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Art is always part of civilisation progress: GU-Q professor

Art is always part of civilisation progress: GU-Q professor

Tribune News Network
Doha
When one looks at history, art has always been a part of the broader equation of progress in any civilisation, said Mohammed Reza Pirbhai, assistant professor of History at the Georgetown University in Qatar, a Qatar Foundation partner university.
“Whether it is the Mughal period in India or the Italian Renaissance, you hardly come across a period of time that promoted only the sciences. This is because, throughout history, society has realised that human development occurs where creativity and innovation coexist – that art balances science. There was no rigid compartmentalisation as you see today. And the result can be seen in museums and galleries across the world,” he said.
Prof Pirbhai sees this realisation shining through today in the Seeroo fi al Ardh, an art installation by painter and artist Maqbool Fida Husain that will soon be unveiled in Qatar Foundation’s Education City.
The project, which took almost a decade to complete, will do more than present a kinetic interpretation of Arab civilisation and culture to the public. It will also create an opportunity to reflect on, and discuss the relevance of art patronage amid today’s geopolitical and cultural context.
The historian believes that debates challenging the need to promote art in an era of, for example, climate change and conflict, hold little ground in the face of historical evidence.
“Both the affluent Italian patrons and the Mughal rulers had to deal with their share of unrest, instability, epidemics and battles,” he explained. “Those factors didn’t stop them from realising that the emotional gratification and inspiration that art provided was necessary for both the psyche of a people and the mind of an individual.
“For them, the pride associated with promoting a great musician or owning a beautiful painting was no less than that they would get from a political achievement. It was as simple as that. Consequently, they proceeded to enrich their personal lives and the lives of those around them with the works of some of the finest artists and musicians of their times.”
Prof Pirbhai pointed out how conversations on the relevance of art patronage often distract people from another crucial aspect– the question of whether public investment in art gives members of a society access to the kind of aesthetic inspiration that they prefer.
“People – especially in a dynamic and diverse community like Qatar – are bound to have varying tastes,” he said. “They are not going to be satisfied with being fed a certain style or brand of art. So the discussion ought to have a wider scope.
“Viewed from these vantage points, Qatar Foundation’s actions show that it respects the evidence that history has to offer. First, it has balanced the emotional and technical needs of a population. That’s why its medical and engineering universities in Education City are flanked by universities that teach art, media, communication and culture. That’s why we have art galleries and research labs in the same environment.
“Second, the fact that members of the public can view the works of international artists such as Husain is a sign that Qatar Foundation is keen to provide Qatar’s diverse population with artwork that is relevant to different cultures.
“What defines a specific period of history or civilisation as worthy of study is not that it produced something spectacular in a single field, but rather across the board. If we accept that truth, then we need to accept the place of art in our lives, and the relevance of art patronage.”

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