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Sheikh Saoud's Legacy is at the heart of MIA's latest exhibition

06 August 2020
“In my experience, when a genuine collector – a collector as he ought to be – speaks about his collection, it very soon emerges that he is speaking about himself. I am proud to say that I am a genuine collector, and I would like first of all to offer you an insight into the relationship of someone like me to the objects he owns, and to which he is passionately attached.”
His Excellency Sheikh Saoud bin Mohamed bin Ali Al Thani

This year, the Museum of Islamic Arts (MIA) is paying tribute to His Excellency Sheikh Saoud and his role in establishing Qatar Museums’ collection and collecting vision. With an eclectic display that includes natural history, antiquities, jewellery, photography and contemporary artworks and that will recall the cabinets of curiosities’ tradition (a way of exhibiting a wide array of objects in one place).  H.E. Sheikh Saoud was passionate about cabinets of curiosities and fascinated by the combination of natural history and antiquities.

The Gulf region has a longstanding history of collecting practices. Still, H.E. Sheikh Saoud can be considered one of the last and leading figures to amass thousands of very diverse objects for his country with a real passion and eye for arts and culture.

 

Sheikh Saoud in traditional garb holds a bright blue Spix's Macaw parrot on his arm
Sheikh Saoud and the Spix’s Macaw parrots at al Wabra farm © Catrin Hammer, photographer, June 26, 2006

We asked Her Excellency Sheikha Sara Al Thani, Sheikh Saoud’s daughter, to reflect on her father’s legacy and to tell us what this exhibition means to her.

“I’m personally very excited about the upcoming exhibition A Falcon’s Eye: Tribute to Sheikh Saoud Al Thani at the Museum of Islamic Art. And not just because it features the collections my father put together.

I’m excited because this is a one-of-a-kind exhibition, which celebrates the passions of one very serious art and culture enthusiast. It spans over several different categories of interest, ranging from antiquities and natural history to photography, jewellery and architecture.”

A colorful contemporary close-up portrait of Sheikh Saoud's side profile
Portrait of Sheikh Saoud by Dia Azzawi Late 1990s or early 2000s Acrylic on canvas Collection of The Sheikh Saoud Bin Mohamed Ali Al Thani Foundation, Qatar

“These interests reflect my late father’s mind. And give the viewer a glimpse into the life of one of the world’s best-known contemporary connoisseurs and pioneers in the art and cultural scene of the MENA.

Another benefit of the exhibition is that it provides an engaging educational platform for people of all ages through different genres. Beyond its beauty and aesthetic values, the show promises a unique opportunity to learn more about history, culture and of course, art, by gaining a better understanding of the context of the various displayed objects. 

Indeed, I can testify that for Sheikh Saoud, the cultural significance and contextual meaning behind each piece he collected was just as important as the aesthetic value of the object. He very much wanted to know more about and deeply appreciated, the historical and socio-political significance of each item.”

 

A clay-like tablet of the pharaoh as a sphinx-like figure under the sun with hieroglyphics in the background
Akhenaten as Sphinx Egypt, Tell el Amarna, New Kingdom, Amarna Period, years 6 to 8 of the reign of King Akhenaten, 1347-1345 BCE Carved limestone Orientalist Museum

“These interests reflect my late father’s mind. And give the viewer a glimpse into the life of one of the world’s best-known contemporary connoisseurs and pioneers in the art and cultural scene of the MENA.

Another benefit of the exhibition is that it provides an engaging educational platform for people of all ages through different genres. Beyond its beauty and aesthetic values, the show promises a unique opportunity to learn more about history, culture and of course, art, by gaining a better understanding of the context of the various displayed objects. 

Indeed, I can testify that for Sheikh Saoud, the cultural significance and contextual meaning behind each piece he collected was just as important as the aesthetic value of the object. He very much wanted to know more about and deeply appreciated, the historical and socio-political significance of each item.”

 

A copper sculpture of a donkey or mule with its mouth open wide
The ‘Doha Hind’ Spain (Madinat al-Zahra), Umayyads of al-Andalus (940-1010) Lost wax and incised copper alloy MIA

“That being said, there can be no denying Sheikh Saoud had an astute eye for beauty, too. He knew how to seek out masterpieces and always wanted the best of everything, or nothing at all. I believe his quest for excellence is clearly reflected throughout the objects selected for this exhibition. 

Although he is no longer with us, Sheikh Saoud’s passions live on in his collections. It was very important for him to share his interest in and appreciation for different cultures throughout history via these objects. I am delighted that these objectives are still being fulfilled today.”

 

A golden bowl with intricate circular design slightly faded at the rim
The Constable-Maxwell ‘Cage-Cup’ (Vas Diatreta) Mediterranean or Germany, Roman empire, c. 300 CE Blown and carved colourless glass Qatar Museums

“It was not always acceptable to disseminate the intriguing stories, beliefs and traditions of foreign cultures but things have come a very long way. The arts have gone from being almost non-existent here to act as the main attraction for both locals and tourists. Making Qatar, in particular, a leading hub in the cultural scene.

I am very proud of my father for his contributions in doing so.”

 

Sheikh Saoud stands next to an antelope that is standing on its hind legs.
Sheikh Saoud with the Gerenuk Antelope By Richard Avedon Saint Louis Zoological Park, 2000 Collection of The Sheikh Saoud Bin Mohamed Ali Al Thani Foundation, Qatar

You can visit the exhibition which opened at MIA on 2 August. Make sure to purchase your tickets in advance and check out Qatar Museum’s COVID-19 precautionary measures before you go. 

You can also explore more of Sheikh Saoud’s collection on MIA’s social media.

 

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