By Azmat Haroon
Doha: The national museums of the Gulf, including Qatar, do not reflect the actual image of societies and the changes that occur in them, argues a senior French museologist.
The common pattern of all national museums of the region is that they offer a very simplified traditional image, which gives the impression that nothing changes in these societies, says Dr Anie Montigny (pictured), Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the French National Museum of Natural History.
“Maybe, people (in the Gulf) are not reading enough or listening to others. I have noticed, maybe, it’s a decision of the GCC that they present their national cultural aspect through pearls. But for Qatar, I think it is completely wrong because most of the people here were pastoral nomads,” she said yesterday.
Dr Montigny was giving a a lecture ‘Museums in the Gulf; What is their Identity?, co-hosted by the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar (SFS-Q) and University College London Qatar (UCLQ) at the SFS-Q campus in Education City.
Dr Montigny’s interest in the Gulf began in 1976 when a search for a PhD focus brought her here to work with a French team of social scientists invited by Qatar’s Minister of Information, following the launch of the first Qatar National Museum.
“I was fascinated by the desert. And the Qatari people welcomed me completely. My interest in the region has continued ever since.”
This interest has covered anthropological research into the customs and history of Qatari bedouins as well as work in understanding the formation of identity in a region that has seen tremendous changes in a relatively short period of time. “I have visited museums in Qatar and other Gulf countries with local women many times. They would go there once maybe but they never come back. They feel it’s boring,” she said adding that although she was sorry for saying that, it was only a matter of stating facts.
The first Qatar National Museum, however, particularly its pearl diving section, presented a dynamic image of the country. “It was very open and had diversity of subject. I used to follow people who came to the museum and I noticed that grandfathers would bring their families and all of them would enjoy the experience.”
Speaking as a museologist, she focused on opportunities to expand outdated approaches to artefact presentations in regional museums, such as the use of explanatory terms that are oversimplifications that don’t reveal the wealth of knowledge a deeper understanding of tribal life conveys. Context, she argued, is a vital, and often overlooked focus in Gulf state museums.
“Society is not blocked or static. When I see the museums (in the Gulf) I don’t see the diversity or the specificity of each country,” said Dr Montigny, who has been visiting Qatar for 30 years. She said her objective was not to criticise, although it was a sort of provocation. “When I speak about identity... what I’m trying to do is push the people to think and reply.”