Regional Studies, Student Engagement

CURA Research Presentation "The Image World of Qatar 2022: Visual Representations of the World Cup 2022"


On October 26, 2022, six students from the “Film and Visual Culture in the Gulf” class with GU-Q professor Firat Oruc, presented their analyses of visual representations of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Shaikha Al Obaidan (class of ’23), Maryam Al Thani (class of ’23), John Carlos Burog (class of ’25), Rodolfo Munoz Cardenas (class of ’23), Meryam Hashmi (class of ’25) and Iman Saif (class of ’24) analyzed Swedish-Moroccan producer, RedOne’s, music videos for the three FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 songs: “Arhbo,” “Hayya, Hayya (Better Together),” and “Light the Sky;” the official mascot, La’eeb; the official emblem; and the official poster of the tournament. Each visual representation was analyzed according to three facets: cultural encounter; gender; and space, time & world.

Across all facets of analysis, several themes emerged from these visual representations as highlighted by each student presenter. Themes of East-West hybridity, bringing the world together in one space (Qatar), unity in diversity, convergence, tradition juxtaposed with modernity, the rise of Qatar on the global stage, and gender.

A careful review of the music videos accompanying the official FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 songs reveals many of the themes noted above. Shaikha provided cultural encounter commentary on the music video for the “Arhbo” song and noted how the video highlights the themes of East-West hybridity, and bringing the world together in one space. One of the singers, Gims, is himself “hybrid” in that he is both Congolese and French. RedOne, the producer of the songs who also features in the video, is Moroccan-Swedish. The imagery of the video depicts people from all different nationalities, and the lyrics are in Spanish, English, French, and the Qatari dialect of Arabic. One repeated verse includes the lyrics “east to west.” “Arhbo’s” space, time, and world facets refer to Qatar as the space where people from around the world will come together. The video takes place in a bus, living room, and stadium – all places where people gather.

In his analysis of the “Hayya, Hayya (Better Together)” music video, John touched on the themes of hybridity, unity in diversity, convergence, and gender. As cultural encounter, the video’s setting juxtaposes the iconography of the desert with the liveliness of the singers and dancers. The singer, Aisha, is filmed on a beach at the point of convergence of two bodies of water with the Doha skyline in the background. John remarks that this scene symbolizes Qatar and the multicultural forces that will impact Qatar, the new ideas and new people that the global attention of the World Cup in Qatar will bring.

In the “Hayya, Hayya (Better Together)” music video, John also highlights the theme of gender. In the scenes of Aisha singing, she is in white, symbolizing modernity, and is surrounded by women in tribal black dress, symbolizing tradition, playing traditional instruments. Additionally, there is a snapshot of women weaving on shore as men prepare to enter the sea to fish or pearl. This depicts the roles of men and women in traditional Qatari society.

The final music video for the song “Light the Sky” provides imagery relating to gender in particular, according to Rodolfo. This music video highlights women – all the singers are women, and the first women FIFA referees are also literally spotlighted. Rodolfo provided a critique of this choice of imagery, arguing that the spotlights isolate the women against the dark stadium as the background, which undermines the idea of women being empowered. The imagery shows the female FIFA referees as isolated, alone, and separate from the game, the fans, and the players.

Under the facet of space, time, and world, the “Light the Sky” video imagery also undermines the idea of women’s empowerment, according to Rodolfo, in that it is filmed in front of Al Thumama stadium, which is designed by a Qatari male architect and visually represents the gahfiya cap, which is part of Muslim Arab boy’s and men’s dress. From a women’s empowerment perspective, it would have been more appropriate to film the video at Al Janoub stadium, the only Qatar 2022 stadium designed by a female architect, Zaha Hadid. One can imagine the choice decision-makers had to make between the only Qatar 2022 stadium designed by a Qatari (Al Thumama stadium), and the only one designed by a woman (Al Janoub).

La’eeb is the official mascot of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Shaikha presented her analysis of him under the facets of cultural encounter, and Maryam A. provided commentary under the facet of space, time, and world. In a promotional video introducing La’eeb, he is depicted as coming from a parallel multiverse of mascots. In the video, La’eeb is shown breaking into our world. Shaikha and Maryam A. both note that this emergence narrative relates to Qatar’s emergence onto the world stage, and the two parallel worlds reflect the East-West hybridity of the football world. Maryam A. reflects on La’eeb’s retelling of what football is all about, reclaiming the mascots’ version of the story. This parallels Qatar’s own reclaiming of football as a part of its cultural heritage, not a new phenomenon as has often been argued in the lead up to the FIFA World Cup 2022.

Meryam H. provided her analysis of the official emblem of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 under the facets of cultural encounter and space, time and world. The official emblem represents a traditional woolen shawl people in the region often wear in winter. It includes traditional Qatari floral patterns in the burgundy national color of Qatar. The emblem also features diacritic from Arabic script. Meryam H. sees it as a symbol of Middle Eastern culture, and also something that everyone can relate to as it is in the shape of the FIFA trophy. The emblem also features a large amount of blank space, suggesting the viewer is free to fill it in with their own cultural connections. The shape of the emblem also resembles the infinity loop shape. Time has been crucial to Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup, and countdown clocks feature prominently throughout the city. The final phase of Qatar’s preparations is called “Now is All,” which is seen throughout the city on billboards, buses, overpasses, advertisements, and more.

Iman commented on the visual representation of the official posters for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Her analysis focuses on the area of space, time, & world. The posters were designed by a Qatari female graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar (VCU-Q) school of art and design, Buthayna Al Muftah. The striking posters were revealed at the Hamad International Airport, which Iman notes is the space where all people meet before entering Qatar. The airport is a space of diversity, symbolizing how the World Cup in Qatar is meant to be a space for everyone.

The background of the official posters depicts the beach and sand dunes of Qatar. Sand and water are important to Qatar. The posters in combination with the other visual representations show that while Qatar has embraced the city’s bright lights, the desert is also important and harmonizes in a way with the city. In relation to time, Iman suggests that the piece of headwear that is depicted in the posters, the khudra, has been a traditional piece of clothing throughout the centuries. It is the same whether the person wears it in a formal event, or at home with friends. It is a simple garment that has stayed the same throughout history and is the same in whatever context in which it is worn. Similarly, football is a universal sport that is the same across the globe.

Article by Elizabeth Wanucha, CIRS Operations Manager