The museum's 11 permanent galleries will take visitors from the formation of the Qatar peninsula millions of years ago to the nation’s exciting and diverse present, giving voice to the rich heritage and culture of the people and expressing their aspirations for the future
At an early phase of research, the NMoQ team convened a series of more than a dozen meetings with members of the public, inviting hundreds of Qataris to share whatever stories and materials they might care to offer the Museum and asking what they most wanted to see and hear in their national museum
When the National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) opens on March 28, under the patronage of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the public will get its first immersion into the new institution’s unparalleled sequence of experiential galleries. Each gallery along the NMoQ’s winding, 1.5km path is a unique, encompassing environment, which tells its part of the story of Qatar through a special combination of architectural space, music, poetry, oral histories, evocative aromas, archaeological and heritage objects, commissioned artworks, monumentally scaled films, and more.
A scene from Mauritanian writer-director Abderrahmane Sissako’s film on Al Zubarah
Together, the 11 permanent galleries take visitors from the formation of the Qatar peninsula millions of years ago to the nation’s exciting and diverse present, giving voice to the rich heritage and culture of the people and expressing their aspirations for the future. In preparation for the opening, the NMoQ on Monday revealed details of the story behind the story—how its team developed this extraordinary narrative—and gave the names some of the artists and filmmakers whose commissioned works help create the sweeping experience. The list includes artists Ali Hassan, Bouthayna al-Muftah, Aisha al-Suwaidi, Simone Fattal, Jean-Michel Othoniel and filmmakers, Jananne al-Ani and Abderrahmane Sissako, to name a few.
HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad al-Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, said, “The National Museum will be a source of immense pride for Qatar, as well as an extraordinary platform for welcoming the international community and engaging in dialogue with people from around the world. As we approach the opening, we are proud to reveal the results of the extensive process of research and planning that has given depth and authenticity to the Museum’s one-of-a-kind exhibitions. We are also very pleased to announce the names of many of our creative collaborators: the artists and filmmakers whom we have commissioned to help realise our vision for the Museum. Each has contributed a moving, personal perspective to this multilayered experience.”
Sheikha Amna al-Thani, director of the NMoQ, said, “From the very beginning, we were determined that the National Museum of Qatar would be much more than a showcase for a collection. It would be a journey—and like any true journey, it would change the travellers themselves, as they engage with our exhibitions through their senses and emotions as well as their intellects. It is now time to reveal the eight-year-long process that has given form and substance to the content of this Museum, and to make public many of the artists and filmmakers who have helped us make this a museum with a heart.”
At an early phase of research, the NMoQ team convened a series of more than a dozen meetings with members of the public, inviting hundreds of Qataris to share whatever stories and materials they might care to offer the Museum and asking what they most wanted to see and hear in their national museum. In a separate but related initiative, the NMoQ team also conducted more than 500 on-camera oral history interviews. Out of these interactions came a richness of information—of life—that became the essence of the new institution. In-depth discussions with local experts from a wide range of disciplines helped map out the themes that would emerge in the exhibition plan.
Members of the NMoQ staff’s local network included heritage experts, archaeologists, biologists, historians, and political scientists at Qatar University, Hamad bin Khalifa University, University College London Qatar, Friends of the Environment Centre, and Maersk Oil, amongst other institutions. The NMoQ staff also formed international collaborations, with institutions including Leiden Naturalis (for geological and natural history research), the Ottoman Archives (for rare documents connected to the area’s Ottoman period), the Natural History Museum, London (for paleontology), and the Moesgard Museum in Denmark (for its groundbreaking archaeological and anthropological work in Qatar in the 1950s and 60s).
Working with this research and the testimonies and materials it had gathered, NMoQ staff began to identify the themes that would run through the Museum. The exhibitions team envisioned a journey that would unfold in three stages: Beginnings, Life in Qatar, and The Modern History of Qatar. Aspects of the major themes would be addressed by the galleries along each stage, with each gallery conceived as a distinctive, multilayered, 360-degree environment.
