Qatar-based yoga instructor and artist Sreenath Somanathan’s story is an example that creativity and artistic expression can exist for its own sake ñ even in a largely commercial city like Doha

If this was Paris, Berlin or any other city catering to the wandering artist, it might not have been so interesting to meet someone like Sreenath Somanathan. Here in Doha, a place where many relocate to for the prospect of more lucrative occupations, I was pleased to discover someone completely dedicated to artistic pursuits. While his presence in Qatar as a painter and yoga instructor is modest, he appeared as a glimpse beneath the surface of the city’s predominantly commercial facade to a place where artistic expression exists for its own sake.

Finding initial success in India through community ventures and his creative achievements, including his short film The Clay and his poem The Linkage that received a written letter of appreciation from the President of India, Sreenath wanted to break away from the tropic comforts of his home in Kerala and reach out to the wider world. When asked why he chose to be in Qatar, he said “I never discriminate against people – workers, managers, employees – I believe all are equal and unique and have their own way of life. Qatar and the UAE is a bridge between the East and West. A centre point. I love being here because it hosts many different cultures and people and it’s still growing. I am happy with the effort that has been made to promote artists and I hope there is more of this to come.”

His roles as a teacher and community volunteer on projects such as tree plantation have found him going between many locations during his life in search of what he describes as his ‘calling’. Currently, Sreenath provides stress relief programs and yoga instruction for various academies and offices in Doha while he develops his dream of establishing an arts and community centre. “I felt I was ‘called’ to Qatar in a way. There are so many students in all walks of life who can benefit from sharing and expressing. For me, I feel it is a good place to be involved in this.”

I asked him if he considered himself an artist. “Artists are more blessed people in the sense that they have more sensitivity compared to people dedicated to business or other things in life. They can be more genuine and original in ways that they feel and more related to the natural sensitivities of life. Whatever they feel they try to convey this sense to the minds of others. I believe they have a very important role. I would be proud to consider myself an artist.”

Sreenath’s abstract painting in bold colours is his most visual symbol of expression

“Often people don’t understand what I do. I don’t do things only for monetary benefits. I have encountered certain difficulties on my journey. My way of life is difficult to promote. Sometimes I write poems, and sometimes I get engaged with the community. People usually think with a ‘business’ mind but my way of life is quite different. I have accepted many difficulties now and I understand the realities of my journey.”

When asked to specify some of the difficulties, he said “People are sometimes not willing to share. Even with simple things like the planting of trees which is beneficial to all. There is sometimes politics in life that prevents change. And a ‘business’ attitude also stops change. I am pleased when governments support initiatives that promote sharing and the arts, but this is not always happening. The lack of love and acceptance is the main cause of destruction in my eyes and it should be remedied whenever possible and we can see this is important in Doha. The way we look at others is very important. We need to allow positivity to construct our ideas when we interact.”

While Sreenath’s works of art in the form of his abstract paintings in bold acrylic colours is his most visual symbol of expression, his general attitude towards creation covers many different mediums. When asked about his overall style and philosophy he emphasised ‘linkages’ as being the key. “If you have a concept such as sky, you can try to understand the roots of this element and it can be conveyed in many mediums and there is an interconnectivity. Structural elements such as tone, colour and texture can be used to create these links. And practices like painting and yoga can be linked, similar to dancing or poetry.”

“I am less inspired by famous artists or styles and more impacted by my environment. I grew up surrounded by greenery in Kerala. There were many paddy fields, riversides and small villages and this really became a part of my upbringing. Traditions and village culture have greatly affected who I am today. But in terms of famous painters, I enjoy Picasso. I appreciate the anti-war message that comes through paintings like Geurnika. I believe in anti-destruction and this is something I try to convey through yoga. ‘Construction’ is important and we should find ways to build rather than destroy in the things we do.”

In regards to his future plans, Sreenath said “I do not have long list of career goals but my most tangible dream right now is to create a centre for music, arts and dance. ‘Mystic’ is the concept and I want to bring different arts together in one place. Behind every creation, we can see a magic. Whatever we do, there is expression in our behaviour and art helps us to link together our expressions and helps us to connect. Yoga, for example, helps to link movements of the body to the mind. We can see that everywhere there is an opportunity for the process of linkage.”

It is hard to say whether Sreenath will achieve his goal of establishing a community arts centre in Doha, or how much of an impression creative individuals like himself will have on the developing art and culture scene in the country. Much of this depends on common space and funding supports for such artistic talents. Nevertheless, Sreenath’s story is an example that creativity and artistic expression can exist for its own sake even in a largely commercial city like Doha. As a geographical gateway between East and West, the country has the potential to be a unique platform for the sharing of ideas and cultural exchange which are key driving factors for artistic and creative environments