x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Examining the art of leadership

Before the age of TV and Twitter, people learnt about their leaders through art and a lecture tonight will explain exactly how.

From the Treasures of the World's Cultures exhibition, a wide range of artefacts dating back to 1200BC and highlighting the enduring relationship between art and leadership will be examined during a lecture on Leadership in Human History tonight.

Presented by Thorsten Opper, the curator of the British Museum, those who attend will see how rulers and monarchs have, for thousands of years, proclaimed their powers and commemorated achievements through art.

Dr Walid Yasin, the manager of archaeology at the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), will also examine the history of the UAE through ancient cultures, relationships with other nations and key archaeological sites from the fifth millennium BC to the first century CE.

The exhibition is part of the lead-up to the opening of the Zayed National Museum, scheduled for 2016.

Legends of the past

Art is not simply for art's sake; it addresses wider questions and a context well beyond aesthetic beauty, according to Opper.

"We will look at various portraits from the Roman Empire, Mogul-style paintings, coins and marble portraits, for example.

"We picked artefacts showing rulers in action. I'll raise questions on what makes a good ruler, a military ruler, building a consensus and the artefacts that show these virtues across time and cultures," says Opper. Politics and history will also be covered.

"This talk will demonstrate some of the ways in which historical artefacts can encapsulate aspects of courtly life, the governance of states and international relations across diverse societies, cultures and nations," says Hend Al Otaiba, a representative of ADTCA.

The oldest artefacts include a portrait statue of the Egyptian Pharaoh Sety II from 1200BC and a cuneiform tablet found in Egypt during the 14th century BC, signifying the importance of diplomacy.

"A common theme is the admiration for heroism and a strong military ruler, this leads us back to Sheikh Zayed, his leadership and the formation of the federation," says Opper. "Art, in an age before modern media where few saw leaders in person, became important stand-in images."

To be a legitimate leader, one had to be shown as part of that tradition.

"Elements of this tradition are evident today. For example, Alexander the Great is seen as a great hero who inspired generations and others tried to emulate him and build similar empires," says Opper. "I will also ask, are you born a leader or can you learn to be one?"

Ancient UAE cultures

Starting from the most ancient cultures, Yasin will present discoveries from the Paleolithic era (150,000 to 200,000 years ago) as the oldest and most recently discovered. He will then address the flourishing Neolithic era, known as the New Stone Age, during the 