Arts in Qatar. Historically, paintings were not common in Qatari society. Instead, other art forms such as calligraphy and architecture were preferred. After the oil boom in the mid-20th century, paintings gained popularity. Common themes during this period were related to Islamic and Arabic heritage. Art exhibitions were held under the auspices of the Ministry of Education until 1972. The Ministry of Education integrated art education into the school system and allocated facilities for art workshops.
As an initiative to develop the local artist base, the ministry began offering scholarships to study art abroad. Jassim Zaini became the first Qatari art student to study abroad on a scholarship in 1962 after he enrolled in the University of Baghdad. Several more artists were sent abroad on art scholarships during the 1960s and 1970s, including Wafika Sultan, Hassan Al Mulla and Yousef Ahmad. The latter became the first artist to receive an M.A. in 1981. Yousef Ahmad was the first artist to hold a solo exhibition in 1977. Under its director Nasser Al-Othman, the Culture and Arts Department inaugurated the country’s first art gallery in 1977–78.
Yousef Ahmad, Hassan Al Mulla and Muhammad Ali established the country’s first art group in 1977, “The Three Friends Group”. In 1980, the Qatari Fine Arts Society was established with the objective of promoting the works of Qatari artists. That year, an art workshop was opened for women with the aim of providing them with an opportunity to hone their artistic skills. The Qatari Fine Arts Society held their first exhibition in 1981. In December 1982, the country’s first art exhibition for females was held. Hassan bin Mohammed Al Thani has featured prominently in Qatar’s art scene since 1986 Five main art movements emerged in the country by the late 20th century: surrealism, realism, expressionism, abstract art, and calligraphy.
A member of the ruling family, Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al Thani, has been an instrumental figure in developing Qatar’s modern art industry since the 1980s. Among his art-related activities was establishing his own museum which doubled as a residency space for Doha-based artists in 1994, and establishing the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in 2010 to which he donated his entire art collection, which he had begun assembling in 1986.
When a quartet comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed all ties with and imposed a blockade of Qatar on 5 June 2017, Qatari artist Ahmed Al-Maadheed created an illustration known as “Tamim Almajd”, which translates to “Tamim the Glorious”. A simple black and white sketch of Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, beneath of which is the text “Tamim Almajd” in the style of Arabic calligraphy, the illustration has become symbolic of Qatari nationalism. The image is now displayed prominently on buildings, in media and in art in Qatar.
Development of modern art in Qatar
The art scene in Qatar witnessed substantial development in the mid- and late 1950s. Initially, arts were overseen by the Ministry of Education, with art exhibitions being hosted in its facilities. In 1972, the government started providing increased funding to aid the development of arts within the country. The father of modern artists in Qatar is Jassim Zaini (1943–2012), whose work explored diversity in techniques and documented the changing society from traditional local life to a global style. The Qatari Fine Arts Society was established in 1980 with the objective of promoting the works of Qatari artists. In 1998, the National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage was established.
Qatar Museums was established in the early 2000s to build and connect all museums and collections in Qatar. Two major museums lead the institution: the Museum of Islamic Art opened in 2008, and the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, opened in Education City by Qatar Foundation in 2010.
Qatar in the past two decades has pinpointed its place in the world map with prominent global landmarks including Education City which showcases architecture from numerous architects including Rem Koolhaas who designed the Qatar National Library during 2018 and the Qatar Foundation headquarters back in 2014.
Among Qatar’s notable architects is Japanese architect Arata Isozaki who contributed towards designing countless buildings in Education City, including the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC), the Liberal Arts and Science Building (LAS) and the Qatar Foundation Ceremonial Court.
Qatar’s art initiatives have expanded tremendously in recent years with the opening of massive great projects including the Doha Fire Station which exhibits art at the heart of the city.
Arts and museums have played a pivotal role in improving Qatar’s tourism and inviting people to understand Qatar’s history and heritage with the openings of the National Museum of Qatar, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Msheireb Museums and the Museum of Islamic Arts.
