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Doha’s Pearl: Museum of Islamic Art

BY Lisa Lindblad

January 23, 2011

I.M. Pei’s Museum of Islamic Art is one of the most stunning installations I have ever seen.  Shadow and light, surrounded by water, and filled with light in its soaring atrium, it is a marvel.  And the permanent collection, stunningly presented on three floors, contains objects of great age and marvelous beauty.  Jewelry from India, ceramics from Iran and Syria, carpets, calligraphy, bronzes…the treasures are many but each is displayed with so much respect for its own integrity that you have a feeling of spareness, of lightness.  There is no exhaustion taking it all in.

On the ground floor, a temporary show, A Journey into the World of the Ottomans, portrays in painting the city of Istanbul through the eyes of Orientalist artists.  The portraits of the city and its citizens, drawn from the Museum’s own collection, from the Rijksmuseum, and others, are interesting historical documents showing both how much has changed and how much has remained the same in the city’s layout, its green spaces, its architecture, culture and politics.  A short film superimposes the contemporary setting directly on top of each painting, and is a particularly engaging and informative tool to highlight these contrasts.

It occurred to me, as I left the building for the equally superb show in the neighboring Museum of Contemporary Art, that another generation will one day study, in painting and photograph, the change wrought in their own city – a Doha or Dubai -as we now do with Istanbul.  And I felt what a novel position I was in, so far down the road in my own cultural and historical time, to witness the birth of a city.  It’s like turning the clock back, unravelling the story.

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Art & Design Flourishing in Cape Town