Qatar-based Buthaina Al Zaman uses her camera lens to explore the remnants of the ever changing architectural landscape of her hometown. These images are filled with nostalgia as she expertly showcases the modern structures against traditional settings. A graduate of Northwestern University in Qatar, Buthaina is inspired by her culture and uses her creativity to bring her audience closer to their identity.
We sat down with the 28-year-old creative to discuss her passion, current projects, and what she thinks of the creative scene in Qatar.
Saira Malik (S.M.): From your designs to your photographs, they are all inspired by your culture. How would you define the term “Khaleeji”, is it just old traditions or can it be merged with a modern element as well?
Buthaina Al Zaman (B.Z.): I do not believe there is one clear definition for the term “Khaleeji”. Sometimes it can be associated with the old traditions, but some traditions are changing with time, and I believe some can still be classified as Khaleeji. People view and practice traditions differently. But I like to associate Khaleeji with the GCC cultural practices whether they are modern or traditional.
(S.M.): We want to talk about your archival project 100 Doors Qatar, what is it about and what is the goal behind it?
(B.Z.): In 2015, I started a personal project under the name of “100 Doors Qatar”. The project’s main goal is to encourage preservation of the old neighborhoods in Qatar. The doors represent these neighborhoods since they are in them.
(S.M.): Why are you specifically drawn to doors and why did you choose them as your main subject?
(B.Z.): Growing up, I have always been attracted to old neighborhoods. I like the nostalgic feeling they give me. My family used to live in one of these neighborhoods and I remember how they were as a child. My family then moved out to a more “modern area”. I barely saw the sight of such neighborhoods since I had no one living there to visit
(S.M.): What has the response been to your project and do people reach out and suggest neighborhoods or do you wander the city to find the doors?
(B.Z.): I have received positive feedback from the community. Many people said that they felt nostalgic when seeing the doors. I’ve had people of different professions (graphic designers, architects, fashion designers, photographers, filmmakers) use the page either for research or inspiration. I think the best feedback I received was from an old lady who spotted the door of the house she grew up in. I have had the account featured in countries outside the Arab region via Twitter and a newsletter, so I do have non-Arab followers. People from other countries decided to make their own version of the account (100doorsuae, 1000doorsoman, 100doorsEgypt and a few more), and this has made me realize the importance of the project.
(S.M.): What have you learnt from this project?
(B.Z.): I honestly started this project with the idea of having fun and exploring the different neighborhoods and I had no idea how important it would be. I think it is very important for us to document these old neighborhoods not only because many of us grew up in them, but also for research and archival purposes. As we progress, the number of these neighborhoods decrease due to modernization so there may come a time where they are completely gone. Such documents can be showcased for future generations, as it is part of our history and culture. I have learned that such documentation comes in handy when doing research. For example, animators who are willing to base their storyline in such neighborhoods can refer to the images.
(S.M.): Can you talk to us about the mural projects in collaboration with Qatar Museums and municipalities?
(B.Z.): This project has been done in collaboration with Qatar Museums and Ashghal, the Public Works Authority. The main goal behind the project was to cover or hide the construction sites in public streets. Instead, people will look at something more appealing. When I was first asked to submit a proposal for the Doha Oasis project, I visited the site to get inspiration from the area. Doha Oasis is a new destination in Doha built in a modern way. I realized it was in an old neighborhood. I then pitched the idea of having modern and old architectural elements in the design to show the beautiful contrast as well as celebrate both elements.
I also have a second project located in Al Shura Plaza. This project is special to me because it was done in parallel with the first ever Shura council elections in Qatar. The concept behind the chosen design was to have the diverse Qatari community illustrated in a modern way using digital art.
(S.M.): What do you think needs to be done to archive and preserve traditional relics around the city?
(B.Z.): I think the best way to preserve such relics is through the government. For example, many old houses in Qatar are now under preservation. Some of them turn into other projects such as museums, restaurants, or galleries. Individuals can also play an important role through photography, drawing, filming or writing stories.
(S.M.): How important is it to have creativity in the city through projects by individuals and collaborations with the government?
(B.Z.): I think this is very important as both the government and individuals play an important role in building a community. If we were to talk about public art, with the support of the government, creative people have the chance to stand out putting together works that the government will benefit from in terms of beautifying the space. It is also nice to see work in the community done by the actual community.
(S.M.): How would you describe the creative scene in Qatar? What is unique about it and how would you like it to develop?
(B.Z.): I think Qatar’s art scene is growing with the support of many institutions such as Qatar Museums. If we were to look back at the art scene in Qatar a few years ago, we would see a huge improvement. I think the art scene is unique as it contains a mixture of local art and international art. We have many exhibitions by well-known international artists such as Damien Hirst and Richard Serra and more. But at the same time, you would also spot many exhibitions containing local art as well as public art done by locals.
(S.M.): What advice would you give to young creatives in the country?
(B.Z.): Use the resources you have around you. There are many institutes in Qatar that offer workshops to develop your skills. There are also many institutes that support creatives through offering residencies, space to exhibit and a chance to showcase your talents. And always stay passionate and believe in what you do, do not give up easily, it can be a tough journey.
(S.M.): Lastly, tell us your secret to staying motivated?
(B.Z.): If you are passionate towards something you can make it happen no matter how challenging it is. If you love what you do you can go beyond any obstacles.
– Saira Malik
Images supplied by Buthayna Al Zaman