Accepted Paper:

Desert roses, museums and other stories: art and history narratives in and about Qatar  
Alexandra Bounia (UCL)

Paper short abstract:

This paper aims to explore how certain objects are used to construct narratives, raise emotions and consolidate perceptions about the self and the Other as part of political museum projects in the Middle East, taking as a case study the use of the dessert rose in Qatar's museum and touristic scene.

Paper long abstract:

The desert rose, a fragile formation of gypsum or barite crystals including sand grains, has been chosen by Jean Novel, the famous French architect, as an inspiration of his design for the new National Museum in Qatar, which is planned to open at the end of 2018. The building, encircling the old Fariq Al Salatah palace, is intended to be both a monument and a metaphor: a huge sculpture that will pay tribute and encourage emotive associations of contemporary Qatar with values such as rarity, fragility, beauty, timelessness. The building as a work of art itself will contribute to the affirmation of a particular discourse that aims to encourage a different perception and understanding of this small state: instead of a "nouveau riche" country owning its prosperity to oil and gas, a timeless, fascinating, unique and elaborate cultural reserve.

At the same time, the search for desert roses has become an important part of efforts to "lure tourists" (The Peninsula, 15/11/2016). Organised trips to the desert for "rose hunting" are further supported by references to the intangible qualities of these delicate objects that can "neutralise bad energy, purify and heal" (online).

Not surprisingly, desert roses have been introduced into the Qatari Museums shops as well: visitors can purchase decorative desert roses or even cashmere scarfs that "pay tribute to this nature's marvel" (

This paper aims to use this particular object to explore the construction of artistic and historical narratives in museums in Qatar.

Panel P030
Art and History Museums in the Middle East as places of social and political production