Art in Doha, breaking out from the desert

  The recently concluded World Cup has brought unprecedented attention to Qatar. As the capital of the Gulf state, Doha is known for its natural gas wealth.
  But just as the effort shown by spending huge sums to host the World Cup, beyond those traditional labels, Doha is looking for sustainable development possibilities beyond energy.
“Alien forces” in the Middle East

  In the year I traveled to Qatar, the country was experiencing an unprecedented diplomatic crisis. In 2017, almost all countries on the Arabian Peninsula (except Oman) accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and maintaining close relations with Iran, and broke off diplomatic relations with it. For a while, Qatar seemed to be the “orphan” of the peninsula.
  At the beginning of the severance of diplomatic relations, Saudi Arabia closed its border with Qatar, making this small peninsula country an “isolated island”. Due to the small size of the country, except for oil and natural gas, Qatar relies heavily on external supplies for all kinds of goods. After the border was closed, it could only rely on maritime shipping with Iran to ensure basic supplies.
  Therefore, this diplomatic crisis soon set off a wave of residents rushing to buy supplies at home. At the same time, due to Qatar’s pivotal energy status, the diplomatic crisis has also stirred up waves in the international market, the international oil price has soared, and the risk aversion sentiment in the financial market has increased sharply.
  However, how did such a “small country” gain so much influence in the world that countries in the Middle East threaten to sever diplomatic relations?
  This diplomatic crisis has its own geopolitical background. In the Middle East, Qatar is an emerging “foreign force”. Compared with countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Qatar has an international media mouthpiece, Al Jazeera, which cannot be ignored. It is not only the first TV station in the Arab world to broadcast news 24 hours a day, but also a media that dares to criticize the current problems of various countries. His comments on the royal families and religions of Arab countries undoubtedly touch the most sensitive nerves in international politics.
  After the “September 11 Incident”, bin Laden’s video statement was broadcast on Al Jazeera many times; for a long time, the Taliban had an office in Doha, which has also become a major source of discord between countries and Qatar .
  What’s even more amazing is that there is a large US military base in Qatar, and it also maintains a very close relationship with Iran across the sea. This small country with a small population tries to maintain good relations with different political forces.
  Perhaps in the Middle East, Qatar has witnessed too many cases of relying on energy to rise rapidly but eventually lose its direction. Since the 1990s, Qatar has almost maintained a continuous “energy anxiety”. They know that energy is a wealth, but it is by no means inexhaustible, and over-reliance on this “gift” is likely to become a curse.

  There are large US military bases in Qatar, and it also maintains a very close relationship with Iran across the sea.

One of the preeminent museums in the Middle East, Doha Museum of Islamic Art

  What is not far behind is that in the 1950s, the Netherlands discovered a large-scale natural gas field. The export of natural resources brought huge wealth and greatly improved social welfare. However, at the same time, the exchange rate and labor costs rose, which in turn hurt the country’s manufacturing industry. “Dutch disease” has become a proprietary term in economics, and Qatar cannot be an exception to this rule.
  Therefore, in the “Vision 2030”, Qatar is also looking for its own path of “reform and opening up”.
From Qatar Airways to Museums

  Political and economic issues such as “economic diversification” and “sustainable development” are actually closely related to many travelers arriving in this country.
  After Qatar opened visa-free access to China, many travelers regard Doha as an important international transit hub. Established in 1993, the young Qatar Airways ranks among the best airlines in the world for its outstanding service.
  It is not easy to break through the homogeneous energy economic model of the peninsula. Similar situations and development goals lead to fierce competition. Due to the geographical advantage of the Gulf region in the center of Asia, Africa and Europe, the aviation industry has naturally become a new opportunity that coincides with many countries. Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad Airways are also known as the three major “local tyrants” airlines in the Middle East. With the birth of three large airlines in such a compact area, they have to enhance international competition by improving service hardware and expanding route networks. force.

Doha Corniche

  During my flight to Doha with Qatar Airways, two compatriots sitting next to me, one is an engineer going to West Africa, the other is a student going to Europe, and I am a traveler going to Turkey, Qatar Airways will Passengers with different needs are concentrated in Doha for transit.
  In this flight, even the economy class provides a rich menu and wine list, and this is an Islamic country airline after all. Reminiscent of Qatar, which was on the international news due to alcohol prohibition during the World Cup, you can probably get a glimpse of its efforts to find a balance between “tradition and modernity”.

  Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad Airways are also known as the three “tyrant” airlines in the Middle East.

  At that time, the three major airlines also provided free hotel accommodation and city tours for transit passengers—the three famous cities in the Middle East all hoped to develop themselves into important travel destinations through international transit. In terms of competition for tourists, Dubai focuses on the eccentric world’s best, from Burj Al Arab, Palm Island to Burj Khalifa, all of which show luxury determination beyond imagination. However, as the capitals of the two countries, Abu Dhabi and Doha have set up another “battlefield” for culture and art, starting a “museum competition” that attracts the attention of art lovers around the world.
  The Doha Museum of Islamic Art, which opened in 2008, is still one of the most outstanding museums in the Middle East. The Qataris invited Chinese-born architect IM Pei to rewrite the coastline of Doha. However, compared with the pragmatic and fast-moving Qataris, although Abu Dhabi has invited the equally famous Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry to design the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi respectively. The Louvre was unveiled on the shoreline of Abu Dhabi, nine years after Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art opened, and the Guggenheim remained elusive.

pearl of islamic art

  When in Doha, if there is only one place to go, it is undoubtedly the Museum of Islamic Art.
  After nearly 10 years of selection, the Qatari royal family finally decided to invite I.M. Pei to design the most outstanding art museum in the Islamic world. This move itself echoes the national vision of “balancing tradition and modernity”. IM Pei is indeed the most suitable candidate, especially good at cultivating modern flowers in the soil of traditional culture.
  At the beginning, Qatar allowed I.M. Pei to choose a location on Doha’s increasingly prosperous Corniche at will, and finally determined the location of the museum half in the sea and half on the shore, so as to avoid the environmental impact of large buildings in the city on the museum. In order to protect the museum from the erosion of the waves, Qatar built a ring-shaped peninsula on the outside.

Souq Waqif near the museum

  This artificial island stretching out into the sea also brings an excellent view to the museum. Looking north from here, the city center of the modern new city outlines the undulating skyline. On the other side, the museum is close to traditional tourist destinations such as Souq Waqif, where travelers can meet the traditional Qatari way of life, and together with the later built National Museum, it forms the traditional cultural center that Doha is proud of.
  In order to design this museum, IM Pei embarked on a long journey in the Islamic world. We can find outstanding prototypes from all over the world in many details of the building, which undoubtedly shows Qatar’s ambition and vision in terms of cultural strategy.
  The straight and falling waterscape at the entrance is reminiscent of the elegant central axis of the Taj Mahal in India; the roof shape rich in geometric beauty and light and shadow changes has a distant and wonderful resonance with the Tulum Mosque in Egypt; In the atrium, I looked up and saw the circular light strips that could be seen everywhere in the Ottoman era, and the stalactite cornices that were popular in Persia…
  In terms of collection, the museum includes Islamic artworks from all over Asia, Africa and Europe, covering the vastness of Islamic art as much as possible time series. But what is moving is that the Middle East, which is the real geographical background of the museum, has always been a world-famous “powder keg”. The long war and turmoil have brought bloody damage to the cultural traditions of this region. The many temporary exhibitions held by the Museum of Islamic Art are just an examination and appeal to this unfortunate situation. Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq…Precious artworks from these war-torn countries once had their own moments on the coastline of Doha peaceful.
  Just this year, the museum reopened after renovations for the World Cup, with “Baghdad: Eye’s Delight” from its Middle Eastern neighbor as its first exhibit. Just like the elements from all over the world integrated in the building, more than ten years after its completion, the Museum of Islamic Art still continues this cultural spirit that calls for tolerance and balances tradition and modernity.