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Posted On: 11 November 2008 11:04 am
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:08 pm

Islamic Museum to open soon!

Khalifa Al Haroon
Khalifa Al Haroon
Your friendly neighborhood Qatari
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2_253728_1_252.jpg TWO weeks to go! After years in the planning and making, the Museum of Islamic Art on the Doha Corniche is about to open its doors to the world. The building, designed by Chinese/American architect I M Pei is, quite simply, stunning. Rising to a height of 60 metres, it stands on an island of reclaimed land, connected to the shore by two shaded pedestrian bridges, plus a bridge for vehicles. The construction of the island was the suggestion of the architect, to ensure that future buildings would never encroach on the museum. Entering via the gently sloping bridge, the visitor’s gaze is caught by the beautiful circular metal chandelier, 12 metres in diameter, suspended above two curved staircases which rise from the floor of the central domed atrium. The impression is of an immense, airy spaciousness, flooded with light from the vast sheet glass walls. The architecture was inspired by the design of the 13th century sabil (ablutions fountain) of the Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun in Cairo, Egypt. The finest materials have been brought from all over the world for its construction: cream-coloured Magny and Chamesson limestone from France, black granite from the US and stainless steel from Germany. The interior was designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte and Associates and features grey Porphyry stone and Brazilian lacewood. To protect the fragile antiquities on display, the galleries will have subdued lighting and no natural light will enter the space. The shape of the five-storey main building, topped by the stainless steel dome, changes as the structure descends: the circular perimeter of the dome becomes an octagon and then a square, which in turn is transformed into four triangular column supports. All five floors command spectacular views of the Arabian Gulf and the West Bay area of Doha, through the glass curtain wall which covers the north side of the building. Behind the museum, a park of approximately 64 acres of dunes and oases is being constructed on the island, to offer a picturesque backdrop to the stone-clad building. As Gulf Times toured the museum, hundreds of people were hard at work making the finishing preparations before the grand opening by HH the Emir on November 22. Priceless treasures were being carefully placed into the specially designed display cases, and labels were in preparation. Labelling is being kept to a minimum to allow the fullest visual appreciation of the marvellous objects on display. To supplement the information on the labels, visitors will be offered audio tours in a number of languages. The collection represents the full scope of Islamic art and includes manuscripts, ceramics, metal, glass, ivory, textiles, wood and precious stones. They come from three continents, from places as far apart as Spain and India, and include many objects from Middle Eastern countries. In an interview with Gulf Times, Dr Oliver Watson, the director of the Museum of Islamic Art, explained why the museum is of international significance. “It is very unusual,” he said, “to have a museum of this class opening anywhere in the world, and the architect took the designing of a museum of Islamic art at the heart of the Islamic world very seriously. “The collection itself is astonishingly important. Everything is of the highest quality, both aesthetically and historically, and the objects on display can match any collection of Islamic art in the world.” Dr Watson, who held the post of chief curator of the Museum of Islamic Art from 2003-05 before returning to Qatar in August this year to take up the directorship, went on to say that there was no other museum in the world devoted exclusively to Islamic art. Great collections of art from the Islamic world exist in the West, but they are always part of much bigger museums and the amount of space devoted to them is comparatively small. Inevitably, the displays are somewhat crowded. “Here we have ample facilities to show these marvellous objects in a spacious way. This helps to emphasise the importance of the individual pieces,” he explained. “Islamic art is an expression of a culture that was as advanced, intellectually, culturally and economically as any in the world and that’s the important thing on whi ch this collection will focus. There are larger collections of Islamic art elsewhere, but none with facilities like this.” Dr Watson, who was formerly the chief curator of Middle Eastern Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and relinquished a high profile position as Keeper of Eastern Art at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford to take up his post in Qatar, explained why he did so. “For far too long, Islamic art has been neglected in the realm of art history. There was far more attention paid in the West to Chinese art and Buddhist art. I’ve spent my life studying Islamic art, and to be given the opportunity to work on a project like this is fantastic.” A number of other events at the museum will follow the grand opening. The day after the opening on November 22 there is a panel discussion with I M Pei about the architecture of the building, for which invitations will be issued. This will be succeeded by a two-day conference around a temporary exhibition, entitled Beyond Boundaries; Islamic Art Across Cultures, which is being assembled by the Curator of Exhibitions, Dr Hubert Bari. Beyond Boundaries is a themed exhibition, with objects on loan from more than 20 internationally famous museums including the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the British Museum in London. It will explore the relationship between Islamic, Christian and Jewish communities in the early years of Islam, and the exchanging of ideas with the outside world. There will be a section devoted to Islamic science, to highlight the fact that Islamic scholars studied the scientific discoveries of the ancient world, translating treatises from Greek into Arabic and then passing them on to the West. It will also include a display of contemporary art by Indian artist Maqbool Fida Hussain, who is currently working from a studio in Doha. On December 1 the museum will open to the public, and entry is free. Next year the Education Wing of the museum will be opened. Resources will include a reading room in the museum library, classrooms, workshops, study spaces and a conservation laboratory which will form an important new resource not only for Qatar but for the entire region. There will be educational activities for school students, to encourage them in an understanding and appreciation of Islamic art, and community activities which will be open to all.