A pilot project helped test this concept. To discover whether the themes and methods it was developing would resonate with people, NMoQ organised a three-month-long exhibition telling the story of the historic Palace of Sheikh Abdullah: the former home of the ruler and seat of government, and the site of the original National Museum. When 11,000 people came to visit the exhibition and volunteered how much it had meant to them, the NMoQ staff knew they were on the right path.
The thoroughly restored Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim has become the centerpiece and final display of the new National Museum of Qatar. It is embraced by the building designed by the NMoQ’s visionary architect, Jean Nouvel: a monumental structure that seems to grow out of the landscape like the desert rose, and that offers an extraordinary sequence of unique architectural spaces within.
As a key element of its plan to make the exhibition galleries a living, immersive experience, NMoQ commissioned films from a select group of distinguished international directors. Produced by the Doha Film Institute (DFI), the films are projected at immense scale and with hypnotic clarity against the walls of the galleries, with each one uniquely suited to the dynamically curving, irregular shape.
For the gallery about The Archaeology of Qatar, NMoQ commissioned Jananne al-Ani, born in Iraq and living in the UK, to create a 20-minute-long film about the country’s ancient sites and artefacts. Known for her conceptual photography and film projects, which have been exhibited at Tate Modern, The Museum of Modern Art, Beirut Art Center, and the Venice Biennale, among many others, al-Ani collaborated with the DFI and a team of experts in archaeology to realise a meditative visual experience. Drone footage from across Qatar’s landscape, is combined with close-up images of objects including Neolithic flint blades, Iron Age arrowheads and coins, Islamic ceramics from the 8th century.
NMoQ commissioned the Mauritanian writer-director Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness, Timbuktu) to create a black and white short film for the gallery about Life in Al Barr (the Desert). The 9-minute film was photographed in Rawda Al Ghadriat, in the Northern Desert of Qatar, and features members of the Bedouin al-Naemi family, who provided some of the props and animals. The film takes the viewer through the daily cycle of traditional nomadic life in the desert, as it was in the 1950s and 60s. The bait al-sha’r, or nomad’s tent, on display in the gallery where the film is shown belonged to the al-Naemi family.
Sissako’s second film, projected against a faceted wall with a six-screen backdrop, presents the heyday of Al Zubarah. The film captures a lively centre of trade as citizens and merchants go about the day from the pre-dawn call to prayer. This visual sensation offers a glimpse into open markets, camels ferrying goods, and into the majlis-rooms of the wealthy pearl traders sipping tea and making their transactions.
NMoQ has also commissioned a roster of local, regional, and international artists to create new works, installed both inside the building and outside on the expansive grounds. HE Sheikha Al Mayassa has guided the selection process for the commissions.
A sculpture by the Lebanese artist Simone Fattal, Gates of the Sea, is installed on the walkway toward the museum’s entrance. The work is inspired by the ancient petroglyphs found in Qatar at Al Jassasiya. Welcoming visitors immediately inside the building is a wall installation by Qatari artist Ali Hassan, Wisdom of a Nation, whose geometric design draws on the image of the Qatari flag and an excerpt from a poem by the founder of modern-day Qatar, Sheikh Jassim bin Muhammad al-Thani. Standing at the entrance to the exhibition galleries is a large-scale sculpture by Qatari artist Hassan bin Mohamed al-Thani, Motherland, evoking the connections between the desert, the sea, and the women of Qatar.
Two commissioned works are installed in the Baraha, or central court, that sits within the ring of gallery spaces and envelopes the Palace of Sheikh Abdullah. The sculpture Flag of Glory by the Iraqi artist Ahmed al-Bahrani embodies the story behind the annual national day celebration, with an image of diverse hands united in holding up the flag of Qatar. A sculptural group by French artist Roch Vandromme, On Their Way, comprises the figures of four camels, evoking Qatar’s long history of nomadic lifestyle and trade.
Finally, on the 900m-long lagoon that is a key feature of the landscaped park surrounding the Museum, visitors will find the largest installation ever conceived by French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel. Titled ALFA, it comprises 114 individual black fountains, shaped to resemble Arabic calligraphy or the tall reeds that calligraphers use to make their pens, which are activated once an hour.