Saturday, November 29, 2008

Doha museum stakes cultural claim

From The BBC

The Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar
The museum is part of plans to make Doha a cultural capital of the world

By Lawrence Pollard
BBC News

A few years ago, prices in London auction houses went through the roof - not for the classic modern or contemporary art, but for works from the Islamic world.

Fabulous jewels, manuscripts and ceramics were fetching 10 times their estimate and more, and it soon emerged this was thanks to the al-Thani family, rulers of Qatar, the tiny gas-rich Gulf state.

They had tempted the veteran architect I M Pei - the man behind the glass pyramid at the Louvre - to design one last statement building, a spectacular museum on a purpose-built island in Doha, which would house only the best Islamic art.

Then they went shopping for their collection.

And this weekend the museum opens, a dramatic pile of white limestone shapes inspired by Islamic architecture and full of 800 of the finest examples of Islamic art.

Planispheric Astrolabe, Iran or Oraq, 985AD at the Qatar Islamic Art Museum
Many of these things, as well as being objects of beauty have functional usage, but then hidden beyond that is the sense of transcendence
Navid Akhtar
Designer and writer

Not long ago, the idea of culture being a reason to visit the Gulf would have made other Arabs laugh. No longer.

The Syrian cultural historian Rana Kabbani sees a political element to the museum, putting Doha on the cultural map.

"I think all the rulers in the Gulf see what they really lack is culture on a grand scale, as a kind of imperial identity. It's a political-cultural lack. They have the means, and they're going for it."

The hope is that - like hosting a Grand Prix or buying a football club - a fabulous collection of art will bring prestige, attract tourists and create a brand.

That's why along the coast, two museums are planned for Abu Dhabi - branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim.

New conversation

But what exactly is the Islamic art in the collection? What can ceramics from southern Spain have in common with metalwork from the Silk Route city of Samarkand?

One thing which links them is the misconceptions about Islamic art held by both east and west.

Designer and writer Navid Akhtar explains: "The conversation tends to go: 'How come you don't paint people? Because its forbidden.'

"There's little understanding of the scriptures or commentaries, or the concept of art, so we're left with a limited conversation.

"There's a lot of figurative Islamic art. And the geometric patterns aren't just pattern."

The Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar
There's not enough research and that's a mistake of the Muslims. There has to be a reawakening - they have to start studying their own history
Reem al-Faisal
Saudi artist-photographer

The Koran has no comment on the visual arts.

The prophet was firmly against idols, but then so were Jews, orthodox Christians and puritan Anglicans at various times.

Many religions mistrust images but their cultures still end up using them - Islam however has had less use for them.

"The Koran is not a narrative like the old or new testament, it doesn't tell a story, a narration you can illustrate," says professor Doris Abouseif, author of Beauty in Arabic Culture.

"The Koran is precepts, it guides but doesn't narrate."

Any museum will show Persian and Indian miniatures, or Arab pottery with figures of animals or people.

They won't be from a mosque, but the figure isn't banned from wider Islamic culture.

'Whole language'

One element Islamic objects have in common is intricate geometric patterns.

Some scholars think this is a craft habit, pure and simple, but to many younger Muslim artists the geometry holds something else.

"Pattern is a whole language of colour, form and shape," says Reem al-Faisal, a Saudi artist-photographer.

"Each colour symbolises a state of the soul or being. It's poetry translated into material elements."

Mr Akhtar agrees: "Many of these things, as well as being objects of beauty, have functional usage, but then hidden beyond that is the sense of transcendence that they create."

The chief curator of the new museum, Oliver Watson, is British, as are many of the staff.

Bowl from Iraq 9th century, Qatar Islamic Art Museum
The museum houses 800 artistic and historical works from three continents

The study of Islamic art is a western creation, which Ms Faisal says is not a problem so long as more Muslims now take up the study.

"I don't care if it's Muslims or Westerners - the problem is that there's not enough research and that's a mistake of the Muslims.

"They should have studied their own civilisation far more, they've been in hibernation for 500 years. There has to be a reawakening - they have to start studying their own history."

Qatar's museum will be just a glittering collection of greatest hits unless it manages to become, as promised, a centre of education and research into the history of this beautiful art.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thai Express, Dubai

Thai Express

. . . My food court stall of choice at the Dubai airport (04 220 0890/892).

Especially as this is normally my last dose of spicy food before returning to Egypt. The Airport branch often runs out of items or may not serve them even if they are on the menu.

The Khao Phad Thai(28dhs) is quite good. Its definitely not the best Thai in Dubai, but a great option at the airport especially if you are stuck in a stopover situation. . .

Read my entire review on My Resaurant Review Blog

Thai Chi, Dubai

Lovely decor and ambiance with the frontage of a Thai house sheltering the glass front of the kitchen. The head chef is the stern yet sweet looking matronly Thai lady who presents her dishes with a flourish across the counter at the glass kitchen.

A complementary dish of fried prawn crackers is served while you wait.

A bottle of water will set you back 18 dhs.

Read my entire review on my Restaurant Review Blog

Saravana Bhavan, Dubai

Saravana Bhavan
04 334 5252/ 336 9109

I first had the good fortune of eating at the original Saravana Bhavan in Chennai over 12 years ago. At that time it was the low cost of quality food that drove me there. But with that initial experience I was hooked, I have since had the opportunity to eat at 2 of their US locations and now the one in Dubai too. What is outstanding is the adherence to quality, hygiene and strict standardisation, so the food tastes the same, no matter where in the world you are eating. . .

Read the entire review on My Restaurant Review Blog

Nandini Restaurant, Dubai

Nandini Restaurant
04 335 4389

We were both huge fans of the Nandini chain of restaurants in Bangalore. This was also one of my husbands key accounts when he worked with Pepsi. He has eaten here so often that every biryani that he eats is compared against the Nandini biriyani.

The Nandini biryani is more of an Andhra style pulao. . .

Read the entire review on My Restaurant Review Blog

Mezbaan, Dubai

Opposite Al Mansoor Video
Al Musallah Road
Bur Dubai
Tel: +971 4 351 7863

A little Hyderabadi joint tucked into a corner on a busy street. We discovered this by chance on our last trip to Dubai. We were walking along the street and my nose liked the smells wafting out of this restaurant. The husband never disagrees with my nose test :) so in we went and proceeded to eat one of the best biriyanis and assortment of kebabs I had eaten in a long while. . .

Read my entire review on My Restaurant Review Blog

Coconut Grove Restaurant

Coconut Grove Restaurant
Rydges Plaza
Satwa Roundabout
04- 398 3800/2222

Small little restaurant located in the Rydges Hotel, it fills up fast, so get there early or try to make a reservation. the restaurant is done up with traditional decor from Kerala but serves food from Kerala, Goa, Mangalore, Chettinad, Balti & Sri Lanka.

We focused mainly on Kerala food with a Sri Lankan dish thrown in to taste and we LOVED it all. The food smelled so awesome, that I couldn't be bothered to take pictures before digging in. The crabs got my fingers all dirty and the camera was the last thing on my mind :)

Entire Review is on My Restaurant Review Blog"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Controlled substances (medicines) in the UAE

So many of the substances and medicines that we easily take into other countries are not allowed in the UAE without proper prescriptions to accompany them.

There is no official list available on what these controlled substances are, but this website has made an attempt to list all the substances that they know of.

Its a really useful site to check before you make a trip to the UAE, because that harmless cold & flu medicine you got over the counter in most countries could land you in a lot of trouble.