ON Wednesday Qatar opened doors to one of its most lavish cultural projects yet, a sweeping national museum designed by French architect Jean Nouvel that lays out the tiny Gulf state’s origin story and gas-powered rise to riches. The museum is the latest move in Doha’s campaign for regional dominance in arts and culture that has seen big-ticket acquisitions, new galleries, film festivals and international exhibitions by artists like Damien Hirst and Richard Serra. Qatari officials declined to disclose the cost of building the museum, which includes 52,000 square metres of winding floor space, an artificial lagoon, and the restored palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, who ruled until 1949.
Set along the Doha seaside and over a decade in the making, the museum’s exterior is a tangle of massive interlocking discs that evoke the shape of a desert rose, a design Nouvel said was a big technical challenge. “It creates a variation of space and unexpected spaces and unexpected proportions. I think the visitor will be surprised,” Nouvel said at the event on Wednesday to mark the opening. The interior features walls splashed with looping videos on Qatar’s desert life and pearl diving in past eras, plus digital archives about life under Ottoman and British rule.
Its unveiling comes amid a protracted diplomatic and political boycott launched in mid-2017 by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. The bloc accuses Qatar of supporting terrorism, a charge Doha denies. “The blockade has not affected us one bit,” Qatar museums chairperson Sheikha Al Mayassa Al Thani said. “All people are welcome to this museum and we remain open to the rest of the world and we remain open to dialogue.” Nouvel designed rival United Arab Emirates’ Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2017 with more than 600 art works from around the world as part of that country’s own efforts to burnish its regional culture credentials. Sheikha Mayassa, sister of the ruling emir, is considered one of the world’s most important art buyers after making a string of high-price acquisitions in the years before Qatar was hit by an energy price slump in 2014.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2019