I.M. Pei’s Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

The Museum of Islamic Art opened in 2008 and has become one of Qatar’s signature landmarks. The collection, the interior museum design and the exterior architecture make it one of the most splendid and well thought-out museums ever constructed. It honors the historic context of the collected objects, while at the same time leaving room for the notion of eternity that most objects convey.

The architecture of the building is a work of art by itself. While being fully on par with the present, Pei has ‘listened’ to the historical architecture of the wider region, notably its early Abbasid architecture, including the Ibn Tulun Mosque of Cairo.

Another source of inspiration according to Pei, was the Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban, the National Assembly of Bangladesh, built by Louis Kahn.

Opening a museum dedicated to the heritage and religion of the region, in a way both fully contemporary and respecting traditions, was a sensible first step in Qatar’s current museum ambitions, the more so as it respects Qatar’s society wish of not moving too fast into the modernity enabled by its wealth. It serves the nation’s new position, while not ignoring the fact that not long ago this part of the world still was an outpost. In a documentary featured on the New York Times website, Pei famously said: “Doha hasn’t much of a history. There was almost nothing there”.

The museum is home to part of the private collections of members of the Al Thani family. The Qatar Museum Authority’s website section on the museum states: “(..) the Museum of Islamic Art is the flagship project of His Highness’s vision. The Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar, is a museum for the world. It will bring the world to Doha, but it will also connect Doha to the world. The Museum of Islamic Art is dedicated to being the foremost museum of Islamic art in the world, as well a center of education and information in the field of the arts of the Islamic world.”

Apart from its own activities, the museum can host guest exhibitions, including those from Qatar Museum Authority departments that are still homeless, like the Orientalist Museum and the National Museum.

The exhibition The Golden Age of Dutch Painting. Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, was another QMA venture in the MIA. In this case, apart from some Orientalist paintings by Rembrandt, the theme perhaps had little to do with Islamic Art, but the exhibition would otherwise have been homeless.

Part of the museum’s success also has to do with its well-organized accessibility. The contents and the location, as well as the architectural design contribute to this. The museum is well visited by tourists, locally resident expats and Qatari’s alike.

The museum has an active accessible lecture program by local and international experts, and successful workshops for the youth to get acquainted with the collections and underlying themes of the museum.

Aisha Al Khater is Director of the Museum of Islamic Arts; she is one of the first Qataris entering in such a high-ranking position. Kimberly French is the Deputy Director for External Relations.

Here is a piece of an interview with Aisha Al Khater.

Royal Dutch Shell is one of the sponsoring partners of the museum.