Her Excellency Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani has played a significant role in bringing art to Qatar, particularly with the latest art installations at the Hamad International Airport (HIA) showcasing pieces of work by numerous global artists in collaboration with Qatar Museums Authority.
Under the guidance of the CEO of Qatar Foundation, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Education City has become a home for modernistic buildings originating from worldwide architects contributing to the building of schools, universities, offices, and accommodations for the community.
Examples of modern architecture
In Education City:
- Qatar National Convention Center (2011) designed by Arata Isozaki
- Qatar Foundation Ceremonial Court (2007) designed by Arata Isozaki
- Qatar Foundation Headquarters (2014) designed by Rem Koolhaas
- Northwestern University in Qatar (2017) designed by Antonie Predock
- Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (2008) designed by Ricardo Legorreta and Victor Legorreta
- Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (1998) designed by Mimar Consult
- Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (2003) designed by Arata Isozaki
- Liberal Arts and Science building (2004) designed by Arata Isozaki
- Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Qatar (2010) designed by Ricardo Legorreta and Victor Legorreta
- Texas A&M University in Qatar (2007) designed by Ricardo Legorreta and Victor Legorreta
- Qatar Academy (1997) designed by Al Seed Consultant and Design Studio
- Awsaj Academy (2011) designed by James Cubitt and Partners
- Qatar Science and Technology Park (2009) designed by Woods Bagot
- Strategic Studies Center (2014), also known as Think Bay designed by Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)
- Qatar National Library (2018) designed by Rem Koolhaas
- Sidra Medical and Research Center (2017) designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects
- Al Shaqab (2019) designed by Leigh & Orange Architects
- Student Center (2012) designed by Ricardo Legorreta and Victor Legorreta
- Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies (2014) designed by Mangera Yvars Architects
- Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art (2010) designed by Jean-Francois Bodin
The numerous forts found throughout the Qatari peninsula are a testament to the country’s ancient construction methods. Most forts were constructed using mainly limestone, with other constituents such as mud and clay brick also being used. A type of mixture consisting of mud and clay brick known locally as lubnah was sometimes used in the construction of forts, such as in Ar Rakiyat Fort.
Most traditional houses in the capital Doha were tightly packed and arranged around a central courtyard. A number of rooms were situated in the courtyard, most often including a majilis, bathroom and store room. The houses were made from limestone quarried from local sources. Walls surrounding the compounds were made up of compressed mud, gravel and small stones. As they were heavily susceptible to natural erosion, they were protected by gypsum plaster. Mangrove poles wrapped in jute rope provided structural support for the windows and doors.
Roofs were typically flat and were supported by mangrove poles. The poles were covered with a layer of split bamboo and a palm mat locally called manghrour. The mangrove poles often extended past the exterior walls for decorative purposes. Doors were made of metal or wood. Colored glass employing geometrical designs was sometimes used in windows
Several methods were used in traditional architecture to alleviate the harsh climate of the country. Windows were seldom used in order to reduce heat conduction. The badgheer construction method allowed air to be channeled into houses for ventilation purposes. This was accomplished by several methods, including horizontal air gaps in rooms and parapets, and vertical openings in wind towers called hawaya which drew air into the courtyards. Wind towers, however, were not as common in Doha as they were in other parts of the country.
Shortly after Qatar gained independence, many of the districts of old Doha, including Al Najada, Al Asmakh and Old Al Hitmi, faced gradual decline, and as a result much of their historical architecture has been demolished. A number of schemes have been taken to preserve the city’s cultural and architectural heritage, such as the Qatar Museums Authority’s ‘Al Turath al Hai’ (‘living heritage’) initiative
Arts In Qatar
Art is serious business in Qatar. Qatar is officially the world’s biggest art buyer. Over the last six years Qatar has been buying art at a level never seen before and is responsible for the bulk of all modern art purchases worldwide.
This is in line with the aim to make Qatar the cultural capital of the Middle East, and a hub for regional cultural tourism.
The rapid growth of this cultural portfolio is set on course for the influx of the world to Qatari shores with the 2022 FIFA World Cup and is already evident on arrival at Hamad International Airport (HIA), with the passenger terminals showcasing a varied selection of local and international art, curated by Qatar Museums Authority.
As well as Qatar Museums Authority’s showcase museums, Qatar is host to a burgeoning arts culture, with Doha Film Institute developing and promoting regional and international film makers, Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra bringing symphonic music to the region, galleries both privately owned or under government sponsorship, classes and workshops available from fashion and fine arts to dance and drumming.
Qatar Museum Authority
Qatar Museum Authority (QMA) is the umbrella initiative that brings together museums, public art and cultural heritage, as a means of being what they describe themselves as a ‘cultural instigator.’
Check qm.org.qa for current news and events.
Museum of Islamic Art
The flagship museum of QMA, the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) is an iconic feature of Doha, not just in terms of the prolific collections of Islamic art, but the actual building itself, designed by I.M.Pei is a masterpiece of architecture.
Clearly inspired by traditional Islamic architecture, the limestone MIA building’s ingenious use of sunlight creates constant change with shadows and light across its structure throughout the day.
The MIA permanent exhibits are a collection of islamic heritage from around the world, which illustrate the breadth of art, culture and history within that tradition, through ceramics, glasswork, metalwork, textiles, jewellery and manuscripts.
The MIA library is host extensive resources with light, open study rooms and holds regular activities, like book clubs and social media meet-ups.
MIA has an extensive educational programme with monthly lectures, workshops, family fun days, school workshops, and film screenings.
Check mia.org.qa for current news and events.
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art
Established to showcase the Arab perspective on modern art, Mathaf Museum, offers exhibitions and programmes that place Arab contemporary art within a regional and international context.
The museum is housed in a renovated school in Qatar Foundation and was redesigned by architect Jean François Bodin. Mathaf has an educational wing that hosts regular programmes, a library, cafe and shop.
There is a lot of construction work in and around Qatar Foundation, so routes to the museum tend to change, so it is definitely advisable to check first. Alternatively there is the free Mathaf Shuttle Bus service that runs between MIA and Mathaf in both directions from Wednesday to Sunday 11am – 5pm.
National Museum of Qatar
National Museum of Qatar (NMQ), aims to combine innovation with tradition. The museum, designed by Jean Nouvel is a series of interlocking discs to create the appearance of a desert rose.
The museum will house both historic and contemporary influences documenting the rapid change of Qatar through comparisons of past, present and future.
There will be individual oral history cocoons, whole cinematic screen walls and handheld mobile museum guides.
Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum
Located in his farm in Al Shaihaniya, Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani has created his own private museum with over 15,000 artefacts he has collected from his travels around the world, with a special section devoted to Qatari and bedouin heritage. The farm has over 1000 Arabian oryx and gazelles and free roaming peacocks.
Galleries and Art Spaces in Qatar
There are a series of art spaces dotted around Doha, where one can explore, experience and create art of all different calibers.
Based in MIA grounds this huge gallery space hosts regular exhibitions of both regional and international artists such as Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami, under the premise of ‘art to spark debate’.
QM Gallery Katara
This intimate gallery hosts exhibitions of both local and international artists who’s work concentrates on human themes and regional perspectives like, Brigitte Lancombe’s portraits of female Arab athletes.
Fire Station Artist in Residence
Established to nurture and develop local talent the nine month Fire Station Artist in Residence programme provides the artists with studios, weekly mentoring sessions and access to art professionals from across the globe.
Al Markhiya Gallery
Exhibitions change every four to six weeks, highlighting emerging and established Arab artists.
Qatar Photographic Society (QPS)
Based in Katara Building 18 the gallery hosts photographic exhibitions from regional and international photographers. QPS also has workshops and courses running throughout the year in both Arabic and English.
