AN ART AND ARCHITECTURE LOVER'S GUIDE TO DOHA
WORDS BY RASHMI GOPAL RAO
The immigration queue at Hamad International Airport was serpentine. It was well past midnight when I boarded the taxi, and I thought I would soon fall asleep. But as we drove away from the airport, the sheer magnificence of Doha’s skyline and its gleaming lights left me amazed, astounded, and awakened from my stupor.
Doha is a city of superlatives, and one that is dramatically transforming each day. Poised to host one of the world’s biggest events in 2022, the FIFA World Cup, Doha is fast on its way to becoming the Gulf’s most breath-taking city. While there is a lot to see and do in the capital city of Qatar, its awe-inspiring buildings and museums make it a haven for art and design lovers.
Arguably the most attractive part of Doha is its absolutely marvellous waterfront promenade known as the Corniche. Home to uniquely-constructed and innovatively-designed buildings, the 7km long Corniche is a delightful spectacle during the day as well as the night. Whether it is the Aztec-pyramid shaped Sheraton building or the iconic Burj Doha (Doha tower) designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, this cluster of government buildings and hotels are high on aesthetics, functionality and design sensibilities. Just like the 781-foot Doha tower that is enveloped by a steel facade of the Mashrabiya which is a quintessential element of Arabic architecture, the buildings are a perfect combination of the conventional and the contemporary.
Other key landmarks of the city include the Al Fanar, delightfully shaped as a wedding cake with a twisted spiral-shaped minaret, the 300ft tall innovative Aspire towers, and the stunning Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque (also called the State Grand Mosque). There are several other impressive constructions in progress such as the cross-swords designed Katara towers and the desert-rose shaped National Museum of Qatar.
Museum of Islamic Art
Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei, MIA is an ode to Islamic art spanning three continents and a period of 1,400 years. The five-storied building with a main dome and a central tower is set amidst an artificial island and has been inspired by ancient Islamic architecture. The geometric patterns on the ceilings, ornate metal chandelier, and picturesque fountains are just some of the highlights of the swanky interiors. A treasure house of Islamic artefacts from countries like India, Iran, Turkey, Spain, and Egypt, the collections include weapons, pottery, manuscripts, carpets, and jewellery. Through its galleries, the museum explores the primary forms and facets of Islamic art, including calligraphy, intricate geometric patterns, floral patterns, and the universal arabesque.
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art
Abstract limestone-hued installations of men, women, and animals at the entrance form the perfect preview of what you can expect in Mathaf, which is dedicated to the cause of contemporary art. A one-of-its-kind initiative in the region, it was set up with the objective of providing Arab artists a platform to showcase their work irrespective of their individual styles and schools of art. With over 9,000 works of art from the 20th and 21st Centuries on display, the museum includes both temporary and permanent collections from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Eminent artists whose work is on display include Shakir Hassan Al Said, Mohammed Melehi, and Néjib Belkhodja. Apart from paintings, the museum houses several unique art installations curated from the perspective of not only collection, but also conservation, learning, and engagement.
Souq Waqif Art Gallery
If native markets and traditional crafts are your cup of tea, Souq Waqif, in the heart of Doha, must be on your list. With scores of little shops situated amidst a maze of winding lanes, it is a market teeming with vendors, shoppers, tourists, and locals alike. It is here that you can pick up just about anything, including clothes, dry fruits, spices, antiques, and souvenirs. There is even an art gallery within the complex, the entrance to which is through a beautiful corridor adorned with colourful lamps, glazed tiles, and artistic motifs. It is common to see artists busy drawing, sketching, or painting here. If you’re looking to pick up art by local artists, Souq Waqif is the place to go.
Katara Cultural Village
Another centre for creative aficionados is the Katara Cultural Village that is a home to an array of galleries, theatres, and artistic events. A complex that houses some fascinating buildings like the Golden Mosque and the trademark 'pigeon towers', both of which are symbols of architectural brilliance, Katara hosts a number of events such as hobby classes, painting exhibitions, and weekend markets. Designed by Turkish architect, Zainab Fadli Oglu, the Katara Masjid in the cultural village is yet another mind-blowing masterpiece with a blue and purple facade replete with intricate inscriptions and mosaics inspired by famous mosques from all over the world. A favourite haunt with art and culture lovers, Katara Cultural Village is a place designed for art exchanges and cultural synergies where you can hone your artistic skills.
All photographs by Rashmi Gopal Rao, except Doha Corniche photograph copyright philipus - stock.adobe.com