July 06, 2023

Qatar’s Arts Scene - 5 Top Creative Spots to Explore

If you're one of life's creatives, an art lover, or just someone who appreciates the beauty of artistic pieces or the skill of creating them, then Qatar's dynamic art scene should be on your list of things to explore.

Investment in the Arts

Qatar's arts scene has been slowly growing since the mid-20th century. However, the last fifteen years have seen colossal investment in the country's creative infrastructure, arts programmes and the procurement and commissioning of art pieces. Indeed, though one of the smallest Arab nations in the Middle East, Qatar has transformed itself into a thriving and often awe-inspiring arts hub within the region, one that is also achieving growing worldwide kudos.

But what has sparked Qatar's arts expansion? Driven partly by an art-loving ruling family, the country's investment in arts has also been propelled by a national desire to diversify the economy from oil and gas reliance to cultural tourism. The nation also has aspirations to develop and foster the country's cultural footprint through home-grown talent and to build bridges between east and west. After all, they say art is a universal language!

Whatever the reason, today, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to uncovering some fascinating and captivating artworks. From the moment you land at Qatar's Hamad International Airport, you start to become aware of the country's emphasis on art; the airport is home to numerous public art installations, inside and out. As you drive through the streets and along the city's coastal promenades, enter into public buildings, plazas, parks and even Metro Stations, you come face to face with sculptures, murals and paintings. And all these public works are before you even begin to scout out the array of art galleries, artists' residences, exhibition spaces and dedicated art museums on offer. And those institutions and spaces cover genres from modern, contemporary and fine art to ancient, traditional and religious arts, with pieces created by home-grown artists to some of the most lauded international artists, from today's arts contemporaries to those who have long since departed.

So, with so much art on offer, where should you begin?

Exploring Qatar’s Arts Scene

To get you started with your explorations of Qatar’s arts scene, we’ve put together a list of our all-time top five favourite places to visit:

Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art

Image: Qatar Living

We recommend visiting the Mathaf Museum as a starting point for all things art in Qatar. The museum only came into being in 2010; however, it was created due to the vision and dedication of Sheikh Hasan bin Mohammed Ali Al Thani, a member of the ruling family. Al Thani established his own museum and artists' residency in 1994 when the arts were less prominent in Qatar and institutions dedicated to Arab arts were distinctly lacking worldwide. The museum's collection, which Al Thani began accumulating in the mid-1980s and includes over 9,000 unique pieces from across North Africa, the Middle East and other places geographically linked to Qatar, dated from the 1840s to the current era and worth billions of dollars, was then donated in its entirety to the Mathaf Museum.

The museum, housed in a former school building reimagined by French architect Jean-François Bodin, incorporates seven galleries of paintings, sculptures and other art forms that capture and represent the story of modern Arab art spanning the last two hundred years. Alongside the comprehensive permanent collection, the museum also houses five galleries dedicated to temporary exhibitions that showcase the works of renowned and up-and-coming Arab artists. The museum also has a library, a cafe and a gift shop and offers various creative programmes and workshops for children, families, and artists.

Getting There and Away, Costs and Opening Hours:

Mathaf Museum is free to visit, open from Saturday to Thursday, 9 am – 7 pm and Fridays, 1.30 pm – 7 pm, and is located in Education City, which is accessible by car, bus, Metro and tram. By car, visitors need to enter via Gate 14 off of Khalifa Street - though there are limited car parking spaces. The Mathaf Bus offers a free shuttle service between Mathaf and the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar National Library, and the Fire Station: Artist in Residence, with buses running every hour during museum opening hours. The nearest Metro station is Education City on the Green Line. From the Metro stop, a public tram service is available to Mathaf - take the Blue Line from Stop 7 - Academy Green Spine to the Mathaf stop, Stop 2. The Mathaf stop is approximately 3 minutes walking from the Mathaf entrance.