The national public art strategy aims to bring art into the public realm by exposing art and culture to a wider audience in and around the streets of Doha. Often outdoors in public spaces the objective is to give art a mass appeal and make it accessible to all by taking it out of its traditional museum setting.
The sculptor Richard Serra has two pieces of public art displayed in Qatar. East-West / West East is located in the desert Brouq Nature Reserve in Zikreet. This sculpture consists of four steel columns, each over fourteen metres high and running over the course of a kilometre between two seafronts.
His second piece ‘7 ‘ is in located in the grounds of the MIA park. Constructed from seven steel plates. This piece faces out into the sea and the museum.
El Seed, Salwa Road Calligraffiti
As the name suggests this series of 52 large scale murals, combine the traditional art of calligraphy with the modern art of graffiti. This is a fresh interpretation of a traditional art form, with each mural bing inspired by an aspect of life in Qatar. These murals can be found in a series of underpasses along Salwa Road.
Hamad International Airport (HIA)
An international airport is the perfect place to develop a visual language, and in partnership with Qatar Museum, that’s exactly what HIA has set out to achieve. Displaying work by local, regional and international artists HIA demonstrates that art can be appreciated far beyond the typical gallery or museum experience.
HIA will be displaying work by Damien Hirst, but his main piece in Doha, The Miraculous Journeyis a huge installation comprising of fourteen sculptures chronicling the gestation of the foetus, which culminates in a 46 ft, anatomically correct baby boy. This installation is located at Sidra Medical Centre.
This huge 30 ft bronze cast spider entitled Maman, as a tribute to the artists mother is a permanent fixture in the foyer of the Qatar National Convention Centre and can be clearly seen by motorists as they drive passed.
Doha Film Institute (DFI)
Based in Katara Cultural Village, DFI seeks to create a culture of film appreciation within Qatar and the region by creating an all encompassing film hub. Their motto ‘Film is Life’ is about using film as part of the culture, community as well as for education and entertainment.
DFI aims to nurture and develop local and regional storytellers, but within a global context and scope. DFI hosts several festivals and has regular screenings.
Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO)
Established to bring symphonic music to the region, but, also be a platform for music from all over the world.
QPO celebrates both western and Arabic music. Part of the orchestra’s mandate is to host new and established composer’s, conductor’s and soloists from the Arab world.
QPO has at least forty programmes a year both at its home in Katara Opera House and abroad on tour.
Katara Cultural Village is the largest multidimensional cultural project in Qatar, aspiring to create diverse interaction through art and cultural exchange.
For a comprehensive list of all facilities check: katara.net
Katara Art Studios (KAS)
KAS runs a series of programmes for artists based in in Qatar and the region. They also host workshops with their exhibiting artists. To get information on how to apply for these programmes and workshops check the KAS link on katara.net
Katara Arts Centre (KAC)
This is not only a gallery space that hosts exhibitions and workshops but also has retail units in design, fashion, photography and a visual arts studio.
Qatar Fine Art Society
Hosts exhibitions of local and international artists, as well as workshops, debates and several publications.
Qatar Photographic Society (QPS)
There is a large and growing photographic movement in Qatar and QPS is active in supporting and nurturing this development, but hosting exhibitions, workshops and competitions.
Visual Arts Centre
The centre offers training programmes and support for artists across a wide range of artistic endeavours, from photography, digital graphics, screen printing and oil painting to name a few.
- Jassim Zaini, probably the most important Qatari artist, founding the modern movement
- Faraj Daham, a Qatari artist and founding member of the Qatari Fine Arts Society, his work addresses social and political topics in painting and installation, often using recycled material and raw material
- Yousef Ahmad, a Qatari painter, art collector and author
- Wafika Sultan Al-Essa, one of the first professional Qatari female artists
- Salman Al-Malik, a Qatari artist
- Hassan Al Mulla, a Qatari surrealist painte
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