How art connects successive generations
Maryam: You were one of the first people to start the art movement in Qatar. There was no art movement at that time. How did you feel with your first exhibition in Qatar in the 1970s, and what made you continue to do so (arts), and to continue as an artist?
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: I had the talent. I was young and I used to use the charcoal that my mother used to cook on, to draw with it on the walls. From here my talent began.
Then I entered the field of art education in schools at the primary, intermediate and secondary levels, until I went to Cairo and studied 4 years there. I made my way in art.
Ever since I was young, I used to draw posters and hang them at home. I did my very first exhibition in the early ‘60s, and I invited all the boys and girls in the neighborhood.
I studied for four years, and I culminated my studies with an exhibition at the old National Museum of Qatar. I was the first visual artist to conduct a solo exhibition there. It’s the same National Museum of Qatar which opened in 1975 by Sheikh Khalifa, God bless his soul. It was a period rich in culture, art and media.
In 1977, after graduation, I worked in the Ministry of Culture and Arts. Both Hassan Al-Mulla and Muhammad Ali Abdullah were working with me. We met spiritually and I shared with them an idea of how to spread art. We formed together the “The Three Friends” group. Hassan, Muhammed and myself. Our goal was how to introduce art to the people. Instead of people coming to the gallery, we decided to go to the people.
Maryam: When I was young, you were always taking me with you to gallery openings and I remember they used to always give me a pillow with a golden scissors for the gallery opening. You also used to take me with you to Qatar University while you were teaching Fine Arts there, as an elective course. I used to sit with the students in the classroom for the lecture. I was young, and you used to take me with you everywhere. Why, what was the purpose?
Yousef Ahmed Al Homaid: I used to feel happy every time God blesses me with a daughter; I love daughters. I’m not saying I love them more than the boys, but I feel more connected to a daughter. I felt you were very close to me.
While I was drawing, you would come to me, you would pick the colors, draw with me and watch how I paint and what I make. I felt the presence of my soul inside you, you were very like me when I was young.
I liked to cultivate the love of art inside you, and to let you follow the same path that I took.
Long version of the discussion between Maryam Al-Homaid and Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid (ARA)
Memories of the future
Maryam: This is your picture when you were young. It is from your elementary school certificate. If you go back to this age again, what advice would you give yourself? Difficult question! But I have to ask you that!
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: I will still continue in the same field, a beautiful major, that relaxes the soul. When you draw, create, or do anything with your hands, it is relieving and resets our psychological balance.
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: Maryam, in this picture, you are standing next to one of my paintings. I remember this photo, I took it in the morning, I took it while your eyes were closed from the strong light in our backyard. Did you never ask yourself why I took this picture of you next to this painting?
Maryam: When I was young, I used to always go to your studio.
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: Correct, I remember.
Maryam: We were coming back from school very early, around noon time, so I used to like to hang out with you in the studio. I always saw you playing with the brush and the colors; I used to see your color palette , the glass one, the one you still have, mixing oil paints.
For me it was just amazing. Mixing two, three colors together, or more, and you get a new color. I could see what’s going on – the process before the painting finished, I could see behind the scenes.
For me, the back side, the stories behind the scenes they were inspiring stories, even more than the painting itself. So, when I got shot next to this painting – I had lived along the creation of this painting, from an empty canvas to a complete canvas – I’ve lived with it all.
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: In this photo, there is a difference of years between the picture on the right and the picture on the left. Even my mustache, there it is black, and here it is white! I think this picture was in the studio … in the backyard of our house, in front of the studio.
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: After all these years, and your graduation from VCUarts Qatar, and here you were young around five or 6 years. How do you see these years that passed? You could say it was like a minute or a moment … but it is a minute full of accomplishments and works. What did you benefit from all these years, from when you were at the age of 4-5 years, to your graduation from VCUarts Qatar?
Maryam: I did things that I like – and I still do what I like.
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: This is the most important thing.
Maryam: I got my master’s degree and my role now as a faculty at VCUarts Qatar. I like to pass this message on to my students.
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: You cultivate this inside them for the next generations.
