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All photos by Reem Saad

A new art exhibit that includes 2,000-year old pieces from China’s renowned Terracotta Army opens to the public today at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA).

The four warriors and horse date back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) and are being shown in the Middle East for the first time as part of a Treasures of China exhibition.

Treasures of China Exhibition

Reem Saad / Doha News

Treasures of China Exhibition

The entire exhibit spans 5,000 years of Chinese history and features 116 pieces of bronze, pottery, gold, silver, jade and enamelware borrowed from five museums in China.

It is one of a number of events organized as part of the ongoing Qatar-China Year of Culture.

Protection

Visitors to the MIA will be taken on a three-part journey, starting with the Neolithic period, in the section The birth of civilization, ceremonies and kingdoms.

This features around a dozen pieces of bronze ware such as jugs and other drinking vessels, many of which are intricately engraved with animal figures and which date back 3,000 years.

They are on loan from the Palace Museum Collection in Beijing.

The warriors – two of which are outside of China for the first time – are at the heart of the second section, Splendid unification, prosperity and the Silk Road.

The largest of the figures is a general, who stands at the center of the exhibit. His high-shaped headgear, imposing stature and armor denote his rank in the army.

Treasures of China Exhibition

Reem Saad / Doha News

Treasures of China Exhibition

He is flanked by two other standing warriors, who have traveled outside of Qatar for the first time.

There is also a horse and a kneeling archer figure.

The sculptures are among thousands of pieces that once furnished the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, in the belief that they would protect him in the afterlife.

The pieces lay undiscovered for thousands of years until some farmers unearthed them in 1974.

So far, at least 8,000 pieces have been uncovered across three pits – the largest of which is equivalent to 50 basketball courts in size – next to the emperor’s mausoleum near Xi’an in central China.

Pit 1 of the warriors near Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum

Wikipedia

Pit 1 of the warriors near Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum

The entire collection includes soldiers of varying ranks, chariots and horses.

Each piece was painstakingly modeled on real people or animals to portray life-like size, facial expressions, clothing, gestures and hairstyles. No two pieces are the same.

When first made, they would have been vividly painted in bright colors.

However, they have now faded to a reddish-brown terracotta color, said Xu He, curator of Art Exhibitions China, which put together the MIA collection.

Islamic influences

Throughout the exhibition, there are a number of pieces that reflect the connection between the Middle East, Islamic art and Chinese craftsmanship.

Treasures of China Exhibition

Reem Saad / Doha News

Treasures of China Exhibition

For example, a large, tri-colored pottery camel from the Tang dynasy (618-907 CE) portrays the means of land travel for those in the early days of the Silk Road.

The third and final section Porcelain, Imperial China and the Royal Arts features artifacts up to the early 20th Century.

It includes a plate and a ceramic box with lid from the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1684 CE) which are adorned with blue-painted Arabic calligraphy.

Treasures of China Exhibition

Reem Saad

Treasures of China Exhibition

Other highlights include more contemporary pieces from the Qing dynasty up to the early 20th Century such as a detailed, enameled incense burner and an engraved jade brush pot.

The final item in the exhibition is a yellow plate that would have been used by an Empress for birthday celebrations, Xu said.

It features circle patterns detailed in gold to bring the user long-life, while also including a repeated bat pattern.

“The Chinese pronunciation of bat is the same as that for the word which means ‘luck,’ so it was designed to bring good fortune for the user,” Xu added.

Cultural exchange

Launching the exhibition yesterday, Mansoor bin Ebrahim Al-Mahmood, acting CEO at Qatar Museums, said in a statement:

“Whilst Qatar and China are two countries that may be far apart, they have more in common than visitors realize, including shared values based on education, hospitality and cultural curiosity, strong economic ties and positive diplomatic relations that date back to the 1980s.”

Later in the year, a number of educational events will be held in conjunction with the latest MIA exhibition.

Treasures of China Exhibition

Reem Saad / Doha News

Treasures of China Exhibition

This will include a four-part workshop, where children can make clay sculptures inspired by the exhibition and the warriors, QM said.

The MIA exhibition follows the success of two previous events held earlier this year to mark the year of culture – Silks from the Silk Road, which was held at Katara and What about the Art? which was at Al Riwaq.

Treasures of China is on display at MIA’s special exhibitions gallery on the ground floor and is free to enter. It runs until Jan. 7, 2017.

Thoughts?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Chantelle D'mello

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar is home to the only freezer of its kind in the Gulf that protects precious historical artifacts from unwanted pests, a specialist at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) has said this week.

