Transforming Qatar into a Cultural Instigator


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Sheikha Mayassa Al Thani is the Art World’s most powerful woman, who at 34 years old oversees the Qatar Museums Authority. Founded by her father, Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, QMA was established in 2005 to connect the world to Doha and Doha to the world, all a part of transforming Qatar from a oil and gas economy to a knowledge economy. Since returning from post-grad studies at Columbia University, Sheikha Mayassa’s job is to turn the QMA into a “cultural instigator, a catalyst of arts projects worldwide.”

QMA sponsored Damien Hirst’s 2012 Tate Modern show in London (and subsequent installation in Qatar “The Miraculous Journey”), manages Al Zubarah, a historical Qatari coastal town that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and runs an extravagant artist residency program for young local artists in Doha. The Royal Family also spent at least $1 billion on Western art, including $250 million for Cezanne’s “The Card Players”.

I visited the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha a few weeks ago where I shot this photo. The building itself, designed by architect I.M. Pei, is a work of art influenced by ancient Islamic architecture. It houses Islamic art created over the last 1,400 years across three continents, many pieces collected over the past 50 years by the Qatari Royal Family. It is considered to be one of the best museums in the world, and I agree, making it a point to visit whenever I have a long layover in Qatar. Sheikha Mayassa works on the top floor, and according to an Economist article on her, “she wears hardly any jewellery other than a childlike bracelet made of coloured thread with a single gold charm, a tiny Arabic coffeepot or dallah. It retails for $82 in the museum shop.”

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