Constructing Monuments, Constructing Time: The Implications of Petro-Philanthropy in the Museum of Islamic Art at Doha, Qatar
Keywords:History of Art
Islamic Art and Architecture
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Publisher:The Ohio State University
Series/Report no.:The Ohio State University. Department of English Undergraduate Research Theses; 2017
"Petro-philanthropy" remains one of the most lucrative funding resources for cultural institutions across the world, even as fossil fuels continue to contribute to climate change and endanger life on Earth. This paper defines "petro-philanthropy" as the funding of cultural institutions by privately-owned companies, individuals, and state-owned associated with the extraction of fossil fuels and seeks to understand the implications of this form of corporate sponsorship through an analysis of the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in Doha, Qatar. Designed by I.M. Pei and finished in 2008, the MIA's priceless collection, celebrated architect, and synthesis of early Islamic architecture with stark postmodern forms is meant to represent the "essence of Islam" and embody the aspirations of the Qatari emirate to create in Doha an international cultural capital. The building’s architectural and artistic programs, however, are complicated by the fact that they are made almost entirely possible by fossil fuels. I argue that this relationship to Big Oil distorts the intentions of Pei and the Qatari state and creates the structure as monument to the petroleum products that will long outlast the Age of the Anthropocene. My research draws on the writings and artworks of Robert Smithson to consider the temporalities at play in the MIA structure my argument that it speaks not to a glorious Islamic heritage in the arts and culture, but to the inevitable extinction that fossil fuels bring nearer as they change the planet’s climate. This study provides insight into the implications of "petro-philanthropy" on a particular monument, yet it illuminates the ways that corporations and states tied to fossil fuels utilize cultural institutions across the world, particularly museums, to fix the mythology of oil to histories and communities in an effort to make the public ignore the post-oil future.
Academic Major: History of Art