30 April 2010

The Museum of Islamic Art

It isn’t often that a building stuns – literally.  However, this is the case with the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, the capital of Qatar.  Traditional Islamic architecture meets the twenty first century to spectacular effect.

Nothing is done by halves here.  Even the palm lines entrance (and entrancing is perhaps the right word) fills the visitor with expectation.  Sublimely designed by IM Pei, the museum opened its doors to the public less than two years ago.

The building is, as you might expect, heavily influenced by ancient Islamic architecture but its design is unique and there is simply no other building like it on earth.  Certainly as a museum of this king it was the first in the Persian Gulf and its sheer size alone, over forty five thousand square meters, is a testament to the ambition of its designers.

Sabhia al Khemir became the founding director of the museum in 2006.  A globally renowned Tunisian writer she is also expert in Islamic art and is best known for her work in bridging cultural divides and creating dialogue between the great civilisations of the world.  Certainly the Museum of Islamic Art (or QIA as it is known) is an incredible talking point.

Image Credit Flickr User websterkate

The idea that contemporary Islamic culture is inward looking was contradicted from the word go by the invitation to IM Pei to be the chief architect of the project.  The Chinese born American considered by many to be a master in his field was gently coaxed out of retirement to design the building.  Most agree he has done a stupendous job. You may know him for, among many other projects, the glass pyramid outside the Louvre.

One of the first things that Pei did was to politely decline all of the proposed sites for the museum.  This building – if it was to stand – had to stand alone.  Doha happens to have a corniche – a waterfront promenade which is paralleled by a road.  Perfect.  So it was that it was eventually built on a sixty acre island off the corniche.

But what lies within?  Surely something so spectacular on the outside must only be something of a disappointment on the inside.  chacun à son goût, of course, but this is not the case with this particular building – whatever your own taste, disappointment is hardly the word.

The foyer itself is a grandiose mix of marble, steel and glass.  As with the exterior the hard edges of modernism combine sublimely with the curves of traditional Islamic design.  Now, look up...

From one of the upper levels, the view down is just as staggering.  Just as the architecture is both traditional and progressive, so are the ideas behind the museum.  Although built with the children of Qatar in mind primarily, the museum’s aim is to educate people about Islamic art and indeed the heritage of the Islamic world in general.  What is often a misunderstood culture and history can be seen here and the visitor is, by being enabled to study the past then in more of a position to understand the present. 

In fact, the whole place is a mathematician’s dream.  The idea of the place is to give the visitor not only access to a wonderful and invaluable series of art works but to allow them to journey through time and across cultures, religions and eras.

Even the cafe has its own unique appeal. Oh, yes.  There are the exhibits to...

Once you are done gasping at the architecture you may want to turn your attention to the exhibits.  Here, too, you will not be disappointed. The museum is host to a significant collection of art which go from around the year 600 CE to the nineteenth century.  There is something for every taste, from precious metals and stonework to glass and textiles.

Image Credit Flickr User zenat_el3ain
An important collection of manuscripts, spanning over a thousand years of Islamic literature is a fascinating glimpse in to an ancient and literate culture.

Times of both war and peace are represented here.  This hugely important museum is little known outside of the Islamic world.  Perhaps we should help spread the word?

You may also like: Give Earth A Chance

Over at our sibling site, Ark In Space we have this quite remarkable piece of film.  It doesn't really matter whether you wholly agree with what Greenpeace are trying to achieve (and more notably how they go about achieving it) - however.

This must surely be difficult to disagree with on virtually all and any level.  After all, who out of us wants to see the earth uninhabitable for the next generation?

The use of hands as fields of corns and waves is particularly cool here, as is the soundtrack.  Greenpeace often use shock tactics to get their point across - but this is peaceful and (almost) sublime in its message.