Many know Qatar for its conservative customs, but that hasn’t stopped it from exploring even the most controversial artworks. Qatar simply loves art. In fact, it’s the world’s biggest contemporary art buyer. From Arabic calligraphy and spot and spin paintings to massive bronze sculptures, Qatari art is influenced by both tradition and exposure to foreign cultures.
Ultimately, the goal is to make Qatar the artistic centre and cultural capital of the Middle East. The emir’s sister herself is determined to achieve that by challenging the country’s traditional notions through modern art. In recent years, Qatar’s art industry has flourished through the increased number of art spaces in Doha. Here are some of the top galleries that currently embody the culture and history of Qatar.
The Msheireb Museums trace Doha’s history from its humble beginnings as a small fishing village. The museums pay homage to 4 historic heritage buildings in the oldest part of the capital: the Bin Jelmood House, Company House, Mohammed Bin Jassim House, and Radwani House.
Each building focuses on different aspects of Qatar’s history, including ancient slavery, the discovery of oil and gas, traditions, and the development of Arabian Gulf countries. After your tour, you can extend your stay at the museums’ gift stores and restaurants. You can go to the Al-Fai Restaurant or Empire Café to sample modern Qatari cuisine.
Museum of Islamic Art
Tradition meets modernity at Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). An iconic building in the Doha waterfront, this limestone structure emphasises art’s connection to Islam without necessarily focusing on religious items.
The MIA’s collection accommodates Islamic craftsmanship across 3 continents over 1,400 years. Possessing traditional styles and techniques from across the Middle East and Asia, each piece’s origin story completes a visual narrative of Qatar throughout the centuries. The museum also holds a library that houses more than 15,000 rare manuscripts and texts from around the world, including a Quran from the 7th century.
Katara Art Centre
Katara Art Centre is recognised as a cultural hub that explores art beyond the traditional form. Located in a developing art space of Katara Cultural Village, it covers modern and unconventional artwork. While the medium used for each artwork varies, many of the pieces use a transdisciplinary approach to showcasing art.
The Katara Art Centre also develops art events and concepts, helping emerging artists in the Arab region build local and international networks. The centre holds regular talks, classes, and workshops. Topics vary from basic brush calligraphy and recycled art to caricature clay sculpture.
Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar Gallery
The Virginia Commonwealth University (VCUarts Qatar) is the Middle Eastern branch of Virginia’s prestigious art school. It’s located in Education City, a 12-sq-km campus that houses multiple educational institutions. While exhibitions take place on campus, they’re all open to the public.
A research and education hub, VCUarts is home to Qatar’s finest graphic and interior designs, as well as art history. It includes artworks from international artists and from VCU students and faculty. Many of these pieces tackle art from an academic standpoint. Without your own transportation, VCUarts might be an elusive destination, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead.