Qatar is distinguished by focusing on areas that other countries seem to consider secondary, such as well-being and art.
More than two years have passed since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed all ties with the small state of Qatar on June 5, 2017. However, the art presented to mark the "100 days of blockade "is still standing in the center of Doha as a testimony of the resolved feelings of people and leadership.
The artwork of five different artists can be seen in the structure of an abandoned fire station, built in the 1980s, which now functions as a creative space for artists in Doha.
The most notable of these works is a clenched fist that cuts through the barbed wire, by Qatari artist Mubarak Al-Malik, intended to represent how the restrictions imposed on the considerably smaller country have not derailed its progress; In any case, the people of the country believe that they have pushed the state to be more self-sufficient (with a little help from their friends: Turkey and Iran).
"When the siege [the term used by Qatar for the events of June 5] it happened, the government reacted quickly and silently, trying to minimize the effect on people as much as possible, "said a Syrian expatriate who moved to Doha 11 years ago." Instead of products from Saudi and Emirati companies, the shelves of grocery stores were quickly supplied by European and Turkish products. "
And the price difference that consumers had to pay? "None. We didn't have to pay anything extra."
At first glance, Qatar rich in oil and gas seems to be a mixture of the much larger suburban parts of Saudi Arabia, and the glowing skyline of the star city of the UAE, Dubai. But under its young ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar strives to differentiate itself by focusing on areas that other countries seem to consider secondary, such as well-being, art and culture.
The emir, who took the reins at the age of 33 when his father abdicated in his favor in 2013, for the first time for the Arab world, wants people to take care of their health and be interested in physical activities.
"There are more and more wellness centers in the city, as well as parks and cycling tracks," said a Pakistani expatriate who began working in Doha seven years ago and has also lived in Saudi Arabia. “Nutrition labels are mandatory on all products and healthy eating is recommended; there is a clear difference in the eating habits of people here compared to those in Qatar’s neighbors. "
That does not mean that the country does not have its share of fast food chains within the massive shopping centers in the Middle East style, as well as Michelin-starred chef restaurants in the elegant skyscrapers. However, compared to nearby Emirati cities, there is nothing to highlight.
Where Qatar is advancing rapidly is its ambition to shape Doha as a center of art and culture, led by Emir Sister Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.
Starting from Hamad International Airport, where a canary is located & # 39; Ontitled Lamp Bear & # 39; from the Swiss artist Urs Fischer in the middle of the busy terminal, to Souq Waqif where a giant thumb of the French artist César Baldaccini stands out [like a sore thumb] In the middle of the traditional Arab market, the work of art has become an integral part of the fabric of Doha society.
Even the high-rise buildings that emerge in the elegant West Bay of Doha and the city under construction of Lusail have an artistic sensation.
But when it comes to exemplary architecture and art, two of the museums in Doha take first place: the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) and the National Museum of Qatar.
According to reports, the Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, the man whose designs, which include the iconic Louvre pyramid, are revered throughout the world, was taken out of retirement by the MIA. The beauty of the cream-colored limestone structure, built on an artificial island on the Doha cornice, lies in its simplicity.
“This was one of the most difficult jobs I undertook. If one could find the essence of Islamic architecture, could it not be in the desert, severe and simple in its design, where sunlight gives life to forms? ”- I.M. Pei
Inside, however, the design becomes more complex. The first thing you'll notice when you enter is an ornate circular metal spider that floats on the double staircase of the atrium.
The permanent collection, which covers 1,400 years, and the exhibits that change periodically are distributed over five floors. From ceramics to textiles and manuscripts of the Holy Quran dating back to the seventh century, the collection has been widely appreciated by art connoisseurs.
The National Museum of Qatar is also inspired by the desert: the desert rose specifically. But unlike MIA, the vast exterior is anything but simple.
Designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, the brain behind the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the sandy beige structure features a series of discs that appear to have crashed into each other.
“Taking the desert rose as a starting point proved to be a very progressive idea, if not utopian. I say & # 39; utopian & # 39; because, to build a 350-meter-long building, with its large curved discs inward, and its intersections and cantilever elements, all the things that evoke a desert rose, we had to face enormous technical challenges. ” – Jean Nouvel
Inside, the museum delves into the roots of Qatar through the stories of the people who shaped the city, and glimpses how its culture has evolved.
A separate architecture firm was used for the cave-shaped gift shop inside the museum. Inspired by the 40-meter deep Dhal Al Misfir cave in Qatar, the curvilinear design is worthy of admiration for itself.
However, the focus on art in Doha goes beyond aesthetic and cultural enrichment; political nuances are hard to ignore. When you leave MIA, an LED installation by British artist Martin Creed, presented in 2018 to commemorate a year of the blockade, on the wall of a building reads in capital letters, clear letters: everything will be fine.
And so far, this tiny country seems fine.