Old Media, New Narratives: Repurposing Inconvenient Artifacts for the National Museum of Qatar

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In 1959, a Danish anthropological expedition to Qatar created hundreds of photographs and a 16-minute film depicting the diversity of Qatari lifestyles, which included strong evidence of a Bedouin past, separate from the merchant and pearl-diving culture of the coast. However, Qatar’s new national museum, still under development, has been working on a different narrative: a more unified national identity that emphasizes the similarities of Qatari heritage rather than the differences. Artifacts such as these photos and film can become inconvenient when they do not fit new and improved civic myths, yet as some of the most important (and well known) surviving images of Qatar’s heritage, this evidence cannot be left out. How might the museum make use of the evidence so that it aligns with its narrative? Here we focus on the aesthetic style of Jette Bang’s photographs and film, which emphasizes the warmth, hospitality, and universal humanity of Qatari heritage. Our argument connects the historical and ideological contexts for both the new national museum’s push for a unity narrative and Bang’s 1959 photographs and film. We suggest that the artistic elements of these ostensibly scientific and historical artifacts may offer Qatar’s new museum a way to repurpose them without jeopardizing a narrative of national unity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)208-241
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Arabian Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2018



  • anthropology
  • Bedouin
  • Danish expeditions
  • ethnography
  • film
  • museums
  • nationalism
  • photography
  • Qatar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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