Sophia Al-Maria: More about the exhibition

Three of Mathaf’s galleries and atrium are transformed into sites where personal dreams, contested histories, and meditative experiences of listening meet. Within these micro-worlds, visitors can, for example, encounter the works and experience live gatherings as potential counter-proposition for alternative, fugitive, and playful dreams and futures.

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An installation of white lights in 3D star contraptions against a white wall.

Installation view from the exhibition Sophia Al-Maria: INVISIBLE LABORS daydream therapy, installed at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Art 16 September 2022 – 21 January 2023. Photo: Ali Al Anssari, courtesy of Qatar Museums ©2022

Sophia Al-Maria: INVISIBLE LABORS daydream therapy is an exhibition that centres dreaming as a methodology to engage with personal and contested histories of labor and creativity and how that relationship to expendable labor and free time has translated into the contemporary moment in the Gulf. Foregrounding the importance of storytelling and speculative narratives as strategies for survival, imagination and reclaiming futures, it is an invitation to visitors to wonder how dreams can become society’s oxygen to sustain us beyond these times of duress.

Can a dream become a catalyst to see beyond our immediate ordeals? What is the power of dreams? Where’s the space for self-realization?

These questions and many others swerve through the exhibition. Reverberating, the slash title of the exhibition is an explicit reference to dialogue between this project and American filmmaker Bernard Nicolas’ short film Daydream Therapy (1977), which showcases how global inequalities shape the contours of our labor histories and dreams.

Together with collaborators old and new (photographer Aparna Jayakumar, sound artist Joe Namy, musician Kelsey Lu and many other contributors named in the work entitled Credits), Sophia Al-Maria converts the exhibition space into a site for complex, poetic, imagined and true stories — bridging the present, past and future tense of Doha, Qatar, a city with many historical and geopolitical chapters of labor migrations that continuously alter its future and past.

This show marks a return for Sophia, a former employee of the museum who, at the time, dreamt of being an artist but did not have the language or means to do so. By centralising stories of people who also cannot consider themselves artists, storytellers, poets or dreamers, daydream therapy becomes a shout-out that reverberates through those who do the work of dreaming. Despite everything, Sophia also hopes to help envision better, more equitable futures for everyone involved through a practice of speaking-into-being. It is here where the exhibition takes on the humble and yet important role of caretaker of dreams and daydreamers. After all, when we ask how a dream can be a catalyst for rekindling radical forms of solidarity across differences, we must go beyond clichés of solidarity and decentralise our privileges and (dis)comfort.

First, we rest. Then we dream. To stop dreaming is to stop growing.

Sophia Al-Maria

Artist's Letter

“Angel, I dreamt of you. We were in a desert. Lost. You had to stop and rest. Beneath your sleeping head I saw the traces of our home. The foundations of what we once believed was our future. I looked to the horizon beyond the rise and fall of your breath and saw a gentle apparition rise above your shoulder like a small flag rippling softly in the wind blowing from some other place. What I saw is more beautiful than I can describe. Your dream within my dream was a window. It was close to the ground but the view was more spectacular than the top of the towers you clean. My passport has finally arrived. I have a ticket home. Tomorrow I’ll be gone. May all I saw through you come true. May you bloom in your waking life as you did for me last night. Always, Grace” – Letter from a domestic worker named Grace to Angel, a construction worker in The Marina, an unfinished feature film set in the Gulf)

I believe dreaming is a human right. A rite of passage between today and tomorrow. And while night flights may plot a path through my life whether I know it or not, I do not believe dreams offer a cartography to navigate with. I believe they are unmappable autonomous oblasts unto themselves. Not even the dreamer is sovereign of this dream country, because it is also a collective way of processing our waking reality.

It is for this reason dreams must be protected and honored as one of the few free spaces of evolution and generation and healing that humans have left. However, to get to one’s ‘dream country’ requires resources. To arrive at those gates you need to sleep. Unfortunately for many of us, sleep is an unaffordable luxury. Especially for those whose labor is simultaneously the least financially valued and most essential work on the planet. When you are working grueling shifts in a hospital or a high-risk industrial job like the fictional character Angel who the above letter is addressed to, to be relaxed enough to dream might feel unattainable.

adrienne maree brown (and many before and after) says that making time to rest in spite of the grind is a radical act, especially as the world begins reaccelerating after the brief pause of the pandemic. During a period of four months locked down alone in a small room, I could not sleep. I lived in a constant state of anxiety. One night I happened across Bernard Nicolas’ film Daydream Therapy in a shared Google drive of rare films. I don’t know who was responsible for this drive but whoever you are: thank you. The drive labeled “This Light” was an act of public service during those months. Many of the films I found there had either been censored in the U.S. or simply forgotten through erasure and negligence. In this film, a Black hotel worker in the U.S. daydreams of evening the score with her boss. The entire cathartic fantasy is revealed to be in her head at the end of the film. However, when her rest break is over, she is changed forever. She stands up – literally – for her rights in the end, trading a broom for a clear sign. And this film felt like a sign to me to stop and daydream. Two years later this show now feels to me like an opportunity to mourn lost sleep and the dreams that slipped with them. We live in a non-consensual reality that is not and has perhaps never been fair or just. The historical engine of racist capitalist heteropatriarchy that got us here has failed us. We have broken down on the side of time’s killing arrow. And I ask myself all the time, where do we go from here?

First, we rest. Then we dream. To stop dreaming is to stop growing. To grow is to change, to stop changing is to die and entropy is a self-fulfilling prophecy. INVISIBLE LABORS daydream therapy appropriates the world-building practices of manifest destiny used to colonize the globe and considers daydreaming as a tool that anyone can deploy. Like football, you only need one thing: a ball. In our case, all anyone participating in the daydream workshops needs is a ballpoint pen. It’s my hope that you’ll join us in dreaming and imagining and moving towards your dreams. Mine is for the truth to set us all free.

Honestly, humbly, hopefully yours,