Expat Eyes

This blog contains the photographs, observations and reflections of Rena Diana, an educator and writer, during extended stays in the Arabian Gulf, China, and Mongolia.

Archive for the category “Visual Art”

An Exalted Space

“If one could find the heart of Islamic architecture, might it not lie in the desert, severe and simple in its design, where sunlight brings forms to life?”

I.M. Pei, Architect
Museum of Islamic Art, Philip Jodidio


Journal Entry: March 4, 2011: “The magnificent Museum of Islamic Art on the corniche of Doha, overlooking the Arabian Gulf, inspires in me an appreciation of simplicity, clarity, and elegance. There is a lean, taut, pristine beauty to the building, both inside and out, balanced by a tranquility- a spaciousness- infused by a sense of wonder, a spirit of grace. When I approach this museum and enter it, I am overcome by reverence. My heart is still. My mind is at ease yet fully engaged, alert, awake. It is like entering a hushed holy space, a  prism, a shaft of iridescence- suspended in time. In every direction there are splendid, surprising lines and angles. The multiple intertwined triangles and interlaced circles in the central staircase, floating walkways, window panes, and light fixtures create a dazzling constellation of shapes, many of which are actually reflections and shadows, rather than something you can touch, creating an ambiance of mystery and magic.  The cityscape across the harbor beyond the arched windows seems incorporated into the scene, part of the artwork – as do the terrace fountains and the dhows off the pier. The neutral tones enhance the linear elements, the bold structural compositions. The play of natural light creates constantly shifting patterns, which underscores the ephemeral intricacy of the overall effect.  The designs are different, depending on the time of day. The Museum of Islamic Art beckons me to stop, observe, digest, and look again. As I turn around to take it all in, I am twirling inside a kaleidoscope. How appropriate that the course in illustrated journaling I am taking here is called Sacred Pages. The word to describe how I feel in this place is exhilarated…”

I.M. Pei, Chinese architect born in Canton in 1917, took several years to decide upon a signature design statement for this museum, which he assumed would be his last great contribution to world architecture. He finally decided upon the mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun in Cairo, built from 876-879, inspired by its “austerity and simplicity,” its distinctive angular façade.

Enjoy the gallery of photographs below. You can click on any single photo to enlarge it.

“It is the light of the desert that transforms the architecture into a play of light and shadow.”
I.M. Pei

Next Post: Five Star Stables

The Majlis Gallery

There is a vibrant art scene in both Dubai and Doha, which I will explore further in future posts. My favorite gallery in Dubai is The Majlis Gallery, the oldest one in the city. It is in a classic windtower courtyard home built in 1940.“Majlis” means gathering place in Arabic.  Every home in this part of the world contains a majlis for men and a separate one for women. They serve as the heart of their families and their culture. This gallery is owned by Alison and Dick Collins, a British couple who moved here in the mid 1970’s, whom I had the immense pleasure to meet.  Alison arrived with a background in art, an indomitable spirit and a keen interest in foreign cultures. Dick, a veterinarian, and equally adventurous, soon became the personal physician to Sheikh Mohammed’s famous, magnificent Arabian stallions. Dick and Alison moved into this house soon after they arrived, and they raised a family here. They converted it to a gallery in 1989, and it has thrived ever since. Visit its website: www.themajlisgallery.com. The exhibits and classes they offer are exceptional, and the space is simply exquisite. Treat yourself to a virtual browse in this slide show below- about 60 seconds. Next Post: Who Do I Say I Am?

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Wandering Through Bastakia

“Ah, simple pleasures, so familiar in a land so far removed! Not in great towns, not in palaces, had we felt the tie of humanity which binds East and West, but in that distant roadside village…we claimed kinship with the toilers of an alien soil. For one night we, too, were taking our share in their lives, with one flash of insight the common link of joy and sorrow was revealed to us- of a different civilization and a different world.” 

                  Gertrude Bell, Persian Pictures, 1894

The Bastakia is my favorite section of Dubai.  My most pleasant days here are the ones spent wandering through this charming, unique part of the city, a quaint village located on the creek opening into the Arabian Gulf. This is the site of the original city.  On the other side of the creek are the colorful, bustling old souqs (bazaars), where locals and travelers alike have bartered for spices,  fabrics,  and pearls for centuries. The best way to reach the souq is by boats, called abras, that serve as water taxis.

Named for the town of Basta in Iran, the Bastakia is filled with the famous windtower courtyard homes built by Persian merchants in the 1800’s. (See my post, Windtowers to Skyscrapers, March 26.)  These handsome mud and stone dwellings are packed close together, along narrow, shaded alleyways, which keep residents as cool as possible during the hot summer days. The entire area has now been converted into a maze of art galleries, craft workshops, cafes, and small boutiques.  Handsome Arabesque motifs are incised over doors and windows and on shallow recessed wall panels.  There are three categories of decorations: birds, geometric, and floral, especially flowers and foliage in vases. As I peek in windows, walk into hidden rooms like inner sanctuaries, peer up inside the stately windtowers, and climb stairs to welcoming balconies and rooftops, I am curious about the Arab families who made their lives here, working and raising families. This was clearly a place where children flourished, roaming freely within the safety net of their extended families.  I also am enchanted, over and over again, at the artwork in all media, both traditional and contemporary, that is creatively displayed here.

The slide show below features the Bastakia neighborhood.  Take a stroll! (approximately 90 seconds) Next Post: The Majlis Gallery

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Next Post: The Majlis Gallery

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