The materials artists employ in their work often carry with them as much meaning as the content of the works themselves. For Fatma Al Shebani, accomplished Qatari artist well known for her use of strong materials such as bronze, resin, iron, and stainless steel, this could not be more true.
The people of Qatar have witnessed transformations in recent decades like few societies in history have. The social fabric of the country, as well as the urban landscape of its major metropolitan centar, Doha, have experienced dramatic change resulting from the discovery of oil less than a century ago, which pushed the national economy away from a declining pearl trade and set it on track to eventually boast one of the highest standards on living in the world. From its position as a relative backwater situated on the western shores of the Persian Gulf, to a thriving economy growing in the shadows of towering steel skyscrapers, Qatar has been, and in many ways remains, a society in transition.
Doha is a city characterized by its architectural diversity, and yet the broad range of stylistic approaches stand united through common visual elements and motifs that draw from Qatar’s rich national history. The same could be said of Al Shebani’s work, which exhibits a wide breadth of subject matter that nevertheless remains largely tied together through her choice of strong materials and commitment to drawing inspiration from Qatari history and culture. Indeed, through the use of various metals, Al Shebani has succeeded in creating a body of work that compliments the city’s architectural vernacular.
Her use of bronze, iron, and steel imbues a sense of both permanence and strength into her projects. These materials act to bolster the strength of her visual storytelling represented in the pieces themselves. Steel, the technology that first allowed for the development of contemporary urban skylines, carries with it certain notions of modernity in its application to her art. The subjects Al Shebani illustrates in her metal working, however, find inspiration in cultural motifs of times past. Specifically, she draws from her own personal memories to conjure up imagery that reflects traditional Qatari culture, often in forms reminiscent of conventional modes of dress. This idea becomes apparent in the many iterations of her ‘Bokhnaq’ and ‘Batoula’ series. In conjunction with one another, her choice of subject and material work to bring the lessons of the past forward into an ever modernizing, ever changing cultural context.
Like many of the architects who have aimed to preserve Qatar’s history in their construction of buildings that in many ways must, by virtue of their purpose and scale, break with tradition, Al Shebani often elects to immortalize elements of Doha’s surrounding marine and land environments in her work, casting them in beautiful relief. This is perhaps most clearly seen in Al Adiyat 9, which depicts horses, an important feature of Qatari history, in stunning motion, as well as her reliefs illustrating the sacred marine life of Qatar’s offshore reefs.
Doha has become, in many ways, a city of steel clinging purposefully to its roots. Architects have devised a myriad of creative tactics to embrace change while still acting to preserve traditional Qatari values and style. Al Shebani’s work then functions as the perfect compliment to the city’s dynamic urban landscape. She has expertly managed to marry the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, to establish a visual language that reflects this culturally rich nation’s ever changing ethos.
For more information about Fatma Al Shebani and her work, visit: https://www.fatmaalshebani.com/
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