Souk Waqif: Once Upon a Time
Maher Atter- Photographer
Mohamed Ali Abdullah- Text and Drawings
Souk Waqif: Where past and present reside side-by-side
A walk through the labyrinth-like passageways of Souk Waqif in Doha, Qatar tantalizes all of your senses. Careening through the passageways at each turn there is a new smell. The pungent smell of the fresh spices, the soft scents of oud, or the aroma of bread baking in a taboon (clay oven). Venturing through more twists and turns and you can feel the softness of cashmere scarves, view the brightly patterned fabric for saris, hear the birds chirping, or enjoy the taste of kunafa and Moroccan tea with mint. The twists and turns of this centuries-old souk, sprinkled with boutique hotels and ethnic restaurants, is where past meets present.
Souk Waqif (translated as Standing Market) dates back more than 100 years when local merchants would sell their wares. After many years of use, the original construction made of stone, earth, wood and gypsum, was falling into disrepair. In 2003 the former Emir, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, asked Qatari artist, Mohamed Ali Abdullah, to oversee the restoration of the Souk using only traditional methods of construction. Abdullah made the decision to tear down additions built in the 1950s and 1960s that were constructed with cement and rebuild. Abdullah interviewed elders to learn about the traditional methods and materials used to build the Souk. Abdullah’s Souk restoration project, completed with this cultural memory intact, won the Aga Khan Architectural Award for 2010. ”The Aga Khan Award for Architecture is given every three years to projects that set new standards of excellence in architecture, planning practices, historic preservation and landscape architecture. Through its efforts, the Award seeks to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of societies across the world, in which Muslims have a significant presence (Aga Khan Award for Architecture website).”
The maze-like character of old souks originates from the ad hoc building of new stalls as they are needed. In Souk Waqif: Once Upon a Time, Maher Atter’s compilation of photos beautifully illustrates the maze-like passageways where tradition meets modern day. Atter’s black and white photos depict the traditional culture of Qatar juxtaposed with modern-day conveniences such as a bicycle.
Atter, got his start in photography in the 1980s as a war-time photographer, he then transitioned to portrait photography, and eventually started his own photo press agency, MGA Production. He also worked as a Director at Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser’s office, where he was responsible for developing Qatar’s image bank.
His expertise is evident in this collection of photos. With the turn of each page, you are transported to the Souk. Atter’s exquisitely executed black and white photos illuminate the architecture, the people, and the culture of Souk Waqif. Images of a watch repairman focusing intently on his craft, a jeweler creating a necklace, and men pushing wheelbarrows are interspersed with photos of smiling faces and architectural details found only in Souk Waqif.
In addition to Atter’s photos, Abdullah’s watercolor renditions of the Souk, printed on vellum, are sprinkled throughout the book. Abdullah also provided the introduction for the book where he outlines a brief history, and the rebirth, of the Standing Market. Abdullah notes that under his guidance, “a unique architectural revival of one of the most important heritage sites in Doha” was completed. The collaborative work of Atter and Abdullah in Souk Waqif: Once Upon a Time is a treasure to behold, and a valuable contribution to the history of Qatar.
Author: Maher Atter (Photographer)
Text and Drawings by Mohamed Ali Abdullah
2006, Beirut: Art & Privilege, Diwan Amiri.
ISBN-10 : 9953485011
Additional reading and resources consulted
Maher Atter http://www.maherattar.com/biography/
Aga Kahn Award for Architecture. 2011, edited by Mohsen Mostafavi
Carol A. Daul-Elhindi
Carol has more than 14 years of experience working in libraries. She serves as the manager of reference services at Qatar National Library. In her various professional roles, she has enjoyed the teaching and mentoring. She also has a love for travel and photography. One of the first places she visited in Qatar was Souk Waqif. She got lost in the maze of passageways, but she has never lost her love for a souk that transports you back in time.
#QatariLitMonth is curated by Abeer S. Al-Kuwari
Abeer works as director of Research and Learning Services at the newly established Qatar National Library (QNL). Abeer’s work focuses on engaging library researchers in the Qatari community to explore archival and libraries as Memory institutions and documentary heritage. She is a founding member of the Library and Information Association in Qatar (LIA-Q), which was established in 2014.