In the conservative Qatari society of Ameera AlAji’s youth, where she says expressing emotions was discouraged or even condemned, she found a liberating outlet in art, and now she hopes to encourage others to do the same.
“Art has been a vital part of my life and has helped me deal with some of the most traumatic and challenging experiences when I had nowhere else to turn,” says AlAji, a multidisciplinary artist who is now head of the Qatar Foundation’s Community Development section.
She wants the new generation of artists coming up in Qatar’s slowing growing cultural scene to find the freedom to show the world that art is a powerful tool not only for self-expression but also for managing life’s trials and tribulations.
AlAji came from a literature-loving family, where novels and poetry were an everyday part of life, but it was art that drew her attention. At school, however, her family discouraged her from studying art and pushed her toward the sciences, believing that was best for her.
For two years, she studied statistics at Qatar University, only to take the brave stand that the subject was not her calling. It was not the only time she stood firm in her life path: She also refused to marry a man her family had chosen for her, confident in her ability to choose for herself.
Now a 37-year-old mother, AlAji says she has always been deemed something of a radical. “I remember putting the paper on my father’s desk and telling him I was switching to art.”
“At that stage in Doha, in 2004, we didn’t have that much fine art, it was all about graphic design,” she says, “so art education was literally my only choice.” That meant she had to train as an art teacher in order to make art a full-time career. “I couldn’t travel to study at that time. There were very few girls traveling back then.”
An Opening to New Opportunities
While she had no aspirations to teach art, her educational choice took her to her first exhibition in 2004, at Al-Jasra Cultural Center, in Doha, which was the springboard for other exhibitions around the region and internationally. It took time for her true expression to come out, she admits. At first, she continued to suppress the more spiritual and emotional concepts she longed to express, focusing on a safer, less edgy aesthetic she knew there was an appetite for in her society.
“I was scared to share anything too personal,” she explains.