doha air. I was not ready to wear a golden beak as a batoola (face cover). Instead, I walked up to the other fire truck (now a cafe) and ordered cold water. Not to douse a building on fire. But to refresh my own ‘Dual Inspiration’.  

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