Suzi Mirgani, Managing Editor at CIRS, delivered a paper at the 2019 Museums in Arabia conference titled “Enter through the Gift Shop: Constructing a Contemporary Qatari National Identity through Qatar Museums’ Merchandise” in which she argued that something significant is taking place in Qatar’s museum gift shops—a reformulation of the signifiers of the country’s national identity through contemporary commodities. Up until the 2000s, there was no discernable souvenir or tourist industry in Qatar, and whatever did exist in terms of national commercial chronicling was used to evoke “traditional” Qatari culture, and as a means of narrating the country’s hybrid history as being both “a bride of the sea,” represented by dhows and pearls, and a desert nation steeped in Bedouin tradition, represented by a variety of handmade crafts and woven materials. More recently, the merchandise sold by Qatar Museums—whether on site or at various outlets around the city and at Hamad International Airport—is providing an array of alternative, innovative, and aesthetic products. But what do these contemporary commodities—from museum-branded materials to high-end curated products—say about Qatar? And how is their production and consumption being used by state-sanctioned cultural industries to construct a contemporary Qatari national identity? While traditional gifts and handmade crafts remain prized and promoted by the state, the growth of a modern Qatar-branding souvenir industry is a sign that Qatar has entered into a new stage of national identity formation—one that revolves around the production and consumption of new national symbols in commodity form.
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