Statues: like many things that exist in the world, people sometimes have idiotic opinions about them. Mute and immobile, they are the helpless victims of sad little moralists of all stripes, from Kansas to Qatar. In Doha, Qatar’s opulent capital, two recently acquired public works have stoked the public ire, or at least the illusion of it. The first is “Coup de tête” (2012), Adel Abdessemed’s well-known Zinedine Zidane statue, previously on display outside the Centre Pompidou in Paris and recently installed at a park on Doha’s corniche. A flurry of outrage followed, most notably on Twitter, where various members of the cyber-public expressed their views followed by the hashtag “#تمثال_زيدان_بالكورنيش,” or “Zidane statue on the corniche,” which has been a minor trend in the region for the past few days.
The second Qatari quarrel may possibly arise from the installation of several monumental statues by Damien Hirst depicting the anatomically correct growth process of a fetus, scaled to some forty-plus feet. This outrage appears to still be in its pre-natal stages, as the New York Times article announcing the installation quotes all manner of experts prevaricating on whether the statue will be met with controversy at some point in the future but fails to mention a single objection to date.
The series, installed in front of a women’s hospital and called The Miraculous Journey, consists of 14 bronze sculptures and culminates in a 46-foot baby boy. The Times’s Carol Vogel chronicled its unveiling on October 7:
At 7 on Monday evening, to the amplified sound of a beating heart, members of Qatar’s royal family, government officials and local artists watched as each balloon, bathed in purple light, opened like a giant flower to reveal an unusually provocative public artwork.
In saccharine tones befitting the ersatz baby shower, Vogel lavishly praises the “exceptional buying power and forward thinking” of Sheikha al Mayassa, hereditary royal and head of the Qatar Museums Authority. It’s a nod to the theme of the day, after all, to call an utterly inane pseudo-medical artwork by a neon-name artist “unusually provocative” or “a particularly bold move.” For such descriptors to even remotely approach the truth, even situationally in Qatar, shouldn’t we at least hear the faintest wailing and gnashing of Sheikha Al Mayassa’s devastatingly uncultured subjects? But it never arrives, at least not in the Times article, and instead we are left to infer, from the comments of several quoted experts, what the public’s reaction may be given the aniconism of Wahhabist Islam, the state religion of Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
What we do get, however, is plenty of genuflection to al Mayassa. “She’s brave,” notes one Nada Shabout, a professor of art history at the University of North Texas and a consultant to the Sheikha’s Arab Museum of Modern Art. Perhaps it isn’t the Qatari public discourse we should be most worried about.