Damien Hirst’s recent art-stravaganza is a well deserved first post, given he is someone I have always felt the need to defend as no one ‘gets’ him, and I repeatedly find myself having to explain his work to an (initially) unimpressed or indifferent audience.
The Miraculous Journey started off as fourteen giant balloons, that had been mysteriously parked in front of the Sidra Medical & Research Centre, set to open early next year, which will devote itself to women’s and children’s health.
On Monday evening, members of the Qatari nobility and some astonished bystanders watched each purple-lit balloon unfurl to expose fourteen monumental bronze sculptures, each one documenting the stages of birth, from conception to birth, concluding with a 46-foot-tall anatomically correct baby boy. Together the fourteen balloons weigh a total of 216 tons.
For a society where local women are still obeying century-old Islamic traditions, this may have been a push too far by Hirst. But then again, he wouldn’t be Hirst if he created anything ‘safe.’ Sheikha al Mayassa Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (try saying that out loud!) made a bold move to commission this work, rumoured to have cost around $20 million. But rather than seeing it as provocative or controversial, she says that
“To have something like this is less daring than having a lot of nudity… There is a verse in the Koran about the miracle of birth… It is not against our culture or our religion.”
in defence of her choice, believing that she is creating a platform for contemporary artists from all over the globe, and seeing the importance of encouraging ongoing conversation about the commission, whether the public finds it shocking or not. This, unsurprisingly, has lead to more criticism of the sheika, as people claim she is only embracing already celebrated artists; however some are beginning to see her choice as a dedication and commitment to the contemporary art of the Western world.
“Most of the Arab world has not seen public nudity. Sex is not taboo here, it’s just a very private affair. I have no idea how the public will react to these sculptures.”
Some pointed out that depictions of naked women bathing have been common throughout the history of Islamic art — for example, in ancient illuminated manuscripts. Such images are not, however, so readily available to the population here.
A professor of Near Eastern art and archaeology at Columbia University said: “I am sympathetic to the fact that art makes us feel uncomfortable, can challenge. On the other hand, you don’t want to shock. So it’s a fine line.”
The museums authority has also organized a giant retrospective of Mr. Hirst’s work, Relics, which opens on Thursday, showcasing some of Hirst’s most purposely provocative works from throughout his career.
The commission of The Miraculous Journey was fraught with secrecy, with most of the work taking around three years and being carried out in the studio in the UK.