Islamic Arts Museum

Knight in shining armor, Qatar’s Islamic Arts Museum affirms its presence as a genuine establishment by offering an alternative to existing prototypes in the area.

Doha, Qatar

With the establishment of Qatar Museums Authority in 2005 the country is noticing a surge in artistic awareness with regards to exposing the region as an active institution for islamic art. The proposed projects caters to enhance the cultural landscape of Qatar by engaging public and professionals alike in dialogue over prospects of this region. The Islamic Arts Museum which opens its doors officially for public on 22nd November 2008 serves one simple yet significant role which is a bridge for communication amongst nations. The individual behind this enormous enterprise is none other than Sheikh Saud Ibn Muhammad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar.

 Qatar wants to change the perception of the Middle East which is believed to be intolerable and inhospitable to art. By opening an important facility of Islamic evolution which materialized in the form of Islamic Arts museum. The project was commissioned in 2006 under the patronage of Sheikh Hamed Bin Khalifa Al Thani to set up an organization which placed Islam in its right context as one of the leading religions and empires to have contributed to world wellbeing. 

The Islamic Arts Museum is in partnership with the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Louvre, the Royal Collection of Morocco, Egypt’s Museum of Islamic Art and the Cartier Collection of France. By funding such a venture Qatar elevates its position as an upcoming presence to be reckoned with. The museum had a warm reception at the British Museum’s Enlightenment Gallery on 27th May, 2008. Such an event further augments the credentials of Islamic Arts Museum as a flourishing and imperative body.

Administrates of this museum includes personalities like Dr. Oliver Watson whose expertise will boost the reputation of this enterprise world wide. As a matter of fact it further encourages people from different nationalities to be aware of events taking place in the Middle East. Institutions like this form the knowledge reservoir through which authentic information is channeled. 

The draftsman behind this project is Ieoh Ming Pei, Chinese-American architect, who is a noted personality in his field of specialization. He built the Grand Louvre’s pyramid, the East Building at the National Gallery in Washington, the Miho Museum at Shigaraki in Japan. Pei’s muse which transformed his understanding of Islamic civilization is the 13th century ablutions fountain of Ahmad Ibn Tulun’s mosque in Egypt. He was looking for a structure that captured the essence of this religion while at the same time exhibiting its global dimension as world belief that transcends barriers. Situated on an island in the Arabian Gulf, the museum was designed to conquer the surrounding area and is located away from inland. The architect intended for the structure not to be rivaled by tall buildings and familiar scenery. The building itself utilizes minimalists approach while accentuating patterns and styles reminiscent of Islamic art.      

This construction is composed of five-storey building and two-storey education section which are all connected by pedestrian bridges. The design differs radically from other Islamic Arts museums positioned in other parts of the world. Pei didn’t aim at designing a typical Islamic monument which fades within other prominent structures scattered around from Istanbul to Andalusia. The task lay in creating unique building which stood on its league yet alluded to oriental structural design. There are galleries that permanently display collections of priceless objects like 17th century Iznik dish, a silver-plated 13th century Iranian casket, an Indian emerald amulet from 1695 and 16th century Ottoman imperial decree with the emblem of Sultan Sulaiman “the magnificent”. Besides the building also houses a 200 seat auditorium, public reception quarters, administrative space, library, a conservation laboratory and presentation room with projectiles, educational segment which handles school students.     

The Museum traces Islamic heritage and culture from Spain to India. The concept here is to emphasis that Islam is not religion based only in the Arabian Peninsula rather it covers vast geographic locations. By carefully setting the framework for proper understanding and discourse, the museum displays collection of items which includes jewelry, ceramics, art works, glass, metals, textiles, precious stones, wood, literature, rare books, and samples of calligraphy.

One striking difference between this museum and others of similar background is that the Islamic Arts Museum is not storage room for valuable artifacts rather it is active, engaging and provides space for exchange of opinions. The current dilemma which faces the Islamic nation in terms of how the religion is examined by non Muslim seems like a pressing matter which requires attention and correction through establishments like museums, cultural information centers etc. In show casing essential items that record the movements of Islamic arts through various stages of time, the museum delivers accurate pictures of what might constitute as a reliable documentation of history and thus help raise awareness against the preconceived notions attached to Islam.    

The museum has plans to assert itself as a learning center, research facility and platform for international dialogue on issues affecting the Islamic world. The notion here is not to promote Islamic culture as excessively righteous and grand but incorporate it within world history as being part of humans’ development towards enlightenment. Now that Islam is dubbed as “intolerant and backward” religion in the general media, this museum hopes to dispel such dissent and inform people from all backgrounds how Islamic culture contributed to human civilization like their predecessors; Greeks and Romans. Furthermore the museum also wants to attract young Muslims who would like to gain more knowledge about their heritage.

In order to keep the vitality of the museum high the directing team headed by Dr. Oliver Watson, collection’s curator from Victoria and Albert Museum, considered straightforwardly engaging the public by holding conferences, artistic workshops etc. The opening night will host symposium on “Architecture between Tradition and Modernity”. For them to lure in more visitors from all age groups they have also decided to charge negligible fees for entrance into the stand-alone island. The objective here is to create new enriching practice that becomes part of national identity like Tate Modern in Britain, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

One important objective this museum wishes to achieve domestically is to become a family retreat that not only serves leisure activities but also renders younger audiences to have an appreciation for their cultural customs. In our recent history no other religion witnessed such tremendous criticism and misrepresentation like Islam, hence more young adults should be given proper background knowledge and testimonials which counterbalances media biases present in news agencies that alter information according to their political affiliation. 

Facilities that cater to schools and learning centers alike are made available for educational purposes. Qatar’s Museums Authority plans to launch various other projects of similar nature to general public and certified persons whose contribution sheds light on topics that matter to the region in forums. The development was initiated to establish Qatar as one of the culture capitals of the world. The scheme is to win audiences from traditional cultural hubs like Cairo, Damascus and Istanbul to Doha.       

On international scope Islamic Arts Museum can offer dialogue, context and authentic characterization of Islamic arts and culture which in turn leaves room for discussion and critical analyses. Acting as a bridge that enables visitors to exchange information. The museum portrays itself as a broadminded institution that shapes the thoughts of individuals. 

Ieoh Ming Pei

We can only speculate optimistically the impact this museum will have on all segments of society; nonetheless it is safe to say that this project will rearrange the status of competent museums from all over the region. Conventional contenders must now change their strategy to combat the rising star while keeping high sporting spirit.

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