Outdoor sculptures and a sports history museum provide cultural backdrop for Qatar World Cup

By Miranda Atty and Aadel Haleem
Outdoor sculptures and a sports history museum provide cultural backdrop for Qatar World Cup
Copyright  euronews

The Qatar World Cup is now just weeks away and more than a million visitors are expected to travel to the tournament.

To welcome the fans an exhibition all about football has opened in one of the world's largest sports museums. Meanwhile, on the streets of Doha, outdoor sculptures give an artistic backdrop to the sporting contest.

One of the world's largest sports museums

The 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum showcases a wide variety of sports memorabilia – from Muhammad Ali’s fight-worn boxing gloves to racing legend Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari. And with the FIFA World Cup in mind, it has opened a new exhibition: ‘World of Football’.

The exhibits are presented in two parts to represent a game played in two halves. It starts by examining the global appeal of the beautiful game, from the streets to the stadium.

"In the first half we’ve got the origins," says World of Football exhibition curator Andrew Pearce. "We’ve got the 'Who plays?', we’ve got the laws, we’ve also got some stories about some of the greatest players in the game as well, including some of their shirts, which is pretty exciting. We’ve got some great film and action from the World Cup. We’ve got a section on fans and how fans support their team. And also a bit on what is it that makes this game so popular the world over."

The second half of the exhibition chronicles Qatar’s path to hosting the World Cup.

"The Road to Doha section really explains the making of the 2022 World Cup," says museum Head of Exhibitions Aalia Khalid Al Khater. "But it starts from 1930, which is the first World Cup in Uruguay. So from there, we have the section that is dedicated to showcasing at least two objects from every World Cup from 1930 to 2018 and then obviously each poster from 1930 to 2022. So that’ll be interesting. You can see the evolution of the World Cup in terms of graphic design, in terms of the small things like the tickets, the posters. And then we go into the history of football in Qatar. So it’s been about a 40-year run of history of football in Doha. With some exciting highlights including when Pele visited Doha in 1973 and played against the oldest football club in Doha, Al-Ahli."

I think everyone, not just Qataris but everyone living here, has this sense of loyalty towards the country and is super excited that we’re the first middle eastern country to host the World Cup.
Aalia Khalid Al Khater
3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum, Head of Exhibitions

Aalia Khalid Al Khater vividly remembers when Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup.

"Actually, I was in my last year of high school when we won the bid," she says. "So it’s interesting now being the head of exhibitions in the sports museum and experiencing it first-hand, hosting the World Cup. It’s so exciting, it was the most exciting feeling. I think everyone, not just Qataris but everyone living here, has this sense of loyalty towards the country and is super excited that we’re the first middle eastern country to host the World Cup."

The 321 Museum opened its doors earlier this year. As part of its permanent collection, the museum owns 16-thousand sports-related objects and has loaned out another 3,000 pieces. “The Hall of Athletes” is a celebration of 90 athletes from across the world, representing a number of international sports.

"The athletes tell their stories and they inspire the visitors and we are really happy to see all the young generation," says museum director Abdulla Yousuf Al Mulla. "They are visiting the museum and they are hopeful that one day they will make it to this museum in the Hall of Athletes.

Abdulla Yousuf Al Mulla says that what makes it especially inspirational is that sports in Qatar began from humble beginnings: traditional games like falconry, pearl diving and camel racing to hosting international sporting competitions like the World Cup.

"This museum is not only for Qatar," he says. "It is based in Qatar, but it’s actually for the whole Arab world. This is the first one in the Middle East. Space-wise we have 19,000 square meters and it’s attracting a lot of people from outside of Qatar."

The History in the Making section of the exhibition will continue to grow as new historic milestones are recorded.

"We’re actually going to collect artefacts as the World Cup progresses," explains Pearce. "So we don’t know what those stories are yet. Every World Cup throws up stories. It might be a particular red card from a particular referee. It might be the ball from a game in which the greatest goal in that tournament was scored. It might be a shirt, it might even be a bit of fan memorabilia that some fan has brought along to the stadium. That’s the exciting thing."

"Collections like this you hardly can find anywhere in the world," says Al Mulla. "And here it comes under one roof. You have all of them here. It makes me proud of my country."

