Qatar’s Creative Community Embraces Creative Commons

Walk through any of Qatar’s malls or Souq Waqif and you quickly realize one thing – Qatar is awfully diverse! It’s the true epitome of a city where East meets West, maintaining its traditional Arabic culture, while welcoming in people and ideas from all over the world. It should be no surprise that Qatar’s growing arts scene is embracing this diversity and developing a style all its own.

With the launch of Creative Commons Qatar in May, the local art community now has a platform to embrace the artistic differences here and work together to create works that are uniquely Qatar. Creative Commons Qatar is the local affiliate of the global non-profit that is aimed at maximizing the potential of the Internet by enabling “creatives” to share their work more openly and collaborate with other creators more freely. ictQATAR signed an MOU with Creative Commons to bring an official affiliate to Qatar.

“Art in many ways is an individual state of mind. Each artist has their own unique style and special way. But sometimes it is incredibly powerful to combine your ideas and your art with another. By remixing and sharing your art, incredible new works can result that one person simply could not imagine alone. For me, Creative Commons is a way to better connect with other artists and take my art to a new level,” said Samar Semaan, a Lebanese visual artist specializing in typography and graphic design, who was born and raised in Qatar. She held her first public exhibit, TypoLyrics, in April, which featured traditional Arabic typography with inspiring song lyrics.

Semaan is not alone in her thinking. Qatari artist Mohammed Alhammadi, who is about as multifaceted an artist as you will find anywhere in the world, recently started to share some of his digital works, including paintings, graphic designs and music, under Creative Commons licenses. “Creative Commons is an inspirational hub where artists can get inspired by each other’s works. It’s an opportunity to share artwork from totally different backgrounds, help artists collaborate and also market themselves online,” said Alhammadi, who has a degree in chemical engineering and works for Qatar Petroleum, and is now pursuing a degree in Fine Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar.

Before Creative Commons Qatar was established, Alhammadi was using its principles of sharing and collaboration, but didn’t realize there was an organization that shared his values. “Since the beginning of my art career I have worked on collaborative projects. These days I am working with two different groups of local artists on a few projects, one of which is music based, and another that is an art installation, with a third mixing music and painting. Collaborating is really my artistic style,” he said.

Both Alhammadi and Semaan took part in recent Creative Commons Remixing Workshops for Visual Artists. The workshops were lead by Beirut-based visual artist Naeema Zarif, who is one of the leading advocates for Creative Commons in Lebanon, one of the most active Creative Commons communities in the region. During the workshops, Zarif shared her experiences in working with other artists through Creative Commons, then held a “remixing party” where attendees had to work together to create collages that reflected their Qatar experience.

“I loved the diversity of ideas and approaches in the workshops. You could really see the different cultures and backgrounds come together,” said Zarif. “I can really see that there is a developing artistic community in Qatar and I know Creative Commons can help encourage its growth. Creative Commons has allowed me to do some amazing artistic mixes with artists from around the world, and it has really helped me professionally be recognized for my work.”

Zarif was also one of the featured artists at the launch of Creative Commons Qatar at the Museum of Islamic Art in late May. At the launch, Zarif did a life remix of her vintage digital designs with the cartoon illustrations of artist Lena Merhej, who is based in Germany. “We didn’t know each other before coming to Qatar. I sent her some examples of my work and she sent me some of hers. We started playing with each other’s artwork and our end combined result was something that really surprised both of us. Alone, we never would have developed such an interesting work,” said Zarif.

Qatar’s art scene is clearly still developing and many artists are not yet comfortable sharing their works in the digital realm, or collaborating with other artists in an open way. Creative Commons Qatar will be working to help encourage local artists to embrace the power of the Internet to first share their work online, and then move into the truly transforming realm of collaborating and remixing with others. Already, Creative Commons Qatar is exploring cross-cultural digital remixing exchanges with other Creative Commons affiliates, with the first one planned between Qatar and Guatemala.

Creative Commons will be important for artists here because it helps artists feel comfortable sharing their work publicly, according to Semaan. “No artist wants their work taken without credit. Creative Commons licenses are a way to ensure people attribute your work to you and they give you the confidence that your work won’t be used in ways you don’t want. Being a part of Creative Commons also connects you with a bigger community, meaning you have a network looking out for you as well.”

The growing art scene in Qatar is certainly good news for people seeking a bit of creative culture, and if Alhammadi is right, we are just starting to see the potential. “The art scene is growing at a fast pace, especially in the past couple of years. We artists have noticed a great movement that is maybe going to change the art scene in the country. There are many young talents appearing, and I mean really young, like teenagers with amazing skills. With a little support and guidance, those kids could be recognized internationally. I believe we will soon have some true art masters in Qatar. We can have our own Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali and maybe even Da Vinci.”

I am certainly excited about the future of the arts in Qatar and look forward to seeing artists take advantage of Creative Commons Qatar to realize their full creative potential.

This article will also be featured in the July/August edition of Qatar Happening. Creative Commons Qatar is partnering with Qatar Happening for a photo contest, with the winner’s photograph being featured on the cover of the September issue. Full details are available at www.creativecommons.qa