The Indonesian Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, His Excellency Salman Al Farisi, is encouraging both countries to increase their collaborative cultural activities and to blend their performing arts. Farisi believes there are many avenues to explore for promoting Indonesian culture in the UAE, and vice versa, including music, dance and theatre. We sat down with the ambassador to discuss this vision further.
A rich and diverse culture
Indonesia, an archipelago of approximately 17,000 islands, has the world's largest Muslim population (numbering well over 200 million) and contains more than 500 ethnicities, says Farasi, making it rich in cultural diversity.
He is studying ways to invite groups of UAE residents to Indonesia in the near future to perform alongside local musicians, dancers and actors.
"I believe there are many cultural products similar to what we have here in terms of music, composition and dance," he says. "We also have some religious and Islamic influence in some areas such as Sumatra - reflected in the movement in a such a way that is in accordance to religious teaching."
Many Emiratis and expats, he adds, bypass Indonesia and instead head straight to destinations such as Thailand and Malaysia, but the embassy hopes to tackle and overcome this challenge through arts and culture. "For us, it is a platform for cultural dialogue and, through this, we can produce more understanding [and] tolerance," he says.
Each year, the embassy organises a cultural night to celebrate the country's traditions. This year, the event will be held tomorrow at the Abu Dhabi Theatre, with the Emirates Heritage Club collaborating with the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, which is bringing 21 artists to the UAE. The objective is to celebrate the 67th anniversary of Indonesian Independence, which was on August 17 this year, as well as to promote the culture of Indonesia. The embassy says the cultural night is also about joining in the commemorations for the 41st UAE National Day.
The nine performances cover music and dance, including the "angklung", a form of music played on bamboo pipes, which Unesco has declared to be part of the intangible cultural heritage of the world. The Al Youla dance (sword dance) will be performed by UAE artists.
"I hope that through the event, visitors will appreciate that we have differences and similarities in terms of dance and movement," he says. "It is indeed different but, in the message, I can feel and see the similarities."
This will be the third consecutive year the event has been held. In 2010, a brief session with the audience was offered so they could try their hand at angklung music.
Making and sharing
Creativity in culture, Farisi says, can incorporate many areas of innovation, such as in film, music and drama.
"I believe that through cultural events, we can, bit by bit, attract people from the UAE," he says.
A reception will be held in the theatre's lobby to give attendees a chance to taste Indonesia's culinary delights such as the fried rice dish nasi goreng and chicken satay, while traditional music performed on the sasando, a kind of harp, plays in the background.
Integration of activities
"We have music experts and different instruments and [the UAE] also has the artists, so why don't we think of having a joint event to perform a dance, music or theatrical activities?" asks Farisi. "I've seen Emiratis collaborate with Brazil and Africa, for example. We can also promote sport activities. If you bring a group the effect will multiply."
In addition to the performing arts, Farisi is keen on encouraging UAE residents to take part in responsible travel and philanthropy while visiting Indonesia.
Tickets are free and invitations need to be booked through the Indonesian embassy.
Follow Arts & Life on Twitter to keep up with all the latest news and events @LifeNationalUAE