Sheikh Faisal Museum: world-class personal collection

Tina Palaić

Sheikh Faisal Museum is definitely a must-see place in Doha. This eclectic private collection contains at least one thing to fascinate any visitor. Huge halls with additional separate rooms, where you can sneak into and have a whole new world to discover offer endless sources for your imagination. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to see all the rooms – some were locked at the time of our visit. After almost two hours, when the three of us left the place, I was not sure how I was going to articulate my experience. I needed some time to put all the pieces together – and eventually I decided not to worry too much if the text is more eclectic as usual. 🙂

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Great building of the Sheikh Faisal Museum.

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In front of the museum, there is a small lagoon with a traditional dhow on it.

Sheikh Faisal Museum displays the private collection of Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani, a close relative of the Father Emir. Being surrounded by more than 15.000 objects, including vintage cars, boats, archaeological material, costumes, weapons, fine and decorative art, I started to wonder about the collector, his interests and motives. In order to understand the collection, particularly private one, you definitely need to know and understand the person behind it. Sheikh Faisal Museum does not only display the Islamic heritage, but also reflects the life of Sheikh Faisal himself. Furthermore, for some objects, perhaps he is the only person who knows their meaning and value.

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Sheikh Faisal was born in Doha in 1948, and is one of the most prominent business leaders in the Middle East (Al-Faisal Holding). His collection has developed since 1960’s, the period of Qatar’s social and economic transition, and includes his personal belongings, as well as objects collected on his travels from different places in different times. A museum building was built on his farm, located 22 km from Doha, and opened to the public in 1998. The collection is private, therefore the Museum does not come under the authority of Qatar Museums Authority, the main museum organization in the country (entrance for the Museum is 15 QR, which is almost 4 €).

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A full-scale vessel, applied in transport, for fishing or in pearl diving. (Before oil, Qataris depended on fishing and diving for natural pearls.) Beside the captain, second in command, steering man, the divers, and their pull-men, the professional musicians were an important part of the crew as well.

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At the front, you can see a model of a desert camp, at the back, there is part of Sheikh Faisal’s collection of vintage cars.

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According to museum’s website the collection is organized into four themes: Islamic Art, Qatar Heritage, Vehicles, and Coins and Currency. However, many objects are not ordered within such categories. From my perspective, these are just broad categories, under which a visitor can actually find all sorts of objects. Almost all of them are without labels and there are no texts provided (except for 2 panels with the text about the boats). For that reason, when wandering around the place, I had strong feeling that I am digging into somebody’s personal life. Numerous family photographs displayed on the walls throughout the museum, made this feeling even stronger.

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Without Sheikh Faisal’s story, it is impossible to know why he put together a collection of Islamic prayer beads and the old television with a phone on the top of it.

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Miniature classroom model.

The museum shows us Sheikh Faisal’s personal collection, which can be understood also as his commentary on a rapid development and social change his country has been facing in last few decades. Certainly, the collection presents his viewpoint (and to certain level of his relatives), which reflects in particular his enormous wealth, as well as his life opportunities, experience, values and tastes. At first, due to the chaotic and coincidental display of Sheikh Faisal’s objects I was thinking about different blog title – Sheikh Faisal’s Personal Cabinet of Wonders. Then I realized that this notion derives from my understanding of heritage and museum institution, which is based on the Western notions, and that in this case I would probably be wrong. Instead, I consider these collecting and exhibiting practices as deriving from the local cultural and historical context, and which are defined in particular by the specific position of his family.

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There is a huge hall, exhibiting a fascinating collection of carpets.

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Astonishing furniture.

To conclude, the collection certainly is a source of knowledge! Visitors, students, researchers – all can spend hours investigating one particular theme after another. However, to grasp it fully, I recomend you to find a guide to take you around.

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