DOHA, Qatar — All eyes are on this tiny Gulf nation as the soccer-obsessed start descending this month on the eight stadiums for the FIFA World Cup, but Qatar’s emergence as a major player in arts and culture make it one of the most vibrant places to explore, either between games for the about 1.5 million people expected to visit over the coming weeks or for the millions of tourists Qatar hopes to lure after the stadiums are emptied.
With two of the most prominent museums in the Middle East, the National Museum of Qatar and the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar has dominated the cultural headlines about the Gulf region, competing mostly with Abu Dhabi, where the Louvre opened in 2017 and the long-delayed Guggenheim is scheduled to open in 2025.
But the smaller arts scene in and around Doha, including the Richard Serra-designed monoliths in the desert outside the city, have attracted tourists to this country long before the World Cup.
In addition to its position as a cultural destination, Qatar also offers boundless sunshine, overnight outings in the desert under a canopy of stars, beaches (however undeveloped and rocky) on three sides of its teardrop shaped peninsula and dozens of luxury resorts that rival its neighbors Dubai and Abu Dhabi in excess and elegance.
But for now, Qatar is all about the festivities (for the first time, alcohol will be allowed outside of hotels and in designated areas near stadiums and at various festivals), the culture, the weather as the infamous heat abates and a sigh of relief as years of preparation are about to be unveiled to the world.
A Brief Guide to the 2022 World Cup
What is the World Cup? The quadrennial event pits the best national soccer teams against each other for the title of world champion. Here’s a primer to the 2022 men’s tournament:
“World of Football”
3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum
Through April 1
This exhibition charts the origins of soccer (or football to millions of global fans) and the origins of the FIFA World Cup. Like a football match, the exhibition will be presented in two halves. “Football for All, All for Football” examines the global appeal of football. “The Road to Doha” starts with the first FIFA World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 and ends with this year’s match. Footballs, shoes, scarves, tickets, posters and other objects will be on display, including the jersey worn by the Argentine player Diego Maradona, described by many players as the greatest player of all time.
“Baghdad: Eye’s Delight”
Museum of Islamic Art
Through Feb. 25
The museum’s first exhibition since reopening in October after a major overhaul, “Baghdad: Eye’s Delight” charts the city’s heritage from the Abbasid caliphs from the seventh to twelfth centuries to today. Objects are on loan from 22 institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It’s the kind of exhibit that reflects the museum’s global ambitions after a major refurbishment that took 18 months. Originally opened in 2008 and designed by I.M. Pei, the 376,740-square-foot museum sits on an artificial island off the main Doha waterfront. The minimalism of the museum’s original presentation has been rethought for the digital age.
“Monsoon Wedding, the Musical”
Abdul Aziz Nasser Theatre, Souq Waqif
The film director Mira Nair directs a musical version of her 2001 Indian film of the same name before it moves to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn next year. The Indian composer Vishal Bhardwaj wrote the music, with songs from the film by the Academy Award-winning composer Mychael Danna, and orchestrations are by Jamshied Sharifi, the Tony Award-winning orchestrator of “The Band’s Visit.” The musical started at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2017 and played in Delhi in 2019. This is a reimagined version of those productions, according to production notes.
Festival in Motion
Starting Dec. 5
A celebration of dance, music art and architecture that draw inspiration from the public spaces and heritage sites of Qatar. One venue will be Serra’s “East-West/West-East,” an installation of four monoliths in the desert outside Doha. The festival pairs international and local artists to create site-specific works in contemporary spaces and heritage sites. Some 55 performances over 14 days and 10 locations will combine art, architecture, music and dance. Benjamin Millepied, former director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet, will co-curate the event with the composer Nico Muhly.
Mathaf: The Arab Museum of Modern Art
Through January and February
This far-less-flashy but still impressive museum is tucked away on a side street behind one of the stadiums, but makes its own bit of noise by highlighting some of the most important contemporary artists in the Middle East and beyond. Three exhibitions, in addition to the permanent collection, highlight that approach: “Majaz: Contemporary Art Qatar” features work by 36 artists from an artist in residence program from 2015 to 2021. Each piece acts as a metaphor (or majaz) for the artist’s journey (through Feb. 25); “Sophia Al-Maria: Invisible Labors Daydream Therapy” is the Qatari artist’s first large-scale exhibition in the Middle East (through Jan. 21); “Taysir Batniji: No Condition Is Permanent,” a reflective exhibition of the artist and his meditations on his heritage (he was born in Gaza in 1966) through drawing, photography and video installations (through Jan. 21).
“Tales of a Connected World”
QM Gallery Al Riwaq
This interactive exhibition focuses on the Lusail Museum (designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, construction begins early next year), and its planned collection of 247 objects, including paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography, rare texts and applied arts. “Tales of a Connected World” is an immersive digital journey that walks visitors through the trade routes across the Indian Ocean and historic events that connect Qatar to the world and history, including the Battle of Al Wajbah in 1893 between Qatari and Ottoman forces, but also more far-flung places like Jerusalem and 10th-century Córdoba.
The Doha Corniche, a waterfront area and main road, will be turned into a global street carnival with food booths, a Bedouin village, concerts and a daily “Welcome to Qatar” water and pyrotechnic show (every 30 minutes from 3 to 5:30 p.m.) featuring recorded music from the Qatar 2022 official soundtrack, the Qatari composer Wael Binali’s music and the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra.
M7 creative hub
Through April 1
The new M7 has been transformed into a dreamlike Rome with “Forever Valentino” with palazzos, squares and courtyards displaying more than 200 haute couture pieces and prêt-à-porter outfits by Valentino Garavani (in honor of his 90th birthday this year) and his successor, Pierpaolo Piccioli. It includes rarely seen ensembles designed for such names as Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Onassis.
“Labour of Love: Embroidering Palestinian History”
QM Gallery Katara
Through Jan. 28
This exhibition will give viewers a glimpse into the history of tatreez embroidery and its historical importance and transformation over the centuries. The exhibition is part of Qatar Creates, a year-round cultural initiative celebrating Qatar and countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia (the MENASA Year of Culture 2022), intended to deepen the understanding between the cultures. “Labour of Love: Embroidering Palestinian History” will present more than 70 dresses and accessories alongside photographs, posters, paintings, music and videos to explore how tatreez evolved from a simple practice to a national symbol for the Palestinians.
Three stages near the Ras Bu Fontas subway station
Through Dec. 19
The country’s first electronic musical festival on three stages will feature over 56 international and 40 regional artists. And the giant 50-ton electronic spider from the Glastonbury Festival in England has been rented for the festival and could upstage even the most impressive football moment. Soccer fans won’t need to worry about rain, nor will the electronic music fans underneath the menacing fire-breathing spider. Welcome to the new Qatar.