Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mathaf: A pioneer journey to the corners of Doha’s most avant-garde art scene

Ari and myself in front of Mathaf #lifegoals


It was only when our cab driver took a right turn off the road and into the expansive sands of Doha, that I thought “this place really is off the grid.”


I had arrived in Doha, Qatar that morning, on a day jaunt with a friend from Dubai. Of course everyone had told us to the famous Museum of Islamic Art near the pier, but I was on a special mission.


I wanted to see Mathaf (pronounced Matt-hoff), the Arab Museum of Modern Art. . This place looked more avantgard than I expected for Qatar, and it was mostly run by young people – art students from the local community college. It seemed like a fascinating place to visit, and one that would be much more reflective of Doha art scene.


The museum’s website warned that it was hard to find (like everything in Doha), and that it was only accessible by taxi (like everything in Doha). I’m sure I even read something that said most taxi drivers won’t be familiar with it’s location or address. Thankfully, it is not so far off-the-grid that it doesn’t have a Google pin. When I had wifi in Dubai I pinned it on the map. As expected, our driver had no clue how to get there, so I sat in the back seat, staring at the moving blue dot on my iphone map, and telling the driver where and when to turn.



a typical view through the window of a taxi cab on the way to Mathaf

As we neared the museum we couldn’t find a road that would take us there. I asked t driver to pull over and showed him the map. The museum to the right of us, according to the map, though I couldn’t see it from the car window. There were no road visible on the map that lead there. And, looking out the window, there were no roads visible from the car either. Only a sandy pastier separates us from our destination, so the driver, no doubt annoyed and wanted to get us out of his car and to our destination as quickly as possible, turned the cab towards the pasture and drove through the sand until we spotted the driveway of the museum.


Once a curious white building came into view, I knew we had arrived at the right place. I timed our trip so that we would arrive 30 minutes before the scheduled special exhibition tour at noon.


We purchased our tickets first from two college-age women at the front counter. They wore the typical Qatar dress of a black abaya and black hijab. They spoke fluent English and were helpful.


There was plenty to do to keep us busy at that time. We browsed the gift shop, café, library, and student exhibition.



Even the bathroom signs are beautiful and uniquely Qatar, see the abaya

Note the dishdasha or shabaab and the keffiyeh

Cool lockers






Inside the library




Our guide, Ali, was a twenty-year-old student from the local community college. He had a gentle voice and spoke flawless English. Like the other young staff at the museum, he was not only interested in art, but also in different cultures. In particular, he wanted a chance to use English and meet people from all over the world. While casually conversing with him along the exhibit, I learned that he was soon planning to move to the United States to attend college. I asked him where he was going, and in a freakish coincidence, he said that he would be going to Portland, Oregon. I told him I was from Portland, and I asked him for the name of the college.As it turned out, he would be going to the same college where I worked!










Visitors now will not have to endure the hectic ordeal I had in getting to Mathaf. There is now a free shuttle bus that takes visitors from the easily accessible Museum of Islamic Art to Mathaf every hour of the day. However, at the time of writing this, it appears that construction is still obstructing the main road to the museum, so a detour is in use.

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