Art History is a discipline whose roots can be traced back to over two millennia, but according to recent VCUarts Qatar graduate Sharifa Belal, it is one that is vital and alive with relevance in Qatar and around the world today.
With graduation now behind her, Belal is keen to use her own experience to share what students gain from this area of study, and how it contributes to molding the identity of a country.
“Art history is a study/subject that involves everything around us,” says the Class of 2021 graduate. “Art History connects with all the visuals, illustrations, buildings, paintings, basically all our surroundings. It challenges us to analyze and interpret objects and artwork created in a specific time or era.
“In my case, I was drawn to the subject, as I was always intrigued by how people have used art and design to capture moments around them, ordinary and extraordinary, for posterity,” she adds. “To me, everything I see around me is part of that history – every person and place has evolved, and is defined, through visual or verbal representations of their pasts. And hence, choosing to study the subject has been one of the best decisions I have taken so far, because it’s given me a better appreciation of human behavior, specifically, and humanity, in general.”
According to the VCUarts Qatar alumna, the subject has adapted to include evolving methodologies, and in the process, has become truly cross-disciplinary, offering students across the globe a curriculum that equips them with a skill set well-suited to meet the needs of a modern digitized workforce.
“The current digitized economy calls for high levels of emotional intelligence, attention to detail, a deep understanding of human behavior, empathy, critical thinking, analytical skills, and communication skills,” she explains. “Art History – through its rigorous dissection of human creativity in the context of each period in history – teaches you all that. The diversity of skills is reflected in the range of jobs recent graduates hold – we’re film makers, educators, curators, critics, art writers, design innovators, archivists, heritage conservationists, policy makers and government advisers.
“For me, personally, these skills shaped the way I think and act. For instance, it’s taught me to respond to situations in the contexts in which they occur, and with an appreciation of human nature.”
Belal points to how, with its growing prominence as a hub for cultural tourism, fine art and design, there has never been a better time to study Art History in Qatar. Considerable investment in art and creative practice has given residents in Qatar even more access to events, workshops and exhibitions, than ever before, affording them an opportunity to reinterpret historically significant art and design, with a contemporary feel.
“In Qatar, people love to see history represented in art,” she says. “At the same time, they want to add a modern twist. As Art Historians, we see each generation of artists and designers explore this duality; and we encourage this. Msheireb Downtown Doha is a notable example of a modern take on Qatar’s artistic heritage. It is a mix of both the past and present, allowing us to reflect on its heritage and visualize the changes that have taken place.”
As per Belal, Art History’s true value, arguably, lies in its capacity to forge the identity of a nation.
“The pride that each country has in its art and design legacy, is a universal phenomenon,” she says. “From this point of view, there is no doubt that Art History helps preserve and communicate Qatar’s artistic legacy to the world. But what I’d also like to add is that Art History isn’t only about art and design. It is also about presenting the entirety of a nation’s development – what it was, what it is now, and what it is becoming – by studying and presenting artifacts and creative outputs specific to each phase in Qatar’s history. This, in turn, shapes the character of this nation.”
Sharifa Belal is a Class of 2021 graduate in Art History from VCUarts Qatar. Photograph courtesy of Dow Photography
Photograph courtesy of Sharifa Belal