July 06, 2023

A Journey Through Qatar's Most Iconic Public Art

Over the last two decades or so, Qatar has invested heavily in its cultural sector to establish itself as the Middle East's premier arts and culture hub. And by building an extensive portfolio of museums, art galleries and infrastructure to nurture creatives, and by showcasing both local and internationally renowned artists, the tiny Arab nation has steadily emerged as one of the world's hotspots for the arts. Aside from some of its magnificent museums and their world-class collections, Qatar has also become well known for its stunning collection of public art installations. These adorn the country's streets, parks, malls, public buildings, squares and gardens, Metro stations, and even desert locations.

Designed and placed to reflect the country's identity, culture, past and present, Qatar's public art has steadily expanded over recent years, especially during the run-up to the FIFA 2022 World Cup Qatar. Qatar Museums, the country's key cultural organisation, instigated a programme to establish around forty new outdoor art installations to commemorate the nation's role as host of the 2022 tournament. The new art installations, placed in prominent areas around the country, are designed, alongside the existing pieces, to transform the nation into a communal museum.

To guide you through some of the country's shared art, we have compiled a list of some of the most prominent installations from globally acclaimed artists such as Damien Hurst and César Baldaccini to home-grown talents like Shouq Al Mana.

Using the Doha metro can help you easily explore most of these artworks. However, Richard Serra's monolithic installation, East-West/West-East, located in the Brouq Nature Reserve desert area in Zekreet, will need a car to reach.

Qatar’s Public Art Installations

Allow Me by Guillaume Rouseré (2020)

Image: gsoundart.com

Located in Doha's Msheireb Metro Station, "Allow Me", at first glance, looks like a multitude of spiral disks of various sizes beautifully carved into rock within a glass frame. It is, in fact, a sound fossil created by French artist and Qatar resident Guillaume Rousere. The art piece was among the many revealed to commemorate the third anniversary of the Qatar Blockade, an illegal blockade imposed by the nation's neighbours in 2017. In this work, Guillaume used one of the most memorable lines from Qatar's ruler, Sheikh Tamim's speech at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, which addressed the blockade. The audio recording of the line "Allow me, on this occasion and from this podium, to express my pride in Qatari people, along with the multinational and multicultural residents in Qatar" is transformed by Guillaume into art by casting the soundwave in limestone. The sculpted piece is designed to resemble a fossil, preserving a historic moment for the nation for the foreseeable future.

Placed strategically in Doha's central metro station, this artwork is a must-see. Besides being home to "Allow Me", the station itself is pretty instagrammable. And it transports you to Qatar's latest hotspot, Msheireb, which hosts the sustainable Msheireb downtown area, museums, cute cafes, and more.

Location: Msheireb Metro Station

How to Get There: Head to Msheireb Metro Station on the Red Line, Gold Line or Yellow Line

EAST-WEST / WEST- EAST by Richard Serra (2014)

Image: Davor Flam/Shutterstock.com

Located in Brouq Nature Reserve in Zekreet, and bordered by two eroded gypsum escarpments, stand four colossal steel slabs, each standing over 14 metres high, 4 inches thick and equidistant from one another along a one-kilometre stretch of desert. The slabs starkly contrast the sand-coloured desolation surrounding them. Indeed, they were designed by acclaimed sculptor Richard Serra to enhance the magnitude of the surrounding desert and provide a focal point from which to view the landscape's enormity. Despite the variable topography of the region, Serra, known for his conceptual manipulation of space, manages to align the slabs perfectly - stand in front of one, and the others disappear.

The installation is well worth the one-and-a-quarter-hour drive to the reserve to experience the sensation of smallness compared to the vastness of the desert around you. Serra's sculpture immediately brings an appreciation of mother nature's force into focus.

While at Zekreet, you might also take the opportunity to explore the Zekreet region, which offers beautiful wild beaches, abandoned villages and forts, and the chance to see some native wildlife.

Location: Brouq Nature Reserve, Zekreet

How to Get There: By car or 4-wheel drive, heading north-west on the Dukhan Highway

Eqal by Shouq Al Mana (2022)

Image: qm.org.qa

Eqal by Qatari artist Shouq Al Mana is the latest addition to Doha's art scene. The five individual eqals that make up the new sculpture were designed by Al Mana as part of the forty new art pieces commissioned to celebrate the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The sculpture pays homage to the nation's history, traditions and cultural heritage. Indeed, an eqal is a black headband traditionally worn by local men to keep their ghitrah (traditional head cover) in place. The eqals in Al Mana's sculpture in the artwork are also crafted with a slight tilt to the headband as a symbol of appreciation and gratitude to Qatar's leaders, citizens and residents for their unity, resilience and dedication to Qatar.

The new sculpture is located on the seafront promenade in Lusail City, with exceptional views of the ocean and the developing city behind it. Lusail is Qatar's newest city, a futuristic and SMART domain with many things to explore. So, if you have a couple of hours to spare, you could take a stroll around the Marina, picnic at Crescent Park, admire Lusail Stadium or visit the Paris-inspired Place Vendôme mall.

