“What might a post-oil economy look like for Qatar?” Tasweer Photo Festival returns

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© Dil Kayas.
All images Courtesy of the Artists and Tasweer Photo Festival Qatar 2023

A group show of three displaced Rohingya photographers documenting their experience of living in the largest refugee camp in the world is a compelling highlight of the festival’s second edition


The second edition of Tasweer Photo Festival Qatar launches in Doha this week. The biennial seeks to promote the diversity of Qatari culture and amplifies the voices of photographers from Qatar, Western Asia and North Africa (WANA). The festival launched in 2021, spearheaded by Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, to build more opportunities for practitioners in this region to experience, study and practice photography. It is just one of a “suite of festivals” planned by Her Excellency – also Chairperson of Qatar Museums – that will be rolled out over the next few years, including a design biennale and contemporary art quadrennial. “It all exists under this vision that Her Excellency has of what a post-oil economy could look like for Qatar,” says artistic director, Charlotte Cotton. “The creative industries are part of that discussion.”

The festival programme, co-directed by Cotton and Qatari photographer Khalifa Al Obaidly is centred around five core exhibitions and installations. One particular highlight is a group show I Am The Traveller And Also The Road held at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. Twelve photographers will present projects that they have been developing over the last year, thanks to winning the Sheikh Saoud Al-Thani Project Award, an annual grant, at the previous edition of the festival. Fatema Bint Ahmad Al-Doh’s project about the Kalash people, one of the smallest ethnic minority groups in Pakistan is described by Cotton as “compassionate and beautiful…and quite incredible in the way that they draw us into close encounters with a secret place and ancient tribe”. The show also includes work by Hayat Al-Sharif, Shaima Al-Tamimi, Salih Basheer, Mohammed Elshamy, Reem Falaknaz, Rula Halawani, Fethi Sahraoui, and Abdo Shanan and others. Some photographers, like Al-Sharif and Syrian photographer Mouneb Nassar, will be exhibiting in a gallery space for the first time.

Dil Kayas, A Chance to Breathe
Omal Khair, A Chance to Breathe

There is also a poignant exhibition of works by three displaced Rohingya photographers – Omal Khair, Dil Kayas and Azimul Hasson – titled A Chance to Breathe. Since 2018, they have lived in the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, fleeing genocide in their home in Myanmar, and documenting their community’s experiences. Under the Myanmar government, Khair and Hasson were forbidden to pursue their photographic practices. The images tell a story of solidarity, family and resilience, and a hope for a better future. “It’s a really clear statement about what photography means within that situation, from the perspective of three people,” Cotton says. The curator also points to Doha Fashion Fridays. Initiated in 2017 by Khalid Albaih and Aparna Jayakumar, the ongoing body of work is a collection of hundreds of portraits of migrant workers who have come to live in Qatar, through the lens of fashion. “There is a large population of migrant workers here, so there is a massive photographic story to be told about what contemporary Qatar is.”

“I wanted to avoid what you might expect from a photo festival if it was determined by the northern hemisphere,” says Cotton. “What’s happening in the southern hemisphere in terms of photography and photo archiving initiatives and festivals, is really setting the baseline for what photography is activating, and mirroring artistic practices.” Cotton explains that much of Arab photography in the past is rooted in retrieving archives and rewriting histories. “That’s a really important part of what Tasweer is,” she says. “But at the same time, we don’t want to do a festival that is just fighting for a semantic idea of what photography is. Is it art? Is it photojournalism? Is it documentary? Is it a creative industry? What we’re saying in Tasweer, is that it’s all of these things.”

Tasweer Photo Festival Qatar runs until 20 May 2023.