Mar 27 2012

Mathaf’s Director Steps Aside to Pursue Research

by HG Masters

Portrait of Wassan al-Khudhairi, the outgoing director of Mathaf. Photo by HG Masters for ArtAsiaPacific.

On March 16, the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) announced that Wassan al-Khudhairi, director and chief curator of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, is stepping down from her position to pursue a PhD. Al-Khudhairi has been the newly created museum’s first chief curator since taking the position in 2007, and was named Mathaf’s director in 2010, the year the museum opened. 

Speaking with ArtAsiaPacific, al-Khudhairi summed up her tenure as one of “bringing the museum to life.” When she began the position as chief curator in 2007, after working at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the royal family’s collection of more than 6,000 works firstly needed to be catalogued and registered, and the museum had no physical building. In December 2010, Mathaf opened its 5,500-square-meter space in a former school near Doha’s Education City district. To date, Mathaf has hosted three series of exhibitions since its opening in December 2010, beginning with a display of its collection and newly commissioned works by artists from the region, followed by a showcase of Qatari artists, and then a large-scale exhibitition of Cai Guo-Qiang—which remains on view at Mathaf through May 26.

While al-Khudhairi describes Mathaf today as an “important voice from within the region,” she and others involved with both the QMA and the museum itself recognize the necessity of keeping Mathaf’s momentum alive in future. “We need to keep to our mission because we are still new. It’s about staying on the path that we’ve created,” al-Khudhairi said to AAP. The museum will close for part of the Qatari summer, and is considering expansion plans to its current building, which is officially intended to be temporary until plans for a permament home in the city are decided upon by the QMA. Responding to public demand, Mathaf is also weighing up putting part of its collection back on view on the first floor later in the year, although this has not been confirmed. The line-up of exhibitions for latter half of 2012 is also yet to be announced.

Despite her departure, al-Khudhairi says that she will remain closely involved with both the region and the collection itself—works from which will be part of her doctoral research. She describes her return to graduate school as part of the necessary work that still needs to be done in the region to create “history and narratives” for the development of modernism in West Asia. In the meanwhile, al-Khudhairi is also one of the six co-curators of the 2012 Gwangju Biennale, entitled “Roundtable,” which opens September 6. At a press conference on March 22 at Art Dubai, she announced that one of the artists she will be working with for the Biennale is Qatari-American performance artist Sophia al-Maria.

In the QMA’s press release regarding al-Khudhairi’s departure, Sheikha al-Mayassa Bint Hamad al-Thani, chairperson of the QMA, commented: “We fully support her in her decision to advance the understanding of Arab modern art through new scholarship, and we take pride in having helped to add this exceptional professional to the field. These are in fact among the core goals of the QMA.”

The museum’s interim director is Michelle Dezember, who has run the museum’s education department since late 2009. Meanwhile, the QMA has launched its search for a new director and chief curator.