The National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) which opens to the public today (March 28), is set to take visitors on a unique and interactive journey: from the period before the peninsula was inhabited by humans, and continuing up to the present day.
“The opening of NMoQ is a source of immense pride for our country, and an exceptional moment for engaging with people from around the world,” Qatar Museums (QM) Chairperson HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani told a press conference on Wednesday.
“Culture connects people, and with this new museum we believe we have created an exceptional platform for dialogue,” she said.
Along the museum’s 1.5km gallery path is a series of encompassing environments, each telling its part the country’s history with a combination of architectural space, music, poetry, oral histories, evocative aromas, archaeological and heritage objects, commissioned artworks, and monumentally-scaled art films, among others.
One of the “objects of great significance” on view at the National Museum is the Al Zubarah Qur’an, known as the oldest Qur’an created in Qatar and written in Al Zubarah at the beginning of the 19th century by Ahmed bin Rashed bin Juma bin Helal al-Muraikhi.
Another spectacular artefact at the museum collection, “and a testament to the flourishing pearl-trade relations between the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Gulf,” is the Pearl Carpet of Baroda.
Considered as one of Qatar’s greatest national treasures, the renowned carpet was commissioned in 1865 and embroidered with more than 1.5mn of the highest quality Gulf pearls, along with emeralds, diamonds, and sapphires.
NMoQ director HE Sheikha Amna bint Abdulaziz bin Jassim al-Thani said: “We have created galleries full of movement, sound, and colour in order to engage our public fully, with their senses and emotions as well as their intellects, and have assembled creative and authentic content that is so rich that people will discover something new with each visit. It is now time for the discoveries to begin.”
The heart of the 52,000sq m NMoQ is the restored historic Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim al-Thani (1880-1957), son of the founder of modern Qatar. It was the actual home of Sheikh Abdullah and the first National Museum, which opened in 1975 and it closed two decades later in the 1990s.
Organised in three chapters (“Beginnings, Life in Qatar, and The Modern History of Qatar), NMoQ brings to life the formation of the peninsula and its natural habitat, the heritage of life in Al Barr (the desert) and on the coast, the political development of modern Qatar, and the discovery of oil, to the country’s multifaceted relationships today with the larger world.
Oral history films, archival photographs, maps, texts, models, and digital learning stations establish the narrative, along with some of the most dazzling treasures of Qatar’s history and heritage.
Surrounding the objects and bringing the experience to life is a sequence of short art films that NMoQ commissioned from a roster of distinguished international filmmakers.
The films are projected at immense scale and with hypnotic clarity against the walls of the galleries, with each one uniquely suited to the dynamically curving, irregular shape. All films were produced by the Doha Film Institute using cutting-edge technologies and were shot within the borders of Qatar.
Organised in three ‘acts’, the first ‘act’ comprised of galleries one, two and three; ‘act’ two is from gallery four to seven, and ‘act’ three forms the last batch of galleries. One of the unique features of NMoQ exhibits include encouraging visitors to touch the objects displayed in its galleries.
“The Formation of Qatar” incorporates a display of fossils of plants and animals that represent seven time periods of the country in the distant past. A film made under the creative direction of Christophe Cheysson (The Beginnings, 2018) encircles the viewer with images of the formation of the peninsula and early life-forms, while digital displays bring to life long-extinct plants and animals and now-vanished landscapes.
“Qatar’s Natural Environments” features models and exhibits about indigenous plants and animals from the Arabian oryx, the sand cat, and the deathstalker scorpion to the largest of all fish, the nine-metre-long whale shark.
In a kaleidoscopic film experience by director Christophe Cheysson and legendary filmmaker Jacques Perrin (Land and Sea, 2017), visuals of birds fill a 50m wide screen, schools of fish swim through the deep, and a windstorm dazzles the senses.
“The Archaeology of Qatar” incorporates displays of some 1,000 archaeological artifacts, from luxury items to functional everyday objects, which trace life on the peninsula from the earliest human presence thousands of years ago to the thriving towns of the 1800s. A film by Jananne al-Ani (Archaeology, 2017) brings Qatar’s archaeological sites into the gallery, combining aerial views with compelling close-up images of objects from pre-historic times into the Bronze Age and beyond.
