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Strict rules and new tech: Qatar's young artists respond to life during coronavirus

New exhibition Outbreak—organised by Doha Film Institute—has been able to go ahead in real life because the country's Covid-19 cases are low

Noor Al Nasr's Reflections, on show as part of the exhibition Outbreak in Doha

Combining cutting-edge technology with strict adherence to social distancing rules, Qatar has seemingly managed to contain its outbreak of coronavirus quite successfully. For this reason, this year’s eighth annual Ajyal Film Festival (18-23 November) was able to take place partly online—but also in real life.

The centrepiece of the festival’s limited in-person events is the multimedia exhibition Outbreak (until 10 December) at Sikkat Wadi Msheireb, a former warehouse in Msheireb Downtown Doha, which is Qatar’s latest sustainable city district. The title of the show describes “the sudden occurrence of something that was un-welcomed”, the curator Sheikh Khalifa Abdulla Al-Thani tells The Art Newspaper. He concedes that the shared vision of the 24 artists participating “transcends all the aspects of this year, when it comes to the political, the financial as well as health”. The Doha Film Institute, which organises the yearly festival, planned the exhibition with the aim of expanding access to innovative multidisciplinary creative programmes.

Qatar—despite a burgeoning youth population—has only had around 140,000 cases of coronavirus so far and just 240 deaths. Rules to prevent the spread of the disease in the kingdom include social distancing, mask-wearing and the compulsory use of the phone application Ehteraz, which traces people's contact with those who are infected. A green status on your phone plus a temperature check to confirm your health, allows people access to cinemas, art spaces, restaurants and shopping malls.

Such rules have inspired a number of the artists included in Outbreak. Looking at the new uses of technology, Maryam Al-Homaid has created a set of animation-like characters for her piece Screens and QR Codes (The New Reality). “This was something new to all of us,” she explains, “but now we’ve gotten used to it”. The architect and designer Mohammed Faraj Al-Suwaidi’s series Consumerism in Covid includes a piece titled Transmission which refers to both the virus and how we absorb information. “We’re more aware as a society and diligent as to what information we accept,” Al-Suwaidi says—“that’s a positive final outcome” of this pandemic, he adds.

Noor Al-Nasr, an artist and filmmaker, went within for her installation Reflection and although mixed in with images of frightening headlines, the LED display flashes words of encouragement for the viewer. “I want the visitor to get a sense of comfort,” she says. “We get you, we’ve been there—it’s not just you.”