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Qatar UK Year Of Culture 2013: A Year Of Firsts For Both Nations

Qatar UK Year Of Culture 2013: A Year Of Firsts For Both Nations

Picture of Culture Trip
Updated: 28 January 2016
Graham Sheffield, British Council Arts Director and Chair of the Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture Steering Committee, records his impressions of the year long programme of cultural exchange, and shares his highlights of Qatar UK 2013.


As the 2013 Qatar UK Year of Culture draws to a close it seems a natural point to take a look back over the year and the incredible array of events and activities that have taken place. Thanks to the vision, determination and hard work from a huge number of people we have, in partnership with the Qatar Museum’s Authority and many of the leading UK and Qatari cultural organisations, been able to deliver a broad range of activity which I believe has helped Qatar and the UK gain a better understanding of each other. I’ve been involved in several ‘years of culture’ now and I honestly think that this was one of the most fascinating. I am proud of what has been achieved through the hosting of over 90 events and cultural exchanges – including a number of ‘firsts’ for both countries – from the first arts and disability festival in the Middle East to the first ever full scale concert by a British orchestra in Qatar, the first exhibition of works of art created by Turquoise Mountain in the UK and the world premiere of Shakespeare’s Globe Education’s Romeo and Juliet. A ground-breaking Arabic Language and Culture programme will now also help to encourage the teaching and learning of Arabic in UK schools.


Highlights from the year are numerous and span the areas of art and design, performing arts education, sports, science and sustainability but there are for me a few outstanding events and experiences. One of the most high profile events has been the Pearls exhibition at the V&A, which launched to quite a fanfare in September. The exhibition explores the history of pearls from the early Roman Empire to the present day in a series of spectacular displays of over 150 treasures from the Qatar Museum’s Authority collection – shown in the UK for the first time. It has proven extremely popular and given visitors an insight to the natural history of pearls and the pearl fishing trade from across the Arabian Gulf to Europe and Asia.


The Fashion Exchange hosted in London introduced modern Qatari fashion to a whole new audience and saw several of the country’s top fashion editors admiring abayas and jalabiyas designed by emerging Qatari designers. Also in London and another highlight for me is the Ferozkoh exhibition, on display at Leighton House Museum. Ferozkoh: Tradition and Continuity in Afghan Art is the result of collaboration between the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) and students and teachers from the Turquoise Mountain Institute in Afghanistan – the only training institution for Afghan Architecture and Tradition in Afghanistan. The exhibition, which was also on show in Doha, sees historical artefacts from the MIA paired with works specifically created in response by Turquoise Mountain artisans – for me this is a great example of how the Year of Culture is helping to not only promote the culture of the Arab world but also to preserve its cultural traditions for future generations, both in Afghanistan and the UK.


As well as bringing Qatari culture to the UK we have also bought examples of British culture to Qatar. Damien Hirst, the bad boy of British art, exhibited Relics, the largest collection of his work and his first exhibition in the Middle East and the BBC Symphony Orchestra introduced curious Qataris to the unmistakably British sound of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance and Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending’. Importantly though, Qatar UK 2013 has also included over 50 exchanges and residencies for young creative professionals in both Qatar and in the UK. The exchange of ideas has happened at so many levels.


Here are the top exhibitions that are still on display:


Ferozkoh: Tradition an Continuity in Afghan Art at Leighton House Museum – until 23rd February 2014

Ben Barbour exhibition at the Waterfron Gallery in Milford Haven – until 31st January 2014

Pearls Exhibition at the V&A – until 19th January 2014

Relics – Damien Hirst exhibition, Alriwaq, Qatar Museum’s Authority, Doha, Qatar – until 22nd January 2014


I am confident that thanks to all of the activity which has taken place as part of the Year of Culture, the UK and Qatar will continue to build on the partnerships which have been developed throughout the year in such a spirit of openness, innovation and collaboration. I now however have to turn my sights to Russia as we start to lay the foundations for the 2014 UK Russia Year of Culture and to embark upon the mission of fostering a greater cultural understanding between two countries that have a long and complex historical relationship. The popularity of the events we’ve held this year in the UK as part of Qatar UK 2013 demonstrate the huge appetite we have in this country for learning about other countries and educating ourselves about their history, arts and society. Next year we’ll continue to serve a cultural feast!


For more information about 2014 UK Russia Year of Culture please visit here.


By Graham Sheffield