Maryam: Yes, I’d like to cultivate the love of arts in them. We as artists and designers, even the students, we don’t want to be inside the box, I like to push them to think outside the box … as they say.
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: Give freedom to the students. They will give you what they do not expect. Even you would not expect what they will give as results – give them a kind of freedom to express what they believe in and to innovate, this is really important. Give them guidelines, but the freedom of what to create is up to them.
Maryam: Art is freedom.
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: I think, we are here at VCUarts Qatar. Could you tell me what you were doing here? Tell me about this project. I can see here a device, 3D, I am not an expert with technology, you can say I am kind of an old-fashioned artist.
Maryam: I love this picture, and it is very important to me. It connects me with the faculty whom I am working with now. And it connects me with my students. Most of them have graduated now. It was an amazing project that involved both students and faculty.
These devices are printers and the project -162 is about Liquid Natural Gas in Qatar and the relationship between Japan and Qatar. And you know how Japan is special for you and me. Everyone who worked on this project liked Japan and was interested.
We used technology, as Art and Design now is full of technology, computers, programs. Our students are using technology as tools to produce artwork. This project was connected to technology, and it was also a project talking about Qatar in a contemporary way, about Liquid Natural Gas.
This brings me back to the sentence: art is freedom. When this project started, Simone Muscolino and Giovanni Innella spoke to us about the project. We were all hesitant, and that’s completely normal. But it was a good project as many talents were discovered. Students also played a big role in it.
Even as we are a school of Art and Design, part of Design and Contemporary design is coding. We have teachers who teach coding, like Levi Hammett. Student, Hind Al Saad – the one in the center there – helped us a lot in programming. She used design, art, technology and coding.
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: Together as one meal.
Maryam: Everyone had their own specialization, but we worked together to accomplish this project.
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: Team work. I am so happy with this opportunity, I never expected that my little girl, who I was taking with me to the studio, and was watching me mix colors would have a career in the arts, and graduate with a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree, and begin teaching, and continue in the same approach that we began together. As I said at the beginning of my talk, I am very proud that you are my daughter.
Maryam: I am proud of you too, Dad. I am always thankful for your continuous encouragement to do what I love. It is a message that I love to share with the future generations.
Yousef Ahmed Al-Homaid: Insha’Allah, you will do that; Insha’Allah, God give you the strength and the power to do so.
Maryam: Thank you Dad, God bless you!
Yousef Ahmad is one of the leading Qatari artists that started the Art movement in Qatar. He is an Art critic, an Art advisor as well as an Art educator. He was born in Al Jasra area of Doha in which he has recently been documenting from his memories and imagination. He graduated with a BA in Fine Arts & Education in 1976 from Helwan University in Egypt. Yousef has also earned his MFA in 1982 in Painting from Mills College in California, USA. Yousef is the leading figure to represent his country at international biennales and global Art events.
In addition to drawing memories of his old neighborhood, Yousef Ahmed is also known for his abstract art in which he uses multi mediums to experiment with Arabic Calligraphy. Along with that, he had developed his own medium that consists of handmade Palm tree paper and special local pigments. His main goal is to create materials from the local environment of Doha to best represent the visual language and the ambiance of the country.
Yousef Ahmed became the first local Artist to run a solo exhibition dedicated to Arabic Calligraphy (huryfiyya art in Doha) in March, 1977. He has been also teaching Art appreciation at Qatar University for more than twenty years in which he taught Sheikh Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al-Thani in history of Arts and Art appreciation. After that they worked together on collecting prominent art pieces that lead to the creation of MATHAF (Arab Museum of Modern Art) and the Orientalist Museum in Doha, Qatar. One of the most important books that Yousef published was Al-Funoon al-Tashkeeliyyah al-Mu’ashirah fee Qatar (Contemporary Fine Arts in Qatar) that documents Contemporary Fine Arts in Qatar. Yousef was also part of the Virginia Commonwealth University board members who were assigned to bring a branch campus here in Qatar. He is currently the only Arab who is an advisory board member board of Hand Papermaking Magazine (The only magazine dedicated to the art of papermaking).
Maryam Al-Homaid is an interdisciplinary designer holding a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Graphic Design and a Master in Design Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Graphic Design department.
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