The custom-made deep-freezer ensures that works brought for display in Qatar’s galleries and museums are properly preserved, he added.

Insects often hitch a ride on or in the packaging of newly-acquired artifacts coming to the country’s Museum of Islamic Art.

But the delicate nature of the items poses a problem for experts: how do they kill the bugs without damaging the objects?

During a talk this week to the Qatar Natural History Group, Aristoteles Georgios Sakellariou, head of conservation at the MIA, described how the museum uses the specially-designed freezer, plunging items into temperatures of -45C, to keep them, and the museums, pest-free.

In addition to protecting the artifacts at the MIA, the experts are also working with other Qatar museums, including the Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani Museum in Shehaniyah and the currently closed Orientalist Museum.

Sheikh Faisal museum

Sheikh Faisal Museum/Facebook

Sheikh Faisal museum

While Qatar museums do not face the same potential pest problems as other countries, its specialist items still need to be protected against some well-known rogue insects.

For example, book lice can wreak havoc on book pages by poking holes in them as they feed, while silverfish, beetles, termites and cockroaches are all common pests.

In a recent case, MIA’s conservation lab had to work on restoring an object that had been damaged by beetles prior to its arrival at the museum.

The object in question, a depiction of an ancient sword brought in for the museum’s Steel and Gold – Historic Swords exhibition in 2013, had been chewed full of holes by pests, Sakellariou said.

Ensuring items – and thus the museum – remains insect-free is an important aspect of Sakellariou’s work.

“We have to make sure that the objects will be preserved and accessible for the next generations so they can appreciate what we have,” he said.

Pest-free

Deep-freezing items is a commonly-used method of pest-control in museums around the world.

Qatar’s specialist freezer, which the museum had made to its own specifications, was bought by MIA in late 2013 to complement traditional pest-control methods such as the application or injection of chemicals into an object, and fumigation.

However, these can be harmful to the health of the user and leave behind residue that might stain or corrode an object.

According to Sakellariou, the MIA’s freezer is 100 percent effective at killing pests, and uses no chemicals.

It has a 13 m2 chamber, an external refrigerating unit, a robust metal ramp and nine mobile shelving units in different sizes that are mounted on wheels which can be moved easily around the collections areas and fit into the freezer.

One of its main drawbacks, however, is that not all objects can be put into the freezer, and sometimes the museum is forced to either find another method or use chemicals.

For example, wooden objects cannot be frozen, for fear of their paint flaking, and require a more time-consuming pest-control process.

Due to the risk of damage to some objects from the sudden change in temperature, the MIA only freezes objects that are known to be infested and does not use the freezer for preventative conservation, unlike other museums world-wide, Sakellariou added.

What about the art? item for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar Museums

What about the art? item for illustrative purposes only.

A recent example of the freezer in action was ahead of the public launch of Qatar Museums’ What about art? Contemporary Art from China exhibition, currently showing at Al Riwaq gallery, when an artwork on loan from China arrived in Qatar full of moths.

After liaising with the museum in China from which the object was loaned to make sure that the freezer temperature would not damage the object, the item was put into the MIA freezer for treatment.

Protecting artifacts

Before an object gets to the freezer, MIA goes through several steps to ensure the safety of both the object itself and the rest of its collection.

To start, when a new object arrives at the museum, it goes through a loading bay, away from the rest of the museum’s collection, before entering a “handling room.”

This is where newly-acquired or loaned objects are brought in for study, inspection, and in some cases environmental resting, to allow the object to get used to Qatar’s climate and temperature.

There, objects are inspected for any signs of dead insects, eggs, webs, or other signs of insect activity.

If objects are found to be bug-free, they either go in display or are put in storage.

Suspicious items are quarantined for between one week and one month. If an object is infested, it may be put into the freezer, or chemically treated. 

Conserving items

MIA/Facebook

Conserving items

“From one side, you wish they’re empty, which means all your objects are safe. On the other hand, you feel the excitement of hunting and expect (to) find something,”  Sakellariou said.

To discourage the uninvited guests from making their way in, the MIA has set up strict anti-pest policies.

It is regularly cleaned by staff who are trained to be aware of effective waste disposal to avoid attracting any bugs.

Collections and storage areas have restricted access, and the conservators must first approve all cleaning materials, including any commercial pest controls, before use.

There are also sticky traps placed at strategic positions throughout the museum, including the collection storage, which are checked monthly and change location every six months, Sakellariou added.

Thoughts?