“The People of Qatar” begins with an exploration of movement as a fundamental element in the identity of the Qatari people: seasonal movement between Al Barr (the inland desert) and the coast; movement to find water and pastures, and movement to buy and sell goods.
The gallery is organised around a three-dimensional sculpture of the peninsula and tells the story of how survival depended for centuries on a nomadic way of life.
Objects in the gallery include elaborate camel saddles, leather water bags, and an array of artifacts rescued from the wreck of the Cirebon, a trading vessel that sank 1,000 years ago off the Indonesian coast. The faces and voices of Qatar’s people enter the gallery, recounting their experiences of living in this land, through a specially commissioned oral history film by Jon Kane. “Life in Al Barr (Desert)” brings to life the challenges, joys, and satisfactions of living in the inland desert. The gallery includes a complete Bait al-Sha’r (tent), displays of sadu weaving, and clusters of cooking utensils, surrounded by sounds of poetry being recited and the aroma of coffee.
A sweeping film by Abderrahmane Sissako (Life in Al Barr, 2017), shot in beautiful silver-nitrate style, unfolds on the long walls of the gallery, taking the viewer through the daily cycle of life. “Life on the Coast” features a large-scale model of the important centre for trade and pearling Al Zubarah, one of the largest and best-preserved coastal cities in the Arabian Gulf, and Qatar’s first Unesco World Heritage Site listing.
Capturing the rhythms of life during the heyday of Al Zubarah is another film by Abderrahmane Sissako (Al Zubarah, 2017), which is projected on a six-screen backdrop that wraps around the model of the site.
A second film, by Mira Nair (Nafas/Breathe, 2014), is presented on two facing screens, each approximately 31m long, immersing viewers in the physical and emotional hardships of pearling. A second oral history film by John Kane completes the experience. “Pearls and Celebrations” includes a sparkling display of jewellery, costumes, and other rare and splendid objects, particularly the Pearl Carpet of Baroda, testifying to the role of the pearling industry for many years as Qatar’s main link with the world.
“The Modern History of Qatar” is told through a series of interlinked spaces, the first of which covers the years 1500 to 1913 and presents historic figures from Rahmah bin Jaber and Isa bin Tarif to the leaders under whom Qatar emerged as a united nation, Sheikh Mohamed bin Thani and Sheikh Jassim bin Mohamed bin Thani.
Exhibits enable visitors to delve into this past by accessing archival documents, historic maps, and more, and a film by Peter Webber (Shadows of History, 2018) poetically evokes the moments before the decisive battle for unification.
A second space focuses on the transitional moment between 1913 and 1972, under the reigns of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim al-Thani, Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah al-Thani and Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali al-Thani, from the collapse of the pearling industry to the discovery of oil.
An impressionistic 360-degree film installation by world-renowned video artist Doug Aitken (The Coming of Oil, 2017) evokes the beauty and impact of the discovery of oil. A third space, telling the story from 1972 to 2013 under the reigns of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani and His Highness the Father Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, has at its centre a 5m-diameter wooden model of the city of Doha. It features a multi-user interactive wall that enables visitors to explore archival images related to the country’s development over these years. This was the period when revenues from oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) made possible a dramatic transformation, including massive urban development.
The gallery also features an oral history film about the Father Amir, directed by Tala Hadid, Rowdha al-Thani, and Amal al-Thani, and a major video art installation by John Sanborn (Alchemy, 2016): a creative presentation of the significance of LNG, playing on 30 high-resolution monitors of varying sizes.
“Qatar Today,” a gallery near the conclusion of the permanent gallery route, will showcase the achievements of the reign of the current Amir and recent history including the blockade imposed in Qatar in June 2017, which brought unprecedented challenges to the country and its people.
Through a striking immersive digital installation, the gallery – which will open as part of a second phase of development of NMoQ – dynamically represents these events.
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