My 2020 Podcast: Sultan Al Qassemi on experiencing the arts amid the pandemic

Authority on Middle East arts and visiting senior lecturer at the American University of Paris, in conversation with 'The National' for a new series speaking to leaders on how their lives and industries were changed by Covid-19

All human interaction and experience was altered by Covid-19, including how we learn and interact with others.

Engaging with the arts, from the classroom to the museum, was also greatly altered. Sultan Al Qassemi, one of the most established authorities on Middle East arts and the visiting senior lecturer at the American University of Paris, speaks on how Covid-19 shifted these experiences.

Mr Al Qassemi is the guest for this episode for My 2020, where he speaks about personal and professional adjustments forced by the pandemic, from 155 days of isolation and starting an "online majlis" that brought artists and audiences together all over the world.

“Covid-19 allowed me to reassess my priorities in life. It did displace me. So when I found out that this was happening, I was in Boston teaching at Boston College. And I had to fly back to the UAE and continue teaching the class online. So there was the physical displacement, there was the emotional displacement,” he says.

Mr Al Qassemi spoke about his decision to isolate at home for 155 days: “Obviously, spending time with my mother was very good for me, good for the soul, I should say. But also spending time away from friends and other family members was very difficult”.

Despite what he described as the difficulties of “emotional isolation, and the physical and geographic dislocation”, Mr Al Qassemi says, “I know many people hate 2020 but I don't hate it. I realise this is part of our human experience”.

He reflected on how Covid-19 “equalised the playing field between museums” that had to transfer their presence online.

“It doesn't matter how many hundreds of millions of dollars you have, you can create an excellent online virtual experience with very little money, as we have”.

He said: “All you need to do is come up with creative ideas, come up with creative and innovative ways of attracting people.”

My 2020 is a seven-part series, hosted by Mina Al-Oraibi, The National's Editor-in-Chief, speaking to leaders on how their lives and industries have been changed by Covid-19.