A visit to Doha and an exciting new reality
Flavio Marzo ACR, Conservation Studio Manager for the British Library/Qatar Foundation digitisation project reflects on his visit to the Arab and Islamic Heritage Collection Library:
During a recent trip to Doha, Qatar, I was invited to speak at the ‘Past to Present: Art Conservation Conference’ at the Museum of Islamic Art, held on 28 November 2013. I was invited to visit the Arab and Islamic Heritage Collection Library by Dr Joachim Gierlichs, Associate Director for Special Collections and Archives at the Qatar National Library, and Mark T. Paul, Head of Partnerships at the Qatar National Library. As I presently manage the conservation studio that has been created for the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership at the British Library, my trip to Doha was a chance for me to meet some of my colleagues for the first time.
I spent the morning after my arrival visiting one of the Library’s main collections, the private study library of Sheikh Hassan Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani, founder of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art, and a prominent scholar on the history and culture of Arabia. The collection includes rare and valuable texts and manuscripts relating to Arab-Islamic civilization, as well as books, periodicals and maps from European orientalists, travellers and explorers who were fascinated by Arab-Islamic cultural heritage.
One of the highlights of the visit for me was the opportunity to meet the three conservators working at the library and to visit the conservation studio. The studio, although limited in space, is well equipped for carrying out full treatments of printed and manuscript items.
The afternoon was spent visiting the new facilities of the UCL Qatar Centre for the Study of Cultural Heritage in Education City, opened in partnership with the Qatar Foundation and the Qatar Museums Authority in 2012.
While there, I visited the classrooms, met some of the students and spent time with Dr Stavroula Golfomitsou, who has developed and led the Conservation Studies Programme at UCL Qatar since its beginning in 2012.
My impression of Doha and the different institutions and people I met there was very positive: while there are difficulties due to bureaucracy and the nature of the sometime unbearably hot local environment in summer, these difficulties have not restrained or threatened the hope for the future and the proactive spirit that I felt. This is in no small part due to the support given by this rich and fast-developing country, which is investing so much in the field of cultural heritage and research – perhaps something we might like to learn?! I really hope so.