In this episode of Qatar 365, we look at how Qatar is welcoming diverse cultures and subcultures - from exploring the cultural ties between Qatar and Indonesia to taking a glimpse into the world of geekdom.
The project aims to foster partnerships with a different nation each year by sharing and enjoying "each country’s creative, cultural and artistic offerings."
This year’s chosen country is Indonesia, and the Southeast Asian nation has pulled out all the stops to showcase its vibrant culture.
Experiencing culture through food, music, and fashion
When it comes to introducing people to different cultures and cuisine, there’s no better way than through a food festival.
For this year's Qatar International Food Festival, thousands of visitors gathered at Lusail Boulevard, all wanting a bite of what’s on offer. Among nearly 100 stalls offering a variety of international food and snacks, the spotlight this year was on Indonesian cuisine.
The dinner capped off another successful edition of the food festival, but it’s one of many events in the ‘Years of Culture’ calendar.
"We enjoy a very good relationship between Indonesia and Qatar. But it is also good to have a better understanding among the people through the culture," revealed His Excellency Ridwan Hassan, the Indonesian Ambassador to Qatar. "Qatar-Indonesia Year of Culture is contributing a lot to these things."
It’s not just food that brings cultures together. Music, theatre and the arts are also universal languages that can portray a country’s culture, diversity and values. At the Katara Cultural Village, a special musical performance was staged to give a glimpse into the colourful world of Indonesian theatre.
At the Katara Opera House, a troupe of actors and actresses was flown in from different parts of Indonesia to perform ‘Hayati’ - a musical interpretation of some of the oldest and most treasured Indonesian epics.
With gold headpieces, traditional theatre masks, and colourful, flowy ‘batik', the costumes for Hayati were specially put together by one of Indonesia’s acclaimed fashion designers, Era Soekamto.
"Batik is a profound art. It’s not only the way to put the wax and the colouring techniques into a cloth, but it's also a visual communication. So, it's a very profound way to present all the philosophies, all the wisdoms into one cloth," Era Soekamto explained.
And what’s a performance without music? In addition to ‘gamelan’, an Indonesian ensemble made up of tuned gongs, Hayati mixes old and new sounds by marrying traditional and modern techniques.
"The colour of sound in traditional Indonesian music is diverse. We tried to combine the colour of the sound that exists in the archipelago. I took some Javanese melody and traditional melody that we created as new, with the elements of strings and swiping methods," said Music Director, Gunarto Bahasa.
'Feel the city' on two wheels
To say Ali Bin Towar Al Kuwari loves to travel, would be an understatement. The Qatari entrepreneur and athlete has visited more than 80 countries.
So, it’s only right he was named the Years of Culture initiative’s CultuRide Ambassador – a cycling tour of historical sites in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, home of the Borobudur Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the world.
"It was absolutely magnificent to see the biggest temple in the world and to witness a piece of history that goes very deep," he told Qatar 365.
"When you go low on transportation, you start seeing and feeling the city itself. So, when you cycle, you see the small kids, you see the chickens, you see the rocks. You see, you feel every place, the trees, every single place you visit and you go. This is why I always insist [on using] my bike to feel the city more."
Talking about the Year of Culture Indonesia-Qatar 2023, Ali Bin Towar Al Kuwari told Qatar 365 that his latest trip to the Southeast Asian country "taught me a lot of stuff on a personal level."
"We were talking to locals about what their daily life is and what they face in life. I was leading a group of 17 people, so when we went to Indonesia, everybody was going and exploring the culture to its roots.
"They have a magnificent discovery in Indonesia and then they have a lot of differences and religion. And I noticed I tried to understand how they live with peace, with all this diversity," he added.
'Geekend': Celebrating international pop culture in Qatar
Cosplaying as a Japanese anime character is not something you’d expect to see in Qatar. But for one weekend a year, ‘Geekend’ is the place to be for cosplay enthusiasts, gamers and adventure seekers.
Last year, Simran Kadam came to ‘Geekend’ as a fan. This year, she’s back… to cosplay as ‘Kamisato Ayaka’, a Japanese video game character.
"She’s basically a person who has [...] a burden on her shoulders because she needs to look like a princess in front of everyone. But then she is really alone because she doesn't have her parents and she's supposed to look perfect all the time," Simran explained.
But when she’s at ‘Geekend’, Kadam is far from alone. In fact, her character’s costume is a great ice-breaker.
"Today, I could just walk up to people and they'd be like ‘Oh my God, is that Kamisato Ayaka?’ And then we become instant friends," she explained.
‘Geekend’ is a safe space to ‘geek out’ and embrace your inner nerd. Organisers hope it’s also a place to be engaged and inspired where visitors can comfortably celebrate all things nerdy, without judgement.
"Here, we celebrate pop culture. We celebrate people who [...] want to showcase their love for anime, for video games, for board games, and overall [we celebrate] talented young people," said Abdulla Jassim Al-Mosallam, CAO of the Doha Film Institute.
Mohamed Alansi has fun with video games. But he doesn’t just play them, he creates them. The Qatari video game developer appreciates ‘Geekend’ gives him the opportunity to spend time with fellow gamers.
"'Geekend’ is important to us game developers so that people know that there is a segment here that loves to develop games and has this trend, and so people also know that we are here and encourage us," he admitted.
From gamers to adventure-seekers to cosplayers, there’s a subculture for everyone.
"When you just look around, people are bonding. They're bonding over their favourite game, their favourite characters, their favourite films. You're not going to find this anywhere else in Qatar. You'll find it here," said Simran Santosh Kadam.
And that's music to the ears of the organisers.
"Being a geek wasn’t always something that people were proud to call themselves," Abdulla Jassim Al-Mosallam revealed. "But now we're taking ownership of the name and we're being proud of what we love and enjoy."