A hospital in Qatar’s capital has put a series of controversial public sculptures by Damien Hirst back on view after covering them up for five years. The works, which depict a fetus at various stages of development, recently went back on display outside a women’s healthcare center at Doha’s Sidra Medical and Research Hospital.
Authorities had covered up the 14 monumental bronze works, titled The Miraculous Journey, shortly after they were initially unveiled in 2013. The official line was that they were being protected from building repairs. But some speculate it had to do with outcry from the public over the graphic depiction of a fetus’s transformation from conception—including a large-scale representation of a sperm fertilizing an egg—into a 46-foot-tall newborn boy.
“Ultimately, the journey a baby goes through before birth is bigger than anything it will experience in its human life,” Hirst told artnet News through a spokesperson. “I hope the sculpture will instill in the viewer a sense of awe and wonder at this extraordinary human process, which occurs every second all across the globe.”
The head of the Qatar Museums authority, Sheikha al Mayassa Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, whose brother is the current ruling Emir, commissioned the work. The statues are part of an effort to increase the presence of public art in Doha. Sheika Al Mayassa told the New York Times in 2013 that “[t]o 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.”
A spokesperson for Qatar Museums told artnet News that the reaction to the sculptures has been “very interesting,” and that there has been “a great deal of very strong support expressed for the striking depiction of the miracle of new life.” That said, the spokesperson added: “We don’t expect that everyone will react to our public art in the same way – and that is the point. By bringing public art into everyone’s lives, we expect that each person will respond differently.”
The government-supported Qatar Foundation opened the hospital and also owns most of its impressive modern and contemporary art collection. “We are not expecting everyone to like them,” an art specialist for the Qatar Foundation, Layla Ibrahim Bacha, told AFP. “We are not expecting everyone to understand them. This is why they are there to actually create this element of debate, this element of thinking.”
If there is disapproval from the public however, the Qatar Museums representative assured artnet News: “We fully expect them to remain on view. There is no reason to think otherwise.”
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