Doha sparkles with Little Sun


We have been invited to participate in the first Solar Art Festival in the Middle East – here is the story from Digne, who is volunteering with the Little Sun Foundation and who helped organize the solar education workshops in Doha. 

“I spent the last week in Doha, Qatar, truly not knowing what to expect before hopping on a plane and arriving into a minor sandstorm at 5 a.m. last Monday. What I was met with was a remarkable place and group of people beginning to alight a bit of change in their country.

For the very first time, Doha was hosting a Solar Art Festival – the first of its kind in the MENA region, and that in a country which is the largest gas and oil producer in the world. (In fact, Qatar holds the second largest ecological footprint per person in the world, with only Kuwait faring worse.) So, this was a big deal. The first step in the right direction toward using – or simply getting people to start thinking about using! – solar energy, in a city both bristling with electricity and bursting with sunlight.

The festival was held under the patronage of Qatar Museums’ Chairperson H.E. Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the idea being to not only showcase artworks using solar energy, but also to teach children from the local schools about recycling and renewable energies. A call on the younger generations to live more sustainably.

We were invited to exhibit a Little Sun Garden alongside other works by international artists such as Craig Colorusso’s Sun Boxes (a piece which creates a natural symphony using solar light), Anthony Castronovo and Eleonora Nicoletti’s Solar Shimmer (a composite kinetic screen which displays vibrant, geometric patterns using discarded plastics and solar energy), as well as the student-made Shams Mashrabiya (a living installation of solar artworks by Doha children in earlier workshops). On the opening night all the exhibits were beautifully lit up as high-ranking Qataris and families alike gathered to be inspired by what can be done when you mix sunlight with a bit of imagination.

Additionally, Eva and I had the great joy of leading workshops throughout the week with the children from Doha schools. The solar company QSTec had started a CSR project called Shams Generation (“shams” meaning “sun” in Arabic), and organized these workshops to teach kids about sustainable energy, with Little Sun contributing awareness on the topics of energy poverty and the SDGs.

We set up an hour of activities for each group which started with them guiding a partner around the room blindfolded, so they could experience what it may be like to live at night without electricity. Everyone shared how that had felt (“Was anybody scared?” – “YEAHHH!” – “Not me!”) and asked if they’d ever had experience with power outages. The daily mix of children was astoundingly diverse, with kids from countries all over the world, and many kids had already had ample experience with the power going out, with using generators, or simply with having to deal with the resulting darkness, heat, or cold.

 

This led to a discussion about how it must feel to live in darkness, and we told the kids that many people around the world (approximately one fifth) live without electricity. (“Imagine that! Once the sun sets you can’t read anymore, you can’t do your homework, you can’t watch TV…”.) We started brainstorming with them ways to create light in darkness, taking them into a pitch black room and observing the differences between candlelight, flashlights, and finally solar energy. They started to really see that, whereas a candle burns out in just a few hours or days, a solar lamp could keep a small house lit for years, simply by being charged daily from the sun.

As this was all going on, groups of kids were pulled out to sneak into another room and try their hand at light-graffiti. We set up a dark room with a camera, gave the kids each a Little Sun, and for 4 seconds let them paint whatever they wanted in mid-air. Some were excited by their crazy designs, and some giggled at how absurd their attempted-heart had come out. It was a fun way to show them that—just as they’d also seen from the exhibitions outside – solar light can be used for art as well.

Finally, we gathered the kids back around and asked them to imagine what could possibly be solar-powered in the future (“…A car?” – “TRAINS!” – “A tree!” – “How about a whole city?” – “YEAHHH!”) and reminded them that maybe they’ll be the ones leading the innovation of solar energy in the future. Maybe someday they’ll be the ones designing the solar panels that cover the facade’s of Doha’s great skyscrapers.

I left Doha one week later, with reluctance. Only seven days had gone by and yet I’d been captured by the drive and the inspiration of the people I’d worked with. There seemed to be so much more to do: bigger ideas to develop, greater goals to reach for, and all in this city with such potential. In fact, one major event looms on Doha’s horizon: they will be hosting the 2022 World Cup. I’ll be looking on eagerly to see if this first Solar Art Festival may have been the spark that inspires a sustainable design for such a grand event, one the whole world will have its eyes on.”

Article by Digne Glatzel