Noting that Qatar “is estimated to have recently spent well in excess of $1 billion on Western art,” James Panero considers the implications:
On the one hand, Qatar’s art initiatives can be seen as a modernizing force, one that could liberalize the tribal attitudes of the country’s native population and pave the way for further political reform. On the other hand, contemporary art may merely serve as a cover for further repressive policies. This artifice of modernism mirrors Qatar’s other contradictory diplomatic positions. An ally to the United States and host of U.S. Central Command, Qatar nevertheless reportedly helped Khalid Sheikh Mohammed escape U.S. capture in the 1990s, may have been paying protection money to al Qaeda, and is currently arming radical Syrian rebels and offering safe haven to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The terrible history of Iran demonstrates what can happen when a modernist culture merely overlays a repressive regime. In such circumstances, artists and organizations might profit by spreading modernity, but they are also abetting a compromised state.
(Photo of skyline in Doha, Qatar, as seen from the Museum of Islamic Art, by Mark Pegrum)