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An 'art-felt' experience in Doha

Mohan Padmanabhan Recently in Doha | Updated on December 23, 2011 Published on December 23, 2011

The Doha Museum of Islamic Art. Photo: Mohan Padmanabhan

Someone aptly commented that “the learned understand the reason of the art; the unlearned feel the pleasure”. As a joyful member of the 'unlearned’ brigade on a recent visit to Doha, capital city of Qatar, this scribe, long used to economic jargons and balance sheet language, felt absolute pleasure, and of course, awe, after visiting the Doha Museum of Islamic Art, which rises majestically off the Doha bay. The museum is connected to shore by two pedestrian bridges and a vehicular bridge.

The museum, admission to which is free, has two floors of permanent galleries, one main temporary gallery, two outdoor courtyards flanking the vast atrium area, a 197-seat auditorium, a prayer hall for men and women, a world class conservation lab and object storage area, and a library and closed rare books study section, besides the cafeteria and gift shop.

The collections, spanning three Continents and 13 centuries, include woodwork, manuscripts, glass, textiles, ceramics, jewellery and precious objects, metalwork and arms. On the permanent gallery at the third floor, one can see and be amazed at the various artefact items from different cultures and nations across the Middle East.

Rare exhibits

The most fascinating objects of art are from 9th-10th Century Damascus and Cairo, which were important centres of art production. Some of the rare exhibits include items of lustre and underglaze painted ceramics, glass decorated with enamel and gliding and brass vessels inlaid with silver, demonstrating the refinement of the Ayyubid dynasty’s lifestyle (1169-1260). The Ayyubid rule, with Cairo as capital, covered Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Yemen and South Turkey. The rich iconography includes a wide repertoire of figural scenery, often of royal or astrological significance.

Some of the rare objects which can take one’s breath away are a 10th century Andalusian bronze hind decorated with Arabesque palm leaves, a 12th century female bird on glossed ceramics from Syria and a magnificent whole jade amulet from Mughal India. According to Michelle Walton, Head of Research at the Museum, the earliest and rare pieces on display are the glass vessels from the ninth century.

She describes museums as “living entities, not just pretty things in glass cases, and each object has a story to tell about the culture it represents”. It was thrilling for an Indian scribe to see the many jewelled treasures from the Mughal courts, besides the breathtaking Iznik pottery from the Ottoman empire and the items of silk and ivory. It was a pleasant surprise to see a handwritten (in Arabic script) version of Valmiki Ramayana among the rare manuscripts section in the permanent gallery housing calligraphic gems from around the world..

Designed by world renowned architect I.M.Pei, the 3,76,740 sq ft Doha museum has got to be a must-see on anybody’s itinerary, if visiting Doha , the education hub of the Middle East .

Cultural icon of the Gulf

Located some 60 metres away from Doha ’s famed 'Corniche’ water-front, the iconic 5-storey building , which has ceilings with Islamic patterns, houses a fascinating collection of international masterpieces in galleries encircling a high-domed atrium. While it truly unlocks the wonders of the ancient world to the intellectually inclined, there is no gainsaying the fact it can draw the attention of one and all. It may not be farfetched to say that the Doha Museum of Islamic Art, which opened for public viewing in December 2008, has indeed emerged as a new cultural icon of the Gulf region.

The exterior of the building reflects the great tradition of the past with modern geometric patterns, and the interior stuns you with a domed oculus (with intricate images and shapes) reminiscent of that in Rome’s Pantheon. The prime focus of the display is on patterns, calligraphy and tile work, and a stunning rug room guides you into the scientific instruments room with astrolabes, globes and early period compasses.

Published on December 23, 2011
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