This young 30-year-old, ambitious and determined Parisienne settled in Qatar 3 years ago after defending a thesis on the history of Islamic art in Doha. As the current curator of the city’s Museum of Islamic Art, she splits her time between her passion for art – especially architecture – and her life as a young connected woman.
MFL: In 2003 your applied for a position in Qatar, quite an unusual destination for an academic.
Mounia Chekhab-Abudaya: I knew the lifestyle here would be quite a change compared to Paris, but the scope of possibilities in my field of expertise was significant. I’m a woman of challenges, and this was a serious one. I always thought having such an international experience would be rewarding for my career path.
MFL: Is the Qatar Museum of Islamic Art a reference in the global art world?
M C-A: It depends on the fields. As for Islamic art, we are in a constant phase of acquisition, unlike other European museums that don’t acquire items on a regular basis.
“I had been to Qatar before and had visited the Museum of Islamic Art in 2009”.
MFL: Did your French nationality favour the museum’s relations with French Islamic art?
M C-A: I have relations with the Arab World Institute, the Louvre and the National Library of France. And above all, many collaborations, I think, will be carried out through the Qatar-France Year of Culture which will take place in a few years.
MFL: What is your typical Qatari day like?
M C-A: We usually get up early, around 6 am. I start work around 7 am and finish around 3 pm. Then, my afternoons depend on what I feel like; I usually play sport then I work again at home on personal research projects which have nothing to do with the museum. In the evening, I see friends, I go out for dinner or so.
MFL: What are the advantages, for you, of your experience in Doha?
M C-A: The network I built here is really important. I met all the bigwigs of my sector, as they come here to see the pieces, and I am really fortunate for that. This is a internationally-known collection, which attracts experts.
MFL: What is your best experience in Qatar?
M C-A: I would say the exhibitions I put on in 2013 around the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, in association with the British Museum. To this day, this is the most successful exhibition of the Museum of Islamic Art in terms of visitors. In 13 weeks we had 62,000 visitors. It was the finest experience I have had here. I did not merely bring the exhibition from London as it appeared here – like other institutions did; I meant to discover what Qatar’s collections held in relation with the theme of the exhibition, and I managed to put on the exhibition with 90% of the objects we have here, which nobody would have imagined. We used collections from the Qatar Museum as well, not only from the Museum of Islamic Art; modern and contemporary art collections, Orientalist collections, important photographs, and private collections.
I wanted to use numerous spaces of the museum, which was very controversial at first at management level; I insisted and it turned out to work really well. We had a large contemporary art installation, we had a whole exhibition set up of contemporary photographers from different nationalities, and so on. I managed to convince them and it went off very well.
“My wish is to work at the Ministry of Culture and, why not, become director of the Louvre museum.”
MFL: What do you like about France?
M C-A: Freedom of thought and speech. Freedom in general. I don’t know if people in France realize how precious what we have is. Having the right to do what one wants. I’d say, opportunities as well, that is, if one aims at doing something, it’s possible. There’s not necessarily an obstacle. For the rest, financial obstacles may occur, as elsewhere. This country gives everyone his chance, at all levels, I think.