a woman in an abaya, arabesque patterns, Arabian Gulf, Cairo, chamesson limestone, cubist progressions, distant golden age, Doha, Doha Corniche, Eid, Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, IM Pei, importing culture, Islamic history, Islamic iconography, Islamic literature, Islamic world, Kufic scripts, MIA, Middle East, modernist architect, Mughal glass bowls, Museum of Islamic Art, ninth century Ibn Talbun Mosque, pyramid Louvre, Qatar, Saracen horse armour, Sasanian ceramics, Shayan Shakeel, wudhu fountains, ziggurat
If you are planning a break this Eid, consider Doha. There, at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) you will find one of the few museums in the Middle East not guilty of ‘importing’ culture; instead, the Museum is carving a unique niche by giving a place to art that is native to the region.
Inspired design… Coaxed out of retirement, 91 year old architect IM Pei (who designed the pyramid at the Louvre) travelled for six months across the Islamic world, reading books about Islamic history, studying the architecture and absorbing all that he needed in search of inspiration. He found it in the cubist progressions of the wudhu fountains in the ninth century Ibn Talbun Mosque in Cairo and designed the MIA to resemble a ziggurat with similar expressions. Staid yet utterly imposing, the Museum’s five levels cascade progressively, with external right angles giving way to curves in the interior; in Pei’s words, it resembles “a woman in an abaya”.
An island of its own… Numerous sites were proposed to house the Museum; Pei refused all. He insisted that the Museum needed “a place of its own” – that idea resulted in the creation of a 376,000 square foot, man made island, 60 metres off the Doha Corniche. So far, it is the only museum in the world to be constructed on reclaimed land.
Modern interiors… Inside the MIA, a world of Islamic iconography is laid out amidst spiralling staircases, large glass curtain windows, arches and sleek oblique walls that lead up to the dome. The dome (to call it dazzling is an understatement) with carefully slit openings, allows patterns of natural light to filter and illuminate the walls made of chamesson limestone and detailed with Kufic scripts and arabesque patterns.
Timeless art… From manuscripts that span over a thousand years of Islamic literature to Sasanian ceramics; from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh to Saracen horse armour to Mughal glass bowls, the Museum has one of the most extensive collections of Islamic history anywhere in the world. To supplement the experience, MIA also conducts education programmes in Islamic history and culture. But if you are the pensive type, then the café with its view of the Arabian Gulf is a place where you can mull over a now distant golden age.
In a nutshell… You can have fun in the sun and separate the days from the haze any other time. But if you want a truly surreal experience this Eid, the Museum of Islamic Art is the place to be.
– Shayan Shakeel
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First published in the Real Estate Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on October 21, 2012.