Saturday, November 10, 2012

Al MuQanaa' - Qatar's Man in the Mask!

In the streets of Doha, I came across Ahmed Mohammad Al Jaber. He is also known in Arabic by his alias, Al Muqanna'. As we grew up in Qatar, the sight of his cars and motorbikes always drew our attention outside of our portable video games, and we'd peek from our cars to take a look at this enigma. During my sophomore year, I filmed a short documentary about him, but for this blog I met up with him and found he was exactly as I had last seen him!

Al MuQanaa' posing with one his motorbikes!

Al MuQanaa’ earned his name after participating in a car race, many years ago in Qatar, wearing a “batman” shaped face mask. Since then he has been known as the “man in the mask.” He spends his days in his Majlis, which was granted to him as a gift from the Emir. In a secret parking, he also keeps his treasured cars, each which he uniquely hand-designed and pampers every day. He has three cars and a few motorbikes.
Al Muqanaa' talking about his cars

Al Muqanaa’ is a perfect example of subculture in Qatar. His creativity has encouraged more people to follow in his footsteps and design cars to entertain pedestrians. “I like that there are other people who appreciate the art of cars,” he said about the people who have taken the initiative to decorate their cars like his.
Everyday at sunset, summer or winter, fall or spring, Al MuQanna takes one of his “rides” out and drives along the popular streets of Doha. He blasts his favorite Iraqi tunes on maximum volume, rolls down the windows and embarks on his journey. Al MuQanaa’ is known for his distinct look, long hair and a fu Manchu mustache. According to Ken Gelder, a subculture is composed to two symbolic subsystems, the plastic form, and the infrastructural form. Al MuQuanna’ has a distinct sense of style and he listens to a certain genre of music. These elements constitute the “plastic” subsystems. Moreover, he has developed a ritual of going out at sunset or any special occasion, such as Eid or National Day to celebrate. “The Emir used to let his children ride in my car when they were kids,” he said. Also, clearly, he is resistant to innovation because he has maintained the exact same style and look for decades.
Al MuQanaa’ belongs to a subset of society, that is distinguished by unique aspects of its clothing, style and "performance practice". Most subcultures have a unique practice of performing their “art.” In the case of Al MuQanna, it is taking his cars to the street and driving around. “Nothing makes me happier than to see the children smiling from their cars, and the people look at me in disbelief, but I know they enjoy it.” Although in many cases, the subcultural performances take place behind closed doors, he takes it out into the public! The purpose of his art is to remind everyone about how Qatar is is safe and welcoming and break barriers between foreigners and locals through entertainment!

2 of his cars in the "secret parking"

New car he plans to decorate soon.

He aimed to remind everyone of how safe and welcoming Qatar is through art! 

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