Qatar-Turkey Culture Club
Written by Tristan Rutherford
A Year of Culture celebrates the blossoming relations between Qatar and Turkey in both Istanbul and Doha.
Five centuries of cultural collaboration woven into 12 months: the Qatar Turkey Year of Culture 2015 promises a volley of exhibitions, concerts, and cultural exchanges.
Relations between Turks and Qataris go back centuries. Pearls dived in the Arabian Gulf wended their way across Anatolia’s Silk Road to the turban of the Sultan in Istanbul. More recently, over 30 Turkish firms have worked on US$10bn-worth of construction projects in Qatar, including the Doha Metro and the Museum of Islamic Art. To further cement ties between the two Middle Eastern countries, Qatar Museums are presiding over a 12-month cross-cultural celebration. The Qatar Turkey Year of Culture 2015 will bring the two history-rich, art-loving, football-fanatic nations closer than ever before.
In fact, the show has already begun. In March, the Qatar International Food Festival had a particular focus on Turkish cuisine, and Turkey’s acclaimed Taksim Trio jazz band joined Qatar’s Siwar choir for a multilingual performance in Doha’s Katara Amphitheatre. By celebrating existing ties, Qatar’s Year of Culture’s mission fulfils its first brief.
Its second goal is to ‘take Qatar to the world and bring the world to Qatar’. And that’s where the fun really starts.
Key among this calendar of shows will be a visit of the much-admired ‘Pearls’ exhibition to the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Istanbul, for three months from October 14. The exposition boasts 200 rare pieces of jewellery, including a pair of Bulgari pearl earrings worn by Elizabeth Taylor. As the spectacle reveals, natural oyster pearls have been harvested by hand from the Qatar shores for over 2,000 years, and the Qatari pearl trade found one of its strongest markets in Turkey. In the 18th century, a British ambassador to Istanbul noted that the wife of Sultan Mustafa II wore“a string of pearls down to her knees with a diamond as large as a turkey egg.”
Indeed, such cultural exchanges are nothing new. As Turkey’s ambassador to Qatar, H.E. Ahmet Demirok, tells Oryx: “Turks and Qataris came across [each other] in history almost 500 years ago.” The historical narrative between the two nations will be discussed at Doha’s landmark Museum of Islamic Art. As Demirok continues: “The Qatar Turkey 2015 Year of Culture is a culmination of the relations between our brotherly countries. We would like to leave a notable impression by displaying historical and modern aspects of Turkish culture, and we would be glad to see Qatari culture in Turkey as well.”
To see some of these examples of Turkish culture, take in the Turkish exhibits on display within Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, where you can enjoy a self-guided tour of beautiful and significant works of Turkish Art in the permanent collection. Or join the 35,000 Qataris who plan to visit Turkey in 2015 (up from just 7,000 in 2011).
Görgün Taner, General Director of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, tells Oryx: “By building bridges between its local heritage and international contemporary culture, and at the same time increasing the local people’s interest and participation in the events, Qatar may become a new culture and arts hub.” Thanks to such links, artists from across the Middle East have taken part in Taner’s key shows, such as the landmark Istanbul Biennial. “Istanbul Film Festival director Azize Tan was among the jury members of the 2011 Doha Tribeca Film Festival,” added Taner. “And this year, a collaboration with Mathaf is planned for the 14th Istanbul Biennial.”
That said, the most enchanting cultural links came on a personal level. As well as artistic exchanges, two Turkish photographers, Ali Muhammet Bayraktarolu and Hasan Yelken, made a pictorial journey through Qatar. Their expedition began in Old Doha, moving on to the captivating Souq Waqif, before hitting the newly inscribed UNESCO World Heritage Site of Al Zubarah on the north western coast, famed for its fort. Pictures of these two expeditions will be displayed in an exhibition in Doha that opens in September. In turn, two Qatari photographers will explore Turkey from the banks of the Bosphorus to distant Anatolia later in 2015.
Back in Istanbul even more events are planned. A date for the diary this autumn is a show highlighting the work of Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad bin Ahmad Al-Thani. The young Qatari photographer snaps the vibrant life found in his country’s rolling dunes, sand plains, and starlit nights.
The inaugural Year of Culture event, Qatar Japan 2012, was a cross-continental cultural pollination. Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami wrapped the Qatar Museums Gallery with a kaleidoscopic 100m canvas dedicated to the East Asian elements of wind, forest, mountain, and fire; and Qataris were encouraged to express their own Middle Eastern culture through manga cartoons. “There is so much in common, which allows you to build bridges between East and West,” says H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, chairperson of Qatar Museums. “I think that is very much what Qatar is about.”
The Qatar UK 2013 show and most recent Qatar Brazil celebration in 2014 were similarly well received. And, if that’s not enough, a Qatar China Year of Culture has just been announced for 2016.
The Qatar Turkey 2015 logo
The geometric arabesque look of the Qatar Turkey 2015 logo was designed by symbol stylist Hessa Al Ali. “I tried to connect the Islamic art aspect of both countries,” she explains, “and how it is very visible everywhere, especially in architecture.” Iznik tiles that cover Istanbul’s grandest buildings – including the Topkap? Palace – were an inspiration. Each of Al Ali’s tiles features a letter designed like a tulip, a flower synonymous with Ottoman royalty. “I looked at how Islamic tiles have connected patterns. That each tile alone doesn’t show you the full picture unless you put all those tiles together.”
Three more great Istanbul ideas
- Hop on a Golden Horn ferry to Miniatürk (+90 212 222 2882, miniaturk.com.tr). This park features 122 of Turkey’s key sights at 1:25 scale. Highlights include the Hagia Sophia and the Galata Tower. Photographing each one from a standing position will make your friends think you hired a private helicopter. A children’s playground and waterside location render it a top spot for families.
- When Istanbul heats up in summer, clever residents sail over to the Princes Islands. A breezy retreat for centuries, these nine car-free islands lie an hour’s ferry ride from downtown Istanbul. Big Büyükada is best for mountain biking. Tranquil Heybeliada is recommended for museums and horsedrawn carriage rides. And little K?nal?ada is encircled by a bucolic hiking trail that loops for 90 minutes from the ferry terminal.
- For bargain bites on a sunny day, do as the locals do. On Istanbul’s Eminönü seafront a line of bobbing boats serve up fresh bal?k ekmek (grilled fish sandwiches). Simply shout your order for a mackerel, onion, and salad wrap: as long as a wave doesn’t wash away your order, the chef will pass it across the side of the boat.
The gleaming new Istanbul Raffles peers down on 15 million local residents from a lofty enclave above the city. The bounty includes a Turkish tapas joint run by Michelin-starred Sergi Arola. The best bit? The 3,000sqm spa, featuring Organic Pharmacy products so pure you can eat them.
Tel: +90 212 924 0200
Descend on the chic seaside suburb of Bebek and dine at Divan. A Bosphorus institution, it’s famed for its blowout buffet breakfast, which features 100 platters of Gaziantep olives, kaymak clotted cream, and comb honey. Arrive by speedboat and moor up at the private dock.
Tel: +90 212 315 5500
The first Qatari branch of Mado ice cream was inaugurated in Doha’s prestigious Pearl development this year; the original opened in Istanbul’s Badat Caddesi – the Turkish equivalent of the Champs-Élysées – back in 1992. All-natural flavours include fig, date, and the ever-popular Turkish coffee.
Tel: +90 216 360 6021.
Sabiha Gökçen Airport, Istanbul, Turkey