A triumph of the avant-garde.

Author:Highet, Juliet
Position:MOSAIC: Islamic Art - Museum of Islamic Art Doha, Qatar - Book review



A new publication, Museum of Islamic Art Doha, Qatar, celebrates the opening of the stunning new museum of that name at the end of last year. With spectacular, almost austere architecture, the museum is a triumph of avant-garde design. It is justly served by this book, with its creative, at times abstract, photography, encapsulating architect Ieoh Ming Pei's search for the 'essence' of Islamic architecture. The photographs and design of the book hone in on details of the materials used for this extraordinary building, their textures and low-key colours. The interior by Jean-Michel Wilmotte uses bronze, brushed metal, sandstone or light-coloured limestone for the floors, and dark grey porphyry for those of the exhibition galleries. These are like dark boxes, foils for the dazzling displays of one of the world's finest collections of the artistic achievements of the Muslim Diaspora. The minimalist colour palette of the rest of the building embraces beiges, creams, browns and blacks.

The western coast of the Arabian Gulf is one of the fastest developing regions of the world and Doha, capital of Qatar, is at the forefront, with a rapidly evolving built environment. The new museum is part of the Gulf's ambitious championing of cultural institutions. As Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chair of the Qatar Museums Authority, writes in her preface to the book, "The vision of the Museum is to make Islamic art accessible both to individuals and to the populace; to those who are rooted in the culture and to those who are not; to present Islamic art to both the specialist and the layman, to the Qatari child and their 'western' counterpart ... The collection is comprised of pieces that stem from the seventh century, embracing the creativity of 13 centuries and continents across the globe." The book features a selection of these treasures, including metalwork, miniature paintings, Korans and books, calligraphy, carpets, ceramics, textiles and jewellery.

Given how the Arabian Gulf has been catapulted to modernity, at present Doha is less subject to architectural excess than neighbouring Dubai, though new high-rises constantly alter the skyline. As author Philip Jodidio points out, "Few, if any, architects working on these (regional) projects make any reference to the region or to Islam itself, despite the fact that they are building in the heart of Arabia." Commenting on the lack of Islamic...

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