Museum gift shops serve as special spaces that offer a blend of art, commerce and culture, which often reshape one’s understanding of all three.
Igniting these cross-cultural conversations is exactly what drives Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) graduate and entrepreneur, Natalie Diong, to design and produce the unique items she now sells at the National Museum of Qatar’s gift shop.
Her company, Antipodes+Co, offers a collection of apparel, homeware, prints and stationery, inspired by her travels and time spent in Qatar. But unlike the usual cliched camel keychains and abaya-wearing salt shakers offered by tourist traps, Natalie’s designs dig deeper and draw on both the multinational character of Qatar and the lived culture of a new generation of Qataris.
“I was honoured that the museum identified Antipodes+Co as one of the companies they wanted to include in the new National Museum of Qatar gift shop. This has been such a great experience. There are so many chances to break mindsets about Qatar’s culture, and I feel that art, design and creativity are powerful tools to do that. That’s why in a majority of the things I create, I share a piece of my love for Qatar,” she said.
A resident of Doha since her family relocated from Singapore, Natalie’s love of culture and dreams of one day entering the diplomatic corps is what drove her to major in Culture and Politics, or CULP for short, when she enrolled at GU-Q in 2011.
She also fed her interests through involvement in GU-Q’s Model United Nations, a service trip to Rwanda with the university’s Zones of Conflict Zones of Peace programme, and other activities.
“It wasn’t until I went through this educational journey that I discovered there were more ways to engage with culture than through politics, and that inspired me to find my own niche in the field,” she added.
Natalie, who graduated GU-Q in 2015, launched her business less than a year ago, thinking her graphic sweaters emblazoned with quirky Arabic catchphrases and drink coasters shaped like iconic Qatar road signs, would only appeal to the expatriate community. “But the first time I started to sell items at Education City’s Torba market last fall, it was amazing to see the positive response of locals, too.” Natalie also explores the intersection of culture, politics and policy, and works to promote Qatar’s history and culture through her full-time job in the Marketing and Communications Department of University College London in Qatar. At the end of the day, she says: “I am still very much a CULP-ie at heart, sharing a bit of my culture and me in the things I create and share. I feel almost like I have become an ambassador in my own way, after all.”
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