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Expat wanderer

Doha Museum of Islamic Arts Opens

My friends in Doha tell me that the long-awaited Museum of Islamic Arts, designed by I.M. Pei (who showed up for the opening, along with Robert de Niro) opened this weekend. I can hardly wait to see it for myself.

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By Lawrence Pollard
BBC News, Doha

A few years ago, prices in London auction houses went through the roof – not for the classic modern or contemporary art, but for works from the Islamic world.

Fabulous jewels, manuscripts and ceramics were fetching 10 times their estimate and more, and it soon emerged this was thanks to the al-Thani family, rulers of Qatar, the tiny gas-rich Gulf state.

They had tempted the veteran architect I M Pei – the man behind the glass pyramid at the Louvre – to design one last statement building, a spectacular museum on a purpose-built island in Doha, which would house only the best Islamic art.

Then they went shopping for their collection.
And this weekend the museum opens, a dramatic pile of white limestone shapes inspired by Islamic architecture and full of 800 of the finest examples of Islamic art.

Not long ago, the idea of culture being a reason to visit the Gulf would have made other Arabs laugh. No longer.

The Syrian cultural historian Rana Kabbani sees a political element to the museum, putting Doha on the cultural map.

“I think all the rulers in the Gulf see what they really lack is culture on a grand scale, as a kind of imperial identity. It’s a political-cultural lack. They have the means, and they’re going for it.”
The hope is that – like hosting a Grand Prix or buying a football club – a fabulous collection of art will bring prestige, attract tourists and create a brand.

That’s why along the coast, two museums are planned for Abu Dhabi – branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim.

New conversation
But what exactly is the Islamic art in the collection? What can ceramics from southern Spain have in common with metalwork from the Silk Route city of Samarkand?

One thing which links them is the misconceptions about Islamic art held by both east and west.
Designer and writer Navid Akhtar explains: “The conversation tends to go: ‘How come you don’t paint people? Because its forbidden.’

“There’s little understanding of the scriptures or commentaries, or the concept of art, so we’re left with a limited conversation.

“There’s a lot of figurative Islamic art. And the geometric patterns aren’t just pattern.”

The Koran has no comment on the visual arts.

The prophet was firmly against idols, but then so were Jews, orthodox Christians and puritan Anglicans at various times.

Many religions mistrust images but their cultures still end up using them – Islam however has had less use for them.

“The Koran is not a narrative like the old or new testament, it doesn’t tell a story, a narration you can illustrate,” says professor Doris Abouseif, author of Beauty in Arabic Culture.

“The Koran is precepts, it guides but doesn’t narrate.”

Any museum will show Persian and Indian miniatures, or Arab pottery with figures of animals or people.
They won’t be from a mosque, but the figure isn’t banned from wider Islamic culture.

‘Whole language’
One element Islamic objects have in common is intricate geometric patterns.

Some scholars think this is a craft habit, pure and simple, but to many younger Muslim artists the geometry holds something else.

“Pattern is a whole language of colour, form and shape,” says Reem al-Faisal, a Saudi artist-photographer.

“Each colour symbolises a state of the soul or being. It’s poetry translated into material elements.”
Mr Akhtar agrees: “Many of these things, as well as being objects of beauty, have functional usage, but then hidden beyond that is the sense of transcendence that they create.”

The chief curator of the new museum, Oliver Watson, is British, as are many of the staff.

The museum houses 800 artistic and historical works from three continents
The study of Islamic art is a western creation, which Ms al-Faisal says is not a problem so long as more Muslims now take up the study.

“I don’t care if it’s Muslims or Westerners – the problem is that there’s not enough research and that’s a mistake of the Muslims.

“They should have studied their own civilisation far more, they’ve been in hibernation for 500 years. There has to be a reawakening – they have to start studying their own history.”

Qatar’s museum will be just a glittering collection of greatest hits unless it manages to become, as promised, a centre of education and research into the history of this beautiful art.

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November 24, 2008 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Community, Doha, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, News, Qatar, Travel | , | 8 Comments

How To Turn Kuwaiti Youth Into Law Breakers:

Lord, have mercy! Who doesn’t know that the quickest way to get young people to want to read a book or watch a movie is to BAN it?? It’s just human nature! So you take smart, tech-savvy young people and FORBID them to watch YouTube, or hey! even better – block it – and watch how fast they find a way around every attempt to block it.

There are a lot of sayings that come to mind – like “That train done left the station” or “Like getting ketchup back in the bottle” – you might as well ban water from running downhill.

Lawyer to file case against ministry over failure to ban YouTube
Al Watan staff
and agencies

KUWAIT: A leading Kuwaiti lawyer Mubarak AlـTasha has said that he intends to file a case against the Ministry of Information for not blocking the Web site YouTube or at least blocking infamous clips that are considered as insulting to Islam and the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

The lawyer said that since the ministry failed to carry out its promises, a law suit will be filed against it in order to ensure that this is legally binding, and added that the Kuwaiti Constitution protects freedom of expression, press and publication however such freedoms should not in any way insult Islam.

He added that the State needs to uphold the Constitution and respect it since law 70/2002 issued by the Information Ministry states that internet providers should not promote or encourage pornographic, indecent and antiـIslamic material.

A few months ago local newspapers reported that the ministry ordered local Internet service providers to block the Web site over clips that could offend Muslims.

“Since the Web site displays the Quran in the form of songs sung with the oud … and displays disrespectful pictures of the Prophet Mohammed … please proceed with immediate effect in blocking the Web site http://www.youtube.com,” read a copy of a memo obtained by Reuters.

However, following the circulation of this memo, the ministry went back on its decision and the site was subsequently not banned.

Last updated on Monday 24/11/2008

November 24, 2008 Posted by | Community, Cross Cultural, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Relationships, Social Issues, Technical Issue | 8 Comments