Media Majlis, the first media museum in the Arab world, is named after the traditional majlis, the Arab gathering place where information was shared and spread. Located in Doha’s Education City, the museum, part of Northwestern University in Qatar, is one of the world’s most technologically advanced schools of media. The building designed by the renowned architect Antoine Predock highlights digital technology with state-of-the-art media. Its exterior features two curvilinear spaces. The large screen permanently affixed to the wall is in the form of a saif tic, the shape of a curved sword particular to the Arab world that is used in wayfinding.
The museum, dedicated to media, journalism and communication, seeks to provide multiple views on given subjects, allowing the public to find their own ways of exploring the topics and providing a pulpit for polyphonic discussion in our increasingly global world. The technologically forward digital capacity of the museum will encourage visitors to discuss and explore issues related to current and historic media, journalism and communication. The museum will benefit from academic resources and spaces of NU-Q. A projection theater exhibits complete films and video and an online platform titled Majlis 360 shares information and materials that discuss and analyze Media Majlis’ work including examining museum practices and evaluating its exhibitions.
Director Pamela Erskine-Loftus emphasized that the museum would encompass an active agenda, exploring and discussing issues and topics related to the media from a “360-degree view, treating different aspects, rather than exhibiting content. It is about discussion rather than presentation.” She conceded that “huge gaps exist as far as material used in exhibitions” and she spoke of plans to fill some of these gaps, borrowing material from sources including museums, universities, film companies and private collections to produce structured exhibitions. In addition to its built-in audience of students, faculty and staff of the university, the museum will also serve the general public and the local audience.
The first exhibit, “Arab Identities, images in film”, which opened on August 28 and is schedule to run through December 7, examines the relationship between notions of Arab identity and film, showing how films have influenced our understanding of our own and others’ identities. Film clips, publicity material and cinema posters from more than 200 films spanning a period from the 19th century to the present show film’s contribution to the perception of identity. For increasingly global film audiences, it is of crucial importance to recognize the verities and assumptions we have of groups and individuals. In two films in the exhibition; Hany Abu-Assad’s film, “Paradise Now” and the work of Palestinian film director Annemarie Jacir, individual gesture, dress and behavior of film actors and those depicted in documentary film can and often do show these false perceptions.
Admirably, this museum presents truth, showing what an individual or society is, as presented by their actions and words. The museum will be a very active space. Its presentations will encourage discussion, bringing material from across the globe. When asked what she expected visitors would take with them from the museum, Erskine-Loftus responded that she hoped visitors would realize the subject matter is far more nuanced than they might assume, and that they would look at creative dissent happening worldwide, even questioning the media. She hoped this new museum and its presentations would induce that discussion and would then lead to the communication that journalists embrace and serve.
(“Arab Identities, images in film”, remains on view through December 7 at Media Majlis at Northwestern University in Qatar, Education City, Al Luqta St،, Ar-Rayyan, Qatar. The museum is open Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday through Thursday from 12:30-5 p.m. For more information, visit https://mediamajlis.northwestern.edu.)