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FAR FEATURES

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ALONE IN THE QATAR DESERT

FEATURE Nº5

By Fraser Morton

 

It's 50 degrees and we are alone in the desert. The only sounds to break the stifling silence are the crunch of my boots on arid rock and click of my camera shutter. A viper slithers past and into the shadow of a giant black steel plate that looms high overhead. Welcome to no man's land, Qatar. 
 

 
 

I've stepped into the strange reality dreamt up in the mind of one of the greatest living artists. East West/West East is a set of sculptures in the middle of the Western Qatar Desert by American sculptor Richard Serra. 

It's mid-July. A time not to be here. It's topped 50 degrees. Breathing is hard. Walking, too. The heat is searing on skin. This is no place for people. 

The only thought that comes to mind, "What on Earth was he thinking?" 

That was a major worry when Serra, "The Man Of Steel", first unveiled his masterpiece. That no one would ever see it. A reasonable fear given its location in the middle of the Zekreet Peninsula desert, a two hour drive from Doha, where most the country's two million inhabitants dwell. People don't venture out here. 

The four steel pillars were forged in Germany, shipped from Belgium and unveiled in Qatar in 2014. Spanning a one kilometre area - the largest of Serra's career - the four black steel pillars are exactly the same height, with two standing 14.7 metres and the others 16.7 metres to track the topography of the desert. 

East West/West East was commissioned by the Qatar Museums Authority, which reportedly spends a US$1 billion on art each year in its move to become the gulf region's cultural hub in the build up to the 2022 World Cup.

Building - or progress - is everywhere in the capital Doha today. Steel and concrete rise out of sand as the oil-rich nation leaps into the future. Serra said that East West/West East has given a sense of perspective to a place where once there was only emptiness.

Standing alone in the desert looking up at the steel plates, you realise that they are the perfect symbol for Qatar. A nation rising out of the sand. Building modern sculptures to attract people. Putting people in no man's land for the first time. 

 

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Fraser Morton