A New Desert Rose in the Middle East: The National Museum of Qatar
The most anticipated museum of 2019, the National Museum of Qatar finally opened its doors to the public on the 28th of March 2019. The museum traces human history from 700 million years ago all way to the present in its building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, who was also behind the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Behind the museum is an inspiration taken from the desert rose, the crystalline forms that emerge in the desert under the arid sandy conditions. The National Museum of Qatar is like a desert rose indeed – it is rare, unique and timeless. (Cover Photo: qatarliving.com)
Located at the edge of Qatar, Doha’s waterfront, 40,000-square-meter building itself is regarded as an incredible architectural achievement and a celebrated artwork. The $434 million structure is made of sprawling array of curved discs, cantilevered angles and surprising intersections, which echo the geography of Qatar. Its roof is made up of 76,000 panels fitted perfectly together in various angles. Inside this futuristic shell, we see a historical structure, the newly restored palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani.
The inner space of the museum is organised around three chronological chapters: Beginnings, Life in Qatar, and Building the Nation. Presented in a total of 11 galleries, this 1.5-kilometer journey presents Qatari history. The Beginnings explores the geological period prior to humans inhabiting the peninsula while the Life in Qatar and Building the Nation tell the story of the history of modern Qatar and the nation-building from the 18th century to the present day.
Featuring more than 1.500 artefacts, the musem’s collection is as interesting as its building and themes. Manuscripts, documents, photographs, decorative art, jewellery and costumes are a few examples of artefacts which are presented in this museum. An example is the Pearl Carpet of Baroda (commissioned in 1865), one of the museum’s masterpieces, which is embroidered with more than 1.5 million Gulf pearls and adorned with emeralds, diamonds and sapphires.
The National Museum of Qatar is also home to artworks and commissioned pieces from local and international artists, both well-known and emerging. There is “Wisdom of a Nation” by Qatari artist Ali Hassan in the ground floor public entrance and “Motherland” by Qatari artist Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani. In addition, a sculpture by Iraqi artist Ahmed Al Bahrani in the outdoor space known as the Howsh, or caravanserai. These artists from different parts of the region and the world tell Qatar’s story through their perspectives.
The museum’s park features a vast installation by the French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel. Made of 114 fountains, the artwork evokes Arabic calligraphy. There is another sculpture by Syrian artist Simone Fattal. Named “Gates of Sea”, this artwork reflects the rock carvings, or petroglyphs.
One of the most important elements about this fascinating museum is its aim to stress Qatar’s place in the world and its connection to it — past and present. This story is narrated through videos, audio clips and display techniques. In addition to its building, spaces and collections, even the scents used in the museum space: coffee, the woody smell of oud and gunpowder, all say one thing: “Welcome to the desert rose!”