Contact Details:

Tel: +974 4402 8830

Web: https://mathaf.org.qa/en/

Instagram: @mathafmodern

Museum of Islamic Art

Image: Irina Chistiakova/Shutterstock.com

Another top spot for discovering the arts in Qatar is the beautiful Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). Set alongside the grounds of the museum park, surrounded by the sparkling blue waters of the Gulf Sea, and overlooking a panorama of the city's Corniche and skyscraper-filled West Bay, MIA is a sight to behold in its own right. Designed by the late great Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, the museum sits on a purpose-built peninsula that juts out from Doha's central Corniche and is the epitome of modern architecture meets ancient Islamic design. Dominating the skyline, with five floors of ascending geometric blocks that culminate in a central tower, the building was constructed from pale limestone that catches the light and creates shadows that play across the facade as the sun passes overhead. With the geometric design, arched walkways and courtyards surrounding the building on three sides, courtyard water features and two minaret-like structures adorning the museum's jetty, it is easy to see the Islamic influences that Pei drew on to develop the museum's design. Typical features from mosques and Islamic art continue inside the building in a vast central atrium with a domed roof and geometric patterns that adorn the floors, walls and ceilings.

Aside from being an architectural spectacle, MIA houses Islamic Art from over fourteen centuries - one of the world's most significant collections. The museum's galleries, which surround the central atrium and are connected via floating bridges, play host to collections of early Islamic art from the 7th century to art from more recent eras. The collection stems from three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) and as far and wide as Iran, Central Asia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and India, and covers, amongst other things, calligraphy and writing, figures, patterns and science in Islamic art. The collection includes glassware, woodwork, ceramics, metalwork, jewellery, textiles and manuscripts. The museum also houses a library open to the public with nine study rooms containing specialist books on Islamic art and art from other genres. Visitors can also enjoy refreshments at the museum cafe, which overlooks the Gulf, or pick up some souvenirs in the gift shop.

If you have time and want to check out some contemporary art while in the area, maybe pop next door to the Al Riwaq Gallery. The state-of-the-art gallery, which opened in 2010, is a temporary exhibition space hosting leading local and international artists and designers and has hosted the likes of Damien Hurst, Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons.

Getting There and Away, Costs and Opening Hours:

MIA is free to visit for residents of Qatar and children up to age 12, but non-residents must pay a fee of QAR 50 or QAR 25 for students. Opening hours are Saturday to Thursday, 9 am - 7 pm; Friday, 1:30 pm - 7 pm.

The museum is easy to get to by car or by Metro. If travelling by car, limited car parking spaces are available at the museum, but there is plenty of other local parking, such as the three-floor basement parking at Souq Waqif, which is a short walk from the museum entrance. The nearest Metro station is the Souq Waqif stop, a short walk from the museum.

Contact Details:

Tel: +974 4422 4444

Email: [email protected]

Web: https://www.mia.org.qa/en/

Instagram: @miaqatar

Doha Fire Station

Image: Qatar Living

One of our favourite spots in Doha for its location as well as its artistic value is the Fire Station. Standing on the brow of a hill in Wadi Al Sail and overlooking Doha Bay down the green slopes of Al Bidda Park, the old Fire Station building is in a delightful location. The views are spectacular, and the park that the venue's plaza opens onto is a great place to spend any additional downtime you may have - it's full of walking, cycling and running tracks, play parks for kids, BBQ stations, sports courts, cafes and restaurants. However, while the views and the park are terrific additions to the Fire Station's appeal, the building and its contents are also worthy of attention.

Built in 1982 and operating as a Fire Station and home to the Civil Defence Authority until 2012, the building was given a new lease of life in 2014 as part of an 'artists-in-residence' initiative. Though the original building was largely left intact, the new design, by lead architect Ibrahim Al Jaida (mastermind of the FIFA Stadium Al Thumama), extended and repurposed the venue. The renovations produced a host of galleries, art studios, workshops and public spaces to support artists and curators in their artistic endeavours and to engage with the local community to bring contemporary art to the masses.

The original fire station tower, with the fireman's pole still in situ, and the fire engine garage, with the original yellow roller doors maintained, contain an array of studios for local and regional resident artists (of the 'artists-in-residence' programme) and visiting artists, and a 700 sqm gallery for exhibitions. The u-shaped annexe to the building houses additional galleries, workshops, a foundry, a 100-seat cinema, a cafe, and an art supplies shop. The repurposed building also surrounds, on three sides, the outdoor plaza, which is used to display sculptures around a water fountain feature. The cafe opens onto the plaza and, in winter, makes the perfect spot to relax and enjoy the arts and the views of Doha.

Doha Fire Station hosts events, exhibitions and workshops throughout the year, with exhibitions from artists in residence, international and renowned artists, from KAWS to Picasso, and workshops for artists, the general public and kids.

Getting There and Away, Costs and Opening Hours:

The Fire Station can be reached by car and Metro. By car, the venue is located on the corner of Al Istiqlal Street and Mohammed bin Thani Street, with car parking at Al Bidda Car Park 2, a short walk to the north along Al Istiqlal or through the park. The site is open from Saturday to Thursday, 9.30 am to 7 pm, and on Fridays, 1.30 pm to 7 pm, and is free to visit - though entrance to specific exhibitions may have an associated cost.

Contact Details:

Tel: +974 4422 4222

Email: [email protected]

Web: https://firestation.org.qa/en/

Instagram: @dohafirestation

Katara Cultural Village - Katara Art Centre

Image: Al Markhiya Art Gallery/Facebook.com

The village at Katara is Qatar's cultural hub. It is home to a host of cultural institutions, including a museum, theatres, an opera house, a film institute and an array of art galleries, studios and centres. Katara Art Centre is just one of those galleries in the village, but our top recommendations for viewing Arab art and getting involved in art.

Katara Art Centre, located in Building 5, a skip and a hop away from the village's colossal Greek-style amphitheatre, is an independently run institution designed to engage and inspire local artists - an art incubator if you will. The centre hosts exhibitions throughout the year of local and regional art, as well as classes, workshops and courses across the artistic spectrum, from sculpture to calligraphy, designed to develop artists and hone their skills from grassroots onwards. So, if you fancy trying your hand at clay sculpture or various brush techniques…

The centre is also home to the Al Markhiya Gallery; an organisation developed to promote and support contemporary Arab art, both local and regional, and new and established artists. The gallery offers space for group and solo exhibitors and artwork under specific themes, such as the Minus 40 exhibition, which showcases artists under 40, or the 50 x 50 exhibition, for art of those dimensions. The gallery also has a permanent collection of Arab art from the region. Al Markhiya also has a space at the Fire Station.

While you're in Katara, you could also check out Qatar Museum Gallery - a temporary exhibition space for local and international artists, Gallery 38 - a space for world-renowned contemporary artists, and the various public artworks around the village - Gandhi's Three Monkeys by Indian artist Subodh Gupta, Force of Nature II by Italian sculptor Lorenzo Quinn and the Oryx by Argentinian street artist Martin Ron.

Getting There and Away, Costs and Opening Hours:

The village can be accessed by car and on the Metro. By car, from Lusail Expressway, with plenty of parking above and underground. On the Metro, head north, from the city centre, on the Metro Red Line to Katara Station. The station at Katara leaves you outside the 21 High Street promenade, a short walk away from the centre of the village. The various art galleries have varying opening times, but Katara Art Centre is open every day but Friday from 10 am to 9 pm.

Contact Details:

Tel: +974 4408 0244 (Katara Art Centre) / +974 6609 9687 (Al Markhiya Gallery)

Email: [email protected] / [email protected]

Web: https://www.dohakac.com / https://almarkhiyagallery.com

Instagram: @kataraartcenter / @kac_workshops / @almarkhiyagallery

AlHosh Gallery

Our final recommendation for exploring the arts in Qatar is the AlHosh Gallery, an artistic endeavour designed to support and develop local artists through events, workshops and art residencies and bring their work into the public domain.

Until 2014, the AlHosh organisation hosted local artists in a permanent gallery in Doha's Souq Waqif. However, the group has now adopted a new pop-up approach that takes local artists' work and hosts it temporarily in varying venues. From malls, coffee shops and retail outlets to sports clubs, promenades, museums and actual art galleries, the pop-up spaces give maximum exposure.

How does it work? AlHosh advertises an open call to invite artists to submit their works for a themed project; if successful, the chosen pieces are showcased in specific locations around the city.

So, if you want to see grassroots art in an assortment of 'galleries', you need to check out this unique and quirky project's Instagram (@alhoshgallery) to follow when and where its pop-up art spaces will appear. Or, contact them via the details below.

Contact Details:

Email: [email protected]

Web: https://alhosh.net/home

Main image: AAQ/Shutterstock.com

Published: September 29, 2022
Last updated: July 06, 2023
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