Prizes, Princes and Poets
Sunday, February 15th, 2009
The Cultural District on Saadiyat Island is the future – the art and cultural events in the posh Emirates Palace hotel are the present. Within just a few years, Abu Dhabi has made the leap from a cultural desert to a cultural oasis – thanks to the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH). Only just in the second year of existence, the book fairs, the ArtParis Abu Dhabi art fair, and the MEIFF (Middle East International Film Festival) have already been a sensational success and are introducing Hollywood glamour to the Emirate. The music festival, which has been in existence for a number of years now, is experiencing undreamt of support, allowing it to bring the most famous orchestras and soloist to Abu Dhabi – and the audience is amazed and is actively involved in the growing experience in the organisation and marketing of world class art and cultural events. A spirit of optimism and vibrancy can be felt everywhere – just like in the economy, it can be felt culturally, as well.
Cultural District on Saadiyat Island
The permanent exhibit of the grand cultural future of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in the Emirates Palace Hotel provides an idea of what is being planned to be built on a natural island, the island of Saadiyat, only 500 m away from Abu Dhabi City. The Cultural District with the Guggenheim Museum, the Louvre, permanent biannual shows with 19 buildings, a theater complex, a maritime museum and the Sheikh Zayed Museum will be of interest to lovers of art and culture. The tendering for the Sheikh Zayed Museums took place recently. Lord Norman Foster won. Along with Lord Foster, other celebrity architects like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry will be able to let their wildest dreams become reality up into the next decade in the museum buildings on Saadiyat Island. No prominent guest or state visitor – be it Bill Gates, Alec Greenspan or German Chancellor Merkel – leaves Abu Dhabi without having seen the permanent exhibit in the Emirates Palace. It is open daily to the public from 10am to 10pm.
ADACH – ADTA – TDIC
ADACH is the state authority in Abu Dhabi that has been organizing and professionally managing all cultural activities since its founding on October 14, 2005. Chairman Mohamed Khalaf Al Mazrouei never tires of proclaiming the goals and tasks of this government agency based on the vision of the late president, Sheikh Zayed, which has been further developed by his son, Sheikh Khalifa, the current president, for which he has set up a plan of strategy for the years 2008 to 2012. The focus of activity is the largely oral traditions of the Bedouin, which are encouraged and preserved through special events, just like the preservation of archaeological sites, historic structures, the cultural landscape and collections. This is done in partnership with existing research institutions. Fine arts are also to be promoted, as well as creativity in literature, film and theater – particularly among young intellectuals and in an international context. The planning, construction and management of museums are on the program. The goal is to become a hub of the art and culture being offered worldwide.
In practice, the work towards the goals is taking shape at breathtaking speed. The list of priorities set by Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, Chairman of ADACH, is being worked through with support assured from the top, namely through the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. It is no coincidence that Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan also happens to be the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) and the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC). Furthermore, he is a board member of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency and Etihad Airways, the UAE’s national air carrier. Recently he was made a member of the Executive Council of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. This shows how closely culture is tied to other areas and its importance.
Businessman with an artistic sense: Mohammed Kanoo
For years he has been the motor and source of ideas for the art and cultural scene in Abu Dhabi and is founder of the only active art gallery in Abu Dhabi, named Ghaf Gallery. His family is from Bahrain. As does he, his parents and relatives combine art and business in an exemplary manner. He inherited his creativity from his mother and his sense for the value of art objects and the ability to organize art exhibits from his father, Dr. Abdul Latif Jassim Kanoo, who is well-known far beyond the Gulf States. He is an art expert and founder of the well-known “House of Qur’an” in Bahrain with distinguished objects of Islamic art.
“There are a lot of people in the Emirates who know something about art. The largest and most valuable collections in the Gulf States are in private hands. I see here a parallel to Italy during the Renaissance, because at the time there were patrons of the arts; just think of the Medici. The wealthy invested in Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci; they only wanted the best. Although traditionally the (Bedouin) culture in the Gulf States is more concentratedly woven around and presented by storytelling and poetry, it can be seen that in about the last 50 years the well-to-do families in the rich Gulf States have been buying art.”
