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Young Art Executive Has a Key Role in Qatar’s Public Art Scene

DOHA—From fashion to fine art, Layla Bacha has made her way quickly to the top of Qatar’s art scene. As the Qatar Foundation’s senior art specialist, she manages an art portfolio that includes major public artworks and museum collections.

It is no small task for the young art executive. The position makes her a key player in the foundation’s efforts to bring art into the mainstream of a modern, multinational state and advance the careers of young Qatari artists.

She does not take this responsibility lightly. “This is what I believe artwork should be about,” Bacha said, “the ability of engaging different people from the public in conversations around it.”

Born in Syria, Bacha joined the foundation in 2014 as an art curator and now oversees its public art strategies, collection management, commissions of major artworks, and the art tours program. She completed a master’s degree in museum and gallery practice at University College London’s Qatar campus last year with a dissertation on public art policies in Qatar, a fitting topic for her current role.

The foundation’s public art collection has around 150 artworks on display in various buildings around Education City, and includes works by well-known modern artists like Tracey Emin, Ivan Navarro and Damien Hirst, and the final installation artwork of the late Indian-Qatari artist M.F. Husain. Bacha recently oversaw the installation of Husain’s monumental work, Seeroo fi al-Ardh, in a structure specially built for it in Education City.

From Damascus to Paris to Doha

Bacha’s academic career has been colorful as much as international. As an undergraduate she studied fashion at the Damascus campus of Esmod, the French international fashion school, before moving to Paris to study plastic arts at the Sorbonne. She has been in Doha since 2008, where she started a career as gallery manager and art consultant at Souq Waqif Art Centre.

Doha, with its gleaming skyscrapers, is a long way from the centuries of traditional culture still highly visible in Syria and France, and it has indeed been a shift for Bacha to find her way in a decidedly more modern landscape.

“It is very new, but if there is something I have learned from living and working in different countries, it is to never compare one cultural scene to another,” she said. “Every country has its own history and identity that require a different type of artistic expression and the audience is different.” (See a related article, “An Archaeology Project Connects Young Qataris to Their Past.”)

“It is very new, but if there is something I have learned from living and working in different countries, it is to never compare one cultural scene to another.”

Layla Bacha  
The Qatar Foundation’s senior art specialist

The young nature of Qatar’s art scene has its benefits for the young artists coming up through its system. “Qatar provides opportunity for the young graduates and offers opportunities for them to prove their ability more than places like France and Syria,” Bacha said.

What helps, she thinks, is the country’s investment in human capital, such as the foundation’s sponsorship of her studies and continued professional training, and its implementing a work policy that allowed her the time to improve her performance.

Qatar’s multinational society provides a rich component to the art scene, she says, allowing her to delve more deeply into interpretations she may never have been exposed to before. “I remember when I used to present artwork proposals for Sidra Hospital in front of 20 different team members from different cultural backgrounds, I used to hear a variety of interpretations of those works. This experience taught me a lot in terms of selecting artworks for public spaces.”

Contributing to Young Artists’ Careers

Over the last 12 years, much has changed in Doha’s art scene, Bacha says, not least within the younger generation. “The government worked on providing great examples of works of art and made them accessible, as well as educational programs that inspired those young artists,” she said. “Most of the current artists are Education City’s graduates, and I am happy that my role in the foundation provided me the chance to contribute to their career by providing platforms for those artists to showcase their work and experiment.”

Also as part of her role, Bacha is serving on several of the cultural committees, including the public art committee, the operational committee of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, as well as the advisory committee of the museum.

Despite her achievements so far, some challenges remain for Bacha as she navigates through the young cultural landscape of Qatar. These include a lack of technical knowledge that can only be acquired through professional experience, she said. “However, I am very happy that QF keeps providing the young students and artists the necessary tools and support for them to achieve in their career.”

“In addition to the expertise that she brings to the role as the art expert in the foundation, she has developed in the area of management, administration, operations and marketing.”

Hisham Nourin  
An executive in the Community Development president’s office of Qatar Foundation

Hisham Nourin, executive director of strategy, administration and projects at the Community Development president’s office at Qatar Foundation, has known Bacha for five years at the foundation. In that time, he says, he has seen her grow exponentially.

“In addition to the expertise that she brings to the role as the art expert in the foundation, she has developed in the area of management, administration, operations and marketing,” Nourin said. “These are critical areas from a professional development perspective and more importantly to be able to be effective and deliver projects,” as well as build key relationships with stakeholders and partners.

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Qatar has become an art destination and Education City a key player in providing iconic public art, museums, art education and events, Nourin says, and Bacha’s role is vital in this era of development. “As the key art expert in Community Development, her role has been integral to ensuring that we can curate an experience that is aligned to our strategy and complements the country’s overall art strategy.”


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