06 January 2021

VCUarts Qatar Faculty, Alumni and Student Bring 22-Meter-Wide Public Artwork to Life

Remote collaboration helps university faculty member bridge COVID-19-induced physical distances – and highlights public art’s accessibility

Those driving through the Doha Festival City Interchange are in for a visual treat – a giant mural designed by Michael Perrone, Assistant Professor, Painting + Printmaking (PAPR) and executed by alumni and a student from VCUarts Qatar.

The 22-meter-wide artwork was created as part of a public art project called “Jedariart”, a collaboration between Qatar Museums, The Supreme Committee of Beautification of Roads and Public Places, QRail, Woqod, and the Fire Station: Artist in Residence. The initiative invited artists from diverse backgrounds and talents to create murals and street art across designated public spaces in Qatar, with the aim to make art more accessible to everyone.

Perrone’s design was brought to life by a VCUarts Qatar team comprising of Salma Awad, a PAPR Class of 2020 alumna and the project manager, Teslim Sanni, Art History, Class of 2020 and Technical Specialist for the project, Amna Al-Muftah, PAPR Class of 2020, Alice Aslem, PAPR, Class of 2022, and Maha Nasr, an Interior Design, Class of 2020 alumna who was also the photographer and videographer for the project. The team was supported by Parthivan K., manlift operator, Ashghal, and a painter himself.

Perrone noted how the artwork was a direct result of him missing his family, friends and the wider community in Qatar.

“As a resident of Qatar since 2013, I found myself in a rather difficult situation,” he said. “The current pandemic, our ‘remote learning’ situation at VCUarts Qatar, and my medical condition that keeps me working remotely from Vermont, has caused me an unexpected professional and personal loss. I miss my ‘Qatar Family’ and I am always on the lookout for new ways to stay connected, while I am in this temporary, remote situation.

“Through the “Jedariart” project, I hoped to cure some of my longings for Qatar, by working with my friends, students and other community members who have helped bring my design to life.”

Explaining the design’s concept further, Perrone added, “The composition of this artwork is based on a mural I did at my home in Vermont, USA. As it’s an old building from 1906, many of the walls are made of plaster, and over time the plaster has cracked.

“My wife and I repaired the cracks, and they became the start of the drawing. I started painting the repaired crack lines as a way to begin the painting. Then, I slowly refined the composition, straightening lines, removing some and adding others.

“There are lots of windows in our home – a former church building with Gothic shaped arches – so when the light comes through at a certain point of the day, it shines on that wall. Some of the lines were created by me tracing the shapes of light.

“The mural here in Vermont is in variations of grey and blue. Working with Sara Foryame Lawler and Dimitrije Buugarski from Qatar Museums, we thought the mural might work better in Doha if it had a brighter palette. So, I re-painted it digitally, making the painting more lively and celebratory, much like the lighting on many buildings throughout Doha.

“The main concept for the artwork was that, since I couldn’t be in Qatar right now, this was a way for me to bring a piece of my Vermont-self (the mural I created here), to my family/community in Doha, giving them to ‘see’ my life here, through the mural. And of course, having some of those people help create/paint the mural in Qatar, makes it that much better for me, as a way of connecting my two worlds.”

Perrone sent the digital version of the proposed mural, along with the color scheme to Awad and the rest of the team in Doha. Awad then had retail paint suppliers mix the exact shades for her.

“For most of us, the largest canvases we’ve painted on would have been around two meters in width, and we did those in indoor studios,” says Awad. “So, to paint a mural that measures approximately 22 meters in width, outdoors, in lovely weather, was an entirely different experience altogether.

“It was the first time that any of us alumni and students had executed a public art piece, and to complete it with Michael giving us instructions remotely from Vermont, added to the sense of enthusiasm and excitement. The project also triggered a public response – while we were painting the mural, drivers would slow down, shout out words of encouragement and appreciation, and take photos, before driving off.

“One of the unforgettable moments, though, was when – during one of our breaks – Parthivan, the technician operating the man-lift, asked us if he could paint a segment; the huge smile on his face when we handed him a paint roller reinforced the fact that the beauty of public art lies in it being accessible to everyone.”

Photographs by Raviv Cohen.

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