The Arabian peninsula has been suffering recently. Yemen has been accused of harbouring terrorists by the West, and the gargantuan Burj Tower in Dubai was unveiled last week amid a haze of economic uncertainty. Yettiny Qatar, an outcropwith a population barely toppingone million,continues to buck its diminutive stature with world-beating business and heady ambitions. And the Museum of Islamic Art in capital city Doha may just be Qatar’s most impressive structure. In this Heritage Key video, Museum Director Dr Oliver Watson shows us some of the treasures of the museum, and explains the far-reaching importance of Islamic art.
The striking museum, based on the Ahmed Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo, rises magnificently from Doha’s shimmering harbour. It has an Islamic art collection to rival any in the world, a fact not lost onits British director: “To have the chance to serve in a brand new museum, a brand new building of this importance and this splendour with a collection of this quality is something that very few people have the opportunity (to do) in a lifetime.”
Chinese-American architectural legend I.M. Pei has created an environment both fiercely modern, and yet true to its Arab ancestry. Dr Wilson shows us around the starkly-lit displays and exhibition rooms which have already made the museum a fixture on the world culture circuit. “The mission of the museum here is to show the achievements of Islamic civilisation, Islamic culture, through great works of art,” he says.
The museum, which only opened in December 2008, began when the Qatari royal family acquired a small yet impressive collection that continues to grow today. It’s a collection of”extraordinary quality,”claims Dr Watson, who shows us two of the museum’s highlights. First up is a pair of ‘Albarelli’ decorated containers. Though the design is thought to be Italian, Dr Wilson stresses theireastern origins. “These pieces are very interesting because they illustrate the global reach of Islamic culture” he says.
The second artefact is a bottle made from dark blue glass with gold and enamel decoration. Originally from Syria, it also represents the spreading west of Islamic culture in its Romanesque construction. “This represents one of the very high points in Islamic glass-making,” says Dr Watson.
As with most modern Arab institutions, the Museum of Islamic Art’s importance and collection is growing at a staggering pace. “This whole project is driven by the Emir and Sheikha Mozahwho had the original vision for this,” says Dr Watson. “(They) started the original collection, and then the choice of the architect (Pei, aged 91 at the time, was coaxed out of retirement for the project) and the setting up of the Qatar Museums Authorityhas all come from the very top.
“And it’s thanks to their vision and support for this that Qatar is able to present a piece of world-class architecture containing a world-class collection.” Saudi may suffer from its insularity and the UAE may be sinking under the weight of empty islands and mile-high towers,but Qatar’s prosperitycontinues to grow,withthe Museum of Islamic Artset to reap many more benefits in the future.
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