Tag Archives: Doha

Doha – Museum of Islamic Art

The tiny, super-rich emirate of Qatar has big ideas about how its wealth can be used to create a special place in the world. (…experiencing a growth…) The Museum of Islamic Art is a particular focus for the capital city of Doha, where emphasis on culture is front and centre.

The museum’s massive geometric form rises out of the turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf. It is no coincidence that renowned 91-year old architect I.M. Pei – mastermind of the landmark Louvre pyramid – was summoned out of retirement to conceive it. The building was designed to make an impact: to put the Qatari capital on the map as a cultural centre and to broaden global perceptions of Islamic culture.

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Pei insisted that the museum not be overshadowed by the encroachment of new construction, and so the emir built an island. Sited 200 ft away from the Corniche (waterfront promenade), it is connected to the shore by a grand esplanade of palm trees and fountains.

Pei wanted to create a structure that would embody the “essence of Islamic architecture” and travelled through the Middle East searching for inspiration. The resulting building’s design calls to mind the fortifications that had intrigued the architect. It is a simple but powerful Cubist composition of square and octagonal sand-coloured stone blocks stacked 5-storeys high that culminate in a central tower. Near its peak are semicircular vents representing the eyes of an Arabian woman glimpsed above a veil. Under the gulf’s blazing sun, the play of light and shadow across the building’s surfaces transforms it into a work of living art.

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Inside the museum, galleries are organized around a towering atrium capped by a faceted dome with an oculus to the sky. One’s gaze is continually drawn upwards by the narrow beam of sunlight, sweeping symmetrical staircase, and wide circular ring of light with intricate patterns suspended above the central space. A stunning 150ft floor-to-ceiling window overlooks the bay.

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The museum has emerged as one of the world’s most encyclopedic collections of Islamic art, housing manuscripts, ceramics, textiles and precious stones dating from the 7th to the 19th century. Artifacts originating in Spain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India, and Central Asia are exquisitely displayed: astronomical instruments; wooden door panels with ivory and ebony inlay; and, book bindings and mosaic tiles with patterns extending to infinity.

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SCalvet_Doha-16In the harbour outside the museum, with the post-modern skyline of contemporary Doha in the background, are clusters of traditional dhows. Those sailing vessels were used through the millennia for pearling, fishing, and now, frequently serve as pleasure cruises.

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Doha sights and sounds

I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time in the Middle East. First stop: Doha, Qatar.

The next photos are of the Souq Waqif. The labyrinthine market looks deceptively ancient. Although the site dates back 100 years, it has recently been restored to revive the memory of the area. Over the years, the market fell into disrepair and was abandoned as shopping malls grew – and they grew, big-time. Now, the cobbled lanes and whitewashed buildings, made using traditional Qatari architectural elements such as mud rendered walls and exposed timber beams, look to be from a bygone era. Restoration or reconstruction? I’m not sure.

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The shopping destination is renowned for selling traditional garments, spices, handicrafts, and animals (alarmingly, lots of dyed pets). Each narrow, covered alley sells a different commodity. I expected to see people haggling over a sale but it was all very civilized, probably because Qatar has the highest per capita income on the planet. There are shisha lounges, galleries, luxurious boutique hotels and Egyptian, Iraqi and Lebanese restaurants. There is also a Falcon Souq nearby (apparently falconry is a big hobby for Qatari men) and a camel pen in the parking lot.

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These next shots are of Hey’Ya: Arab Women in Sport, an exhibition celebrating female athletes – amateurs to Olympians – from the Arab world. It featured a series of large portraits of sportswomen from 20 different countries by French celebrity photographer Brigitte Lacombe.

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Next up:  Katara. It is home to a bunch of institutions including the Doha Film Institute, the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and the Arab Postal Stamps Museum, connected by a network of lanes shaded with wide-stretched canvas canopies. Katara seeks to promote cultural awareness and acceptance by organizing festivals, exhibitions, seminars, and all forms of artistic expression in this newly created “cultural village” beside the sea…

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Katara site plan

Open to the sea stands a gargantuan marble amphitheatre, presumably used for concerts and performances. I saw a total of 3 people exploring the vast complex when I visited (not counting a bevy of golf cart drivers). All of this in the blazing Gulf sun … I couldn’t help wondering who this is actually for.

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Building has been going strong in Qatar. It has seen the development of new residential areas, new ports and airports, as well as  lots of new infrastructure. There is even more envisioned for Katara — Phase IV will be a mixed-use development as an extension to the Cultural Village.

Katara Phase IV