How does he see the future? “Arab art is being discussed more and more. There were always a lot of very creative minds in the Emirates, who were never notice before but who are now enjoying public sponsorship and keen media interest. For the last three years there have been competitions in all the fields of art offering generous monetary prizes. With these, the government is consciously encouraging and expressly fostering the next generation.
The Ghaf Gallery regularly organizes art exhibits, lectures and workshops. (www.ghafgallery.com)
ArtParis-AbuDhabi: the most expensive art fair in the Middle East
What is in Dubai the Art Dubai, is in Abu Dhabi the annual ArtParis-AbuDhabi. The French are always called in when art is dealt with in Abu Dhabi. In 2007, the (art) world was caught off guard by a brilliant move and a media bombshell. Abu Dhabi had sought out an experienced partner in a class of its own, namely the French art fair, artParis, which was founded in 1999 and holds its sales exhibit annually in March in the Grand Palais in Paris.
This fair was held for the second time from November 17-21, 2008. 15,000 visitors were able to choose between five core themes. In the Symposium, “Art, Talks and Sensations,” well-known architects, actors, fashion designers, writers, museum directors, curators and art critics discussed the subject of aesthetics in the Arab World. Eight young art talents from eight galleries in eight countries presented their work for the first time. Curator Amal Trabouli had brought together works by the most famous Arab artists in a special exhibit entitled “Movement and Communication, Travels through Desert and Sea.” Strollers through the gardens of the Emirates Palace were treated to the sculptural exhibit, “Monumental Art Garden. Art work was sold to the amount of over 12 million U.S. dollars. The event, which is sponsored by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and is also opened by him, is considered to be the central gathering place for all art lovers and buyers of the whole Middle East.
Art made from pearls and gems: Azza Al Qubaisi
The artist born in 1978 in Abu Dhabi has gotten around a lot. She graduated from the London Guildhall University with a B. A. in “Jewelry, Design and Allied Crafts” and since 2002, after five years of England during which she tanked up energy while studying, has been home again full of ideas for off-beat creative and expensive objects.
She had her own stand at fairs like ADIHEX (see below). “I am particularly taken by pearls. With my pearl sculptures, I want to remind people that in the past many pearl divers lost their lives and 95 percent of them went blind. Diving was of vital importance to pearl divers; they had no other opportunity to earn a living and did it under the most adverse conditions; without diving suits, with only the simplest of means. I want to capture the fate of these divers, for example in my “Angels’ Tears” collection.” Her success has breed further success. She receives lucrative commissions from large companies. She is one of the media’s darlings, and she counts on its support. She has appeared repeatedly on Dubai TV and Abu Dhabi TV. In August 2008, her newest collection was on exhibit in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and the golden trophies with black pearls for the winners of the MEIFF (Middle East International Film Festival) are from her.
Digital Harmony in Art: Sumayyah Al Suwaidi
She is a digital photo artist and graphic designer. She was born in 1980 in Abu Dhabi and graduated with a degree in graphic design from the state-run Higher Colleges of Technology. She creates works full of feeling and sensuality from lackluster photos. Sumayyah puts movement in the heavens, expands the oceans and lets people float in the air. Her career started at the age of 18 and with 20 she began to make designs for websites, posters, company logos, multimedia CDs, etc., and while during so discovered her own style. She has been a professional digital artist since 2001, the first in the Emirate. She creates her works on the computer through photo manipulation. She has participated in many exhibits since 2003, including the annual National Exhibit of Contemporary Art, the Art Avenue Dubai (during the Dubai Shopping Festival), exhibits in Qanat Al Qasbah (Sharjah) and in various galleries like the Ghaf Gallery, whose exhibit Digital Harmony she curated. “I curated this exhibit because I wanted to make clear to the public that digital art really is art and not the cutting and pasting together of pictures, as many people erroneously think. Digital art means creating a ‘painting’ with the aid of a computer by using various kinds of software. Our country is becoming based on technology to an ever increasing degree so it is legitimate to also use non-traditional means in art.” Does the fact that she is the first digital artist in the Emirate bring with it a special responsibility? “Yes, I consider carefully what I do because I see myself as a certain type of role model. I am currently working on a series combining photo manipulation and calligraphy – something totally new.”
