Censorship Contemporary art Fairs Qatar

Hirst denies Qatar fig leaf is a cover-up

Nude saint sports accessory for Doha show

False modesty: the saint also wore a fig leaf for a show in Hong Kong

The major Damien Hirst exhibition that opened in Qatar last week (“Relics”, until 22 January 2014) includes a statue of a saint wearing only a fig leaf—but the curator of the show, Francesco Bonami, rejects any suggestion that the covering is a form of self-censorship in the socially conservative Gulf state, saying that he operated in “total freedom” when selecting the works. Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain, 2006, shows the sinewy torso of the heroic martyr, who holds his own skin.

The artist told the Doha News newspaper that he could have removed the fig leaf for the show at the Al Riwaq exhibition space. “They seem pretty open-minded here [in Doha],” Hirst said. His 8ft-tall sculpture was first shown at Gagosian Gallery in Hong Kong in 2011, when the artist added the fig leaf in case of potential problems with Chinese collectors. A spokeswoman for the artist’s company, Science, says: “Local cultural considerations are always taken into account when Damien’s work is exhibited overseas.”

Earlier this year, the Qatari authorities removed two ancient Greek sculptures from “Olympics: Past and Present”, an exhibition at the same venue, because the nude figures offended local sensibilities. Sheikha Mayassa, the head of the Qatar Museums Authority, recently told the Evening Standard newspaper that artists can work freely and without limitations in Doha. “Controversial art can unlock communication between diverse nations, peoples and histories,” she said.

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