The Museum of Islamic Art
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th December, 2008
I spent yesterday afternoon at Doha’s brand-new Museum of Islamic Art, which seems destined quickly to be acknowledged as one of the world’s great museums. The building itself — designed by architect I M Pei — is positvely pharaonic in its simple grandeur. The setting is stunning, on an artifical island just off the Qatari capital’s sweeping Corniche. Water is a central feature of the context, the view across the bay from the vast windows of the central atrium is literally breath-taking.
But as befits a museum, it is the contents of the Museum of Islamic Art which really give the place its special value. Ranging widely from calligraphy to pottery, carpets to paintings, they are drawn from across the Islamic world past and present: the Middle East, North Africa, large swathes of Asia and important European outposts such as Andalucia and Sicily. In stark contrast to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where thousands of exhibits are crammed together in a chaotic jumble, the Doha galleries have chosen a limited number of examples of the very best, many cabinets displaying just one exquisite piece, perfectly lit.
Anyone who doubts the contribution that Arabs and the wider Muslim community have made to world civilization — one thinks of the notoriously ignorant and bigoted remarks of the independent British MEP Robert Kilroy-Silk — will soon be disabused when marvelling at the wonders from Moghul India, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia and the Arab nations. Interestingly, despite the museum’s name, there are several examples of Christian art too, including, fittingly at Christmas, a magnificent Levantine Madonna and Child.
The Royal Family of Qatar was actively involved in getting this museum built as part of their strategy of turning Qatar into the Gulf’s cultural and intellectual centre. They can be proud of the result. It is a triumph.
(photo courtesy of the Museum of Islamic Culture)