The 321 Museum received 98,000 in its first four months of operation and is targeting half a million visitors by the end of the World Cup.

Art to inspire, educate and enlighten

The best art is immersive. It can inspire, educate – perhaps even enlighten us. But there aren’t too many places in the world where art is accessible for everyone. Qatar’s trying to change that. Ahead of the World Cup tournament, the country has doubled down on its commitment to public art.

From the moment you arrive at Hamad International Airport, there’s art to be seen.

Whether it's KAWS’ oversized sculpture, Tom Claasen’s Falcon – the national bird of Qatar – or even the instantly recognizable Yellow Bear, it’s clear that in 2022, Qatar’s inviting you to be part of an artistic conversation.

"I think it's something that resonates with a lot of us," says Sarah Foryame Lawler, Head of Curatorial Planning in the Public Art department of Qatar Museums. "And a lot of it means you can just interact with it, you can experience it, and it's all about having your own interpretation. So I think for Qatar and Arts, I think it's a great way to encourage dialogue. It's a great way to activate different parts of the city and activate areas of the city that might not necessarily have arts in. Where you bring that in and allow people to kind of engage with that easily."

And that dialogue extends far beyond the airport. Public art pieces in classic locations like the National Museum bring the country’s history to life.

French artist Roch Vandromme’s ‘On Their Way’, four camels nestled in the shadows of the desert rose building, evoke a historic nomadic lifestyle.

Simone Fattal’s ‘Gates to the Sea’ – with its petroglyphs of boats and fish, references the nation’s close relationship with the ocean.

Some of the art is designed to be functional while some simply brightens up a busy street. And, with the World Cup in mind, sculptures have been placed at Qatar’s iconic football stadiums.

The Ship, by Qatari artist Faraj Daham stands 10 metres high. Located at the Al Janoub Stadium,  which in shape was inspired by traditional dhow boats, it’s yet another reminder of the connection to the sea.

A stadium that is an art piece in itself

And the mesh facade at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium is an art piece itself.

"So the design choices were talking to the theme of the region," explains Mario Zraunig, Head of Operations at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. "So this is close to the desert. And the symbols of the facade of the mesh have been selected from that region. So you have the desert rose, you have the native flora and fauna, which represents one symbol. You have the shield, which represents the strength of the region. All these symbols have a very distinct and specific meaning for that region, and that's going to be the design language of the stadium for the region."

The Stadium was rebuilt for the Qatar 2022 World Cup using 80% of the materials from the deconstruction of the old Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium. The remaining materials were recycled and repurposed into public art installations on display throughout the country during the tournament.

"Steel structures have been used for public art," says Zraunig. "So the artists, they have selected all materials from the stadium. They have integrated into their art projects which are available in Qatar, and you can see the stadium still as part of their future art."

Layla Bacha, art specialist for Qatar Foundation, stands in front of another piece commissioned specially for the World Cup: Come Together, designed to be seen by fans visiting the Education City Stadium, it was created by Korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa.

"The artist was invited to come to Qatar two years ago, just right before COVID," says Layla Ibrahim Bacha, Qatar Foundation Senior Art Specialist."And he was inspired by Qatar in general. So the shape is like a dandelion and is made of specifically 100 legs. And those legs are made out of football balls. Very colourful. That attracts attention. And also to keep his visual identity of using recycled materials, he chose to have Qatari kitchenware recycled and added to this artwork."

The whole Education City campus is full of unexpected art. But it’s not just international artists.

Azzm by Qatari artist Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed Al Thani focuses on women’s empowerment.

And over in Lusail, there's a surprising piece Egal by Shouq Al Mana. It depicts the traditional headwear – worn by Qatari men – on a huge scale.

"It's been over two years now working with her," says Lawler. "And it’s been a great kind of experience to see a local artist turning something from paper into a sculpture that people can experience. People can walk around. People can touch as well. I think it instigates a lot of people to ask, what is it? if they're not quite familiar with the culture. And that's really the essence of public arts. It's about encouraging dialogue, making people question and think and be curious about what the work is."

Whether at the metro, a public roundabout or in the middle of the desert, more than 100 public art pieces will be scattered throughout the country before the World Cup kicks off, making art truly part of everyday life.