Second Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi
“Where Pearls become Stars” is the motto where stars gather and look forward to a trophy with black pearls designed and produced by Azza Al Qubaissi and prizes as high as a million U.S. dollars. For ten days, from October 10-19, 2008, the Emirates Palace Hotel was the stage for major stars from all over the world, even from the Emirates. Together with her planning team, the festival director, Najwa Al Ruwaini, a well-known television moderator and owner of the production company, Pyramedia, in Abu Dhabi, mounted an interesting film program and a supporting program well worth watching. “The women in the Emirates now have great power – thanks to the tireless efforts of Sheikha Fatima (wife of the 2004 deceased founder of the country, Sheikh Zayed) over the last 35 years. In the future, we will use the power of the women in the media, who are continually increasing in number,” says Najwa.
Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, Director General of ADACH, under whose auspices the festival stands, likes having his picture taken with film stars like Eva Green (from the James Bond film, Casino Royale), Cathérine Deneuve, Meg Ryan, Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Jane Fonda and Susan Sarandon and visibly enjoys the presences of the stars, although he is used to associating with them because he had naturally done his homework in recent years by attending other the famous film festivals in Cannes and Berlin. “We plan to build up a film industry in Abu Dhabi between Hollywood and Bollywood,” Al Mazrouei announced.
The “Prince of Poets” Competition
Another example to be mentioned of the many new competitions in the field of art and culture is this one, an annually held, classic poet contest that was first organized in the summer of 2007. It is carried out on television and famous poets from the Arab world take part. Poetry plays a traditional role in the Arab world and the show combines modern media concepts with the traditional art of poetry. The goal of the competition is to preserve this centuries-old culture, particularly in the target group of young people. The initiator is the ADACH. The show is produced by Pyramedia. The media spectacle that is constantly gaining in popularity in the Arab world can be seen on Abu Dhabi TV and on the “Poetry Channel.” The numerous live shows, moderated by the Jordanian, Eyad Nasser, are held late at night in the Al Raha Beach Theater in Abu Dhabi; entrance is free. Competing are renowned poets from the Arab World like Adi Ould Adab (Mauritania), Khaled Al Waghlani (Tunisia), Shaimaa Mohammed Hassan (Egypt) and Akil Al Lawati (Oman), whose abilities are commented on by the jury. In addition, popular young pop stars and entertainment artists from the Arab world also appear.
Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (ADIHEX)
It is well known that the Emirate of Abu Dhabi places particular value on the cultivation of its cultural heritage and traditions. They like to remember the time around 1750 when hunters of the Bani Yas tribe founded the first settlements on the island of Abu Dhabi, laying the cornerstone for the tradition of hunting with hawks and the breeding of pedigree Arabian horses. A part of this cultivating of culture is the ADIHEX exhibition. The annual event was held for the fifth time from the 8th to the 11th of October, 2008, on the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center (ADNEC) fair grounds. The visitor can expect horse and camel auctions, artist competitions (because horses, camels and hawks are popular subjects to paint), traditional exhibitions of hunting with hawks, Saluki dog showings (a special breed of hunting dog) and a substantial program of sport and entertainment with Emirate folklore. Over 500 exhibitors from all over the world, including Germany, Italy, England and the USA, display everything that has anything to do with the subject. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and President of the Emirates Falconry Club (EFC) is the patron of the event, with the support of the ADACH.
Abu Dhabi Book Fair
The book fair is an important mosaic stone in the overall palette of art and cultural subjects in Abu Dhabi. The most competent partners in the world have been secured for this endeavor as well: the Frankfurt Book Fair. The 18th book fair – but only the second international one – organized by KITAB (Arab: book), a joint venture between ADACH and the Frankfurter Book Fair, was held from the 11th -16th March, 2008, on the new fair grounds in Abu Dhabi and evoked a large response from the media with its many cultural events like the presentation of the generously endowed “Sheikh Zayed Book Award.” The new concept, that clearly bears the stamp of the Frankfurt Book Fair, was well received. It was learned from Juma Al Qubaisi, the Director of the Abu Dhabi Book Fair, that for the first time a databank of Arab writers will soon be completed and will be made available to the public. The German publisher, Georg Olms, who was not represented at the German joint exhibit, but had his own stand, expressed complete satisfaction with the results of the fair. Particularly his multi-lingual book series on the Asil Arabian horses caused a stir. Next date: International Abu Dhabi Book Fair, from March 17-22, 2009.
By Barbara Schumacher