Location: Lusail Promenade

How to Get There: Head to Lusail Metro Station on the Red Line or grab a taxi

Gandhi’s Three Monkeys by Subodh Gupta (2012)

Image: canyalcin/Shutterstock.com

Installed in Doha's Katara Cultural Village, adjacent to the village's grand amphitheatre and overlooking the blue waters of the Gulf, are the three bronze steel sculptures that makeup Subodh Gupta's "Gandhi's Three Monkeys" artwork. Gupta uses the sculptures to interpret Gandhi's famous saying, "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil," into a message relating to war and peace. Using everyday household objects to create elements of the sculpture, which is made up of three heads in military gear - a soldier's helmet and sunglasses (see no evil), a balaclava (hear no evil), and a gas mask (hear no evil) - Gupta speaks out against colonialism, oppression and injustice.

While visiting this impressive installation, you can also take the opportunity to explore more of the village, including the beach and promenade, the amphitheatre, the golden and blue mosques, pigeon towers and the shopping centre, 21 High Street.

Location: Katara Cultural Village

How to Get There: Head to Katara Metro Station on the Red Line or jump in a taxi

Le Pouce by César Baldaccini (2019)

Image: Sun-Shine/Shutterstock.com

Stop by Souq Waqif as the sun rises or in the evening as the souq lights are turned on to see a giant gold thumb gleaming in the middle of Doha's traditional Arabian marketplace. And, even if you don't make it at that time, the sculpture is still a sight to behold. Created by the late César Baldaccini, Le Pouce is a towering impression of the French artist's thumb. The Thumb was first produced for an exhibition titled Le Main in 1965 in Paris. It became one of the artist's most well-known subjects with a series of increasingly larger versions of the thumb created and installed worldwide. Souq Waqif's thumb is the largest among Baldaccini's artworks and was installed to celebrate one of Qatar's most significant achievements in sports, the Qatar National Team's 2019 AFC Asian Cup football tournament win.

Souq Waqif is at the site of the oldest market in Doha, renovated and reopened in 2013. It is a great place to buy souvenirs and traditional attires and feel the country's essence from the past.

Location: Souq Waqif

How to Get There: Take the Metro to the Souq Waqif Station on the Gold Line or take a taxi

Maman by Louise Bourgeois (2012)

Image: qm.org.qa

Prepare to be greeted by a towering sculpture of a giant spider when you visit the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC). Regardless of your thoughts about spiders, fearful or not, the late American artist Louise Bourgeois gave this artwork the name of "Maman", mother in French, as a tribute to her own mother, whom she lost at an early age. Constructed of copper and bronze, the spider, protecting a sac of marble eggs underneath her, was designed to symbolise a mother's strength, protectiveness and fierce independence and is also an ode to Bourgeois's mother's profession as a weaver.

Home to many universities and institutions of knowledge, a tour around Education city is a must if you have extra time to spare. You might stumble across more art pieces and see some of Qatar's most iconic buildings within the area.

Location: Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC)

How to Get There: Head to the Qatar National Library Metro Station on the Green Line or grab a taxi

Perceval by Sara Lucas (2006)

Image: qm.org.qa

Sara Lucas's Perceval in Qatar's Aspire Park is a life-sized bronze sculpture of a Shire horse pulling a cart of giant concrete-cast marrows. Lucas's Perceval pays homage to British culture, an element often evident in the artist's work. In particular, Perceval is designed around the propensity of people in the 60s to display similar china ornaments and knick-knacks around their homes. However, the concrete marrows, in contrast to the smooth bronze of the horse and cart, give the piece a slightly off-beat vibe. Previously displayed in Central Park in New York before making its way to Doha, Perceval is the only one of Lucus's artworks installed as public art. The sculpture's home in Aspire Park, surrounded by green lawns, trees and the lake, seems an appropriate location for an animal traditionally used for heavy outdoor labour, despite being modelled on an ornament.

On good weather days, you can spend hours in the park not only admiring Lucas's work but also making use of the park's many facilities. Or, you could make a trip to the adjacent Villagio Mall, a short walk away and one of Qatar's most popular shopping malls.

Location: Aspire Park

How to Get There: Head to Sport City Metro Station on the Gold Line or take a taxi

Smoke by Tony Smith (2015)

Image: qm.org.qa

By late American artist Tony Smith, Smoke is a two-tiered black aluminium sculpture standing over seven metres tall in front of the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre (DECC). The piece was originally designed in 1967 and was heavily influenced by Smith's love of science and geometry. The complex combination of geometric shapes that make up the sculpture include tetrahedrons, octahedrons and triangular pyramids. Although black in colour, the sculpture's surface never really looks dark as it reflects the blue skies, the sun and the gleam of the glass buildings around it. As visitors walk around and under it, the reflections and the many shapes shift and change, much like smoke. When the original work was unveiled, it caused such a stir that Time Magazine printed it as their front cover feature. Now, visitors to Qatar can experience the same wonder as they pass through the DECC's plaza.

