Art-stop, Doha, Qatar

October 20-21, 2013

Doha skyline as seen through the windy arches at the Museum of Islamic Art.


A discount ticket from Johannesburg to Kolkata gives us a "free" 16-hour stopover in Doha, Qatar. Just enough time for a lightening quick visit to the Museum of Islamic Art, which houses the world's largest collection of Islamic Art from across the globe (the finest art that money can buy!)


Arriving into Doha in the middle of the night, we find a vast tarmac with row after row of Qatar Airways planes lined up. It's a surprisingly long bus ride to the arrival terminal.



October 21 weather report from Doha: Sunny, 100 degrees Fahrenheit, gusty winds, sandstorm blowing in yellow dust from the surrounding desert.



Are there any Qatari's in Qatar? We fly on Qatar Air, served by gorgeous stewardesses in perky hats and conservative dresses -- they look like exotic models from around the globe. Most of the workers in the airport seem to be Filipino, speaking perfect English. Same scene at our hotel, where beautiful people hover about, ready to serve. The taxi driver on the way to the museum is from Sri Lanka; on the way back, the driver is from India. He excitedly tells us we are his last customers before he returns home, where a one-year-old toddler he has only seen on Skype awaits him in a new house, built with money earned over the last six years. At the museum, ethereal looking Arab men in immaculate white robes seem to float through the building. They don't seem to be working, I think they might be Qatari.

Later, we discover that in Qatar -- the wealthiest nation in the world -- only 12% of the total population of 2 million are Qatari; members of the Al Thani tribe rule the country. Everyone else is a laborer, an indentured servant with few benefits, lured to Qatar by plentiful jobs building new, dramatic buildings, serving the ruling class, and creating a country from the desert sands.

Looking like a stone fortress from the outside, the Museum of Islamic Art (designed by IM Pei) is a work of art in itself with its soaring interior space and symmetrical repeating design elements. An intricately patterned light halo hovers in space, beyond which a geometric dome rises up to a star-shaped oculus

An aerial walkway gives a good view of the towering bank of windows (and cafe) that look out on the on green the waters of the Gulf and Doha's futuristic skyline across Doha Bay.


Door panel: 1330, Egypt.

Illuminated Samsha: 1640, India.

(watercolor and gold on paper)

Door panel: 17th century, Iran.

The museum is brilliantly conceived, with each exhibit showcasing one theme across many media. These images are from an exhibit on pattern.

"All Islamic pattern is based on the idea that what we see is always and only part of a whole that extends to infinity."



Mosaic tiles: 14 century, Spain.

War mask: 15th century, Turkey.

(steel with gold inlay)