Carnegie Mellon University Qatar Mural (2008)

Qatar West Wall
Qatar Mural West Wall

Artists: Douglas Cooper Carnegie Mellon, Sarah Cooper + Nina Gorfer SEEK, Gothenburg

Artist's Assistants: David Kennedy + Coleman Rusnock

About the Mural . . .

“We are right now building the city of our dreams” one Qatari man said to us. Last March we began our interviews with students and local inhabitants amidst the cranes, road building equipment, blue suited and shrouded workers and wind blown sand, which mark Doha, the place, in this moment of hyper-change.   We found something eternal with which to begin in the desert dunes, a falcon and aerial photographs of Doha’s coastal settlement before the change.

Like a jig-saw puzzle caught in a moment of frantic assembly, the foreground layers of cranes and buildings all akimbo, came to show the energy and ambition of this active moment, of this Qatar now.  With the parallax of a viewer in motion, they also move.  They unfold serially, edge over edge sliding over the background geography.  This is vision in flux: a metaphor for Qatar itself.

When we worked with students, we started with what was shared.  Many remembered a figure their parents once used to enforce hot weather naps.  The “nap donkey”— some said it was a donkey, some said it was a lion, some said it had hooves, some said it had claws—appears in multiple locations as a “collective” memory.  Yet amid such rapid change, memory itself becomes highly charged.  For most everyone, the present place is wholly distinct from what flickers in memories and dreams. For the Qataris, it’s not just the increased traffic, it’s that the cars move through a different space altogether.  Several women shared a memory of a great flood in the early 1990s, but the streets on which that rain fell are no longer there.  Gone as well are the buildings that witnessed it.  And for the many students from around the Middle East and the Indian Ocean rim, memory is likewise separated from present place.  Theirs arise in faraway places such as Egypt, in a parable told each night to a child before sleep.  Some move across generations to Syria and to the origin of a family name in a great grandfather’s bringing forth wheat (a “bereka” she called it) to feed his starving village and to Acre to a tree remembered by a grandmother, a tree the granddaughter cannot visit. 

It is said that place fixes memory.  But what happens when place changes rapidly or utterly?  We have set these accumulated memories into the portals that the architecture of cranes and buildings provide.  We look back to the pre-history of desert and sea.  We look past what is changing, and we fix these memories into a more eternal landscape.

Doug Cooper, Sarah Cooper and Nina Gorfer  —Doha, 19 February 2009