If you have spare time while in the area, you can venture into City Centre Mall for a little retail therapy and to check out one of Qatar's first shopping malls.

Location: DECC, West Bay, Doha

How to Get There: Head to the DECC Metro Station on the Red Line or grab a taxi

The Force of Nature II by Lorenzo Quinn (2011)

Image: Fitria Ramli/Shutterstock.com

The Force of Nature II by Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn is a sculpture of Mother Nature hurling the planet around her in full force. Quinn developed the piece in the aftermath of the destruction caused by several hurricanes in different parts of the world. Quinn's message is designed to remind us of nature's power, whose wrath could surface at any time, bringing unimaginable destruction. It is meant to prompt self-reflection regarding the earth and how our actions can unleash the force of nature. The Force of Nature, made from bronze, stainless steel, and aluminium, is strategically placed in front of the amphitheatre at Katara Cultural Village. There are three other installations of "The Force of Nature II" in Shanghai, New York City, and Berkeley Square in London.

The setting of the artwork is a good excuse for visitors to visit Katara's beautiful and awe-inspiring amphitheatre. And, if you are in the mood, also try a little retail therapy at the nearby Galeries Lafayette.

Location: Katara Cultural Village

How to Get There: Head to Katara Metro Station on the Red Line or take a taxi

The Miraculous Journey by Damien Hirst (2013)

Image: ibrar.kunri/Shutterstock.com

Located in front of Qatar's women's and children's hospital, Sidra, fourteen bronze sculptures, along a collective length of 180 metres and weighing 216 tonnes, depict the beginnings of every human life through the gestation of a foetus in the womb, from conception to birth. The stunning, thought-provoking installation by English artist Damien Hirst was constructed outside the hospital to shed light on the miracle of life by highlighting the amazing details of the journey that precedes life itself.

The sculptures that start with the egg and the sperm and end with a 46 ft tall fully-formed baby boy are hard to miss as you drive by the state-of-the-art Sidra Hospital. You can pair your visit to see The Miraculous Journey with a visit to some of Education City's other iconic buildings, including the Minaratein - an iconic modern mosque, the National Library and the Qatar National Convention Centre.

Location: Sidra Hospital, Education City

How to Get There: Head to the QNL Metro Station on the Green Line or jump in a taxi

7 by Richard Serra (2011)

Image: Fitria Ramli/Shutterstock.com

With the heptagonal arrangement of seven 250-metre high steel plates, American artist and sculptor Richard Serra's art piece towers over the man-made plaza that juts out from the Museum of Islamic Arts Park into Doha Harbour, on which it sits. The steel sculpture signifies the number seven, which is significant to Islamic culture. Serra also took inspiration from the Islamic religion by using the design of a mosque's minaret to influence his artwork. Interestingly, Serra also reportedly noted that a Persian mathematician and astronomer constructed the first ever seven-sided heptagonal.

Standing tall and mighty, '7' seems explicitly crafted for its location, contrasting against the sea that surrounds it, aligning with the Westbay skyscrapers across the Bay, or as an extension of the artworks from the neighbouring Museum of Islamic Art. It's best to visit this artwork if you have half a day to spare; visit the Museum of Islamic arts, take a stroll around the MIA Park, the Corniche promenade, and perhaps a stop at the Riwaq Art Gallery as well.

Location: Al Corniche

How to Get There: Head to Souq Waqif Metro Station on the Gold Line or grab a taxi

ALFA by Jean- Michel Othoniel (2019)

Image: Sriram Kumaran/Shutterstock.com

It is hard to miss French artist Michel Othoniel's ALFA installation, which rises out of the almost 900-metre-long lagoon in front of the National Museum of Qatar. The 114-piece artwork pays homage to the Arabic language and calligraphy through fountain sculptures inspired by the Arabic alphabet. The fountains, designed using black beads to resemble reeds, create abstract shapes that mirror typical calligraphic Arabic letters. The fountains are turned on every hour, creating beautiful patterns that extend the fountains' reach and highlight the curves of the Museum behind, which was built in the form of a desert rose. Make sure you stay to watch the fountains turn on at night as it is a magical sight when they are lit up against the blackness of the night.

The Museum should be on your list if you have time to spare. It is an architectural wonder to behold inside and out and is curated to be fully immersive and informative.

Location: The National Museum of Qatar

How to Get There: Head to the National Museum Metro Station on the Gold Line or take a taxi

There are many other public art installations across Doha and the towns and cities surrounding it. Walking around some of the many green spaces, promenades, marinas, streets and sidewalks or exploring Qatar's public buildings and spaces will reveal many more.

Main image: Fauzan Fitria/Shutterstock.com

Published: August 09, 2022
Last updated: July 06, 2023
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