Splendidly sited on a purpose-built artificial island off the city’s palm-fringed Corniche, the stupendous Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, is both an architectural showpiece and an arresting receptacle for the world’s most extraordinary collections of Islamic art.
The Dazzling Museum of Islamic Art In Doha
Launched in December 2008, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha was designed by renowned Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei – famous for Paris’ Louvre Pyramid – who came out of retirement to create the striking building.
Pei said the structure was inspired by some of Islam’s most iconic monuments, including Cairo’s Ahmad Ibn Tulun Mosque in Egypt and Granada’s Alhambra Palace in Spain.
The austere edifice embodies the features typically associated with traditional Islamic architecture – striped stonework, graceful arcades and arches, geometric lines and serene glassy ponds.
Resembling a mosque that might have been designed by a Cubist, the monumental exterior is Lego-like with a building-block form and cube-shaped dome. With each different angle you approach the edifice from – whether from the grand palm-lined driveway or from the gardens near the dhow harbour– it takes on a completely different shape.
Likewise with the stunning interior, which is remarkable for its elegant symmetry and rich decorative patterns – its majestic stairways, geometric-patterned floor and fountain, lofty atrium, colossal dome, and mashrabiya-inspired detailing – from each corner and each different floor, it’s as if it’s a different building.
While you have so much to take in with the architecture that you’re never quite certain where to look, with the collection the dimly-lit exhibition galleries by noted French interior designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte ensure your attention is firmly focused on the illuminated objects.
Dramatic and minimalist in their design, with dark finishings made of rare materials, each gallery features immense display cases of non-reflective glass that are sometimes almost invisible so that the precious objects within appear to float in space.
Labels are discrete, signage is kept to the bare minimum and unlike most contemporary museums there are no interactive kiosks to distract you from the art on display. This is a museum where an audio-guide is absolutely essential; pick one up from the Information desk downstairs.
Dedicated to celebrating the rich artistic heritage of the Islamic world, the museum’s collection represents art from all continents touched by Islam, and includes calligraphy, manuscripts, miniatures, textiles, carpets, glass, ceramics, ivory, metal, and precious stones.
The Museum of Islamic Art currently displays over 850 objects in the permanent galleries – most of which have come from public auctions and the private collections of Qatar’s royal family.
But like any large international collection, only a fraction of its holdings are on show. Around 4,000 additional pieces are in storage including many unseen masterpieces waiting to be displayed.
The museum’s displays are organized around themes and the historical contexts of various dynasties to help define major influences and changes within Islamic art.
According to Dr Oliver Watson, director of the Museum of Islamic Art, the collection is “important in showing Muslims worldwide the historic global connections of the Islamic lands and, through art, the excellence and pre-eminence of their intellectual and economic life.”
For non-Muslims, he tells us, it’s “important in demonstrating how Islam has continually been a tolerant and progressive force, adopting, adapting, and passing on ideas within and across its borders.”
Museum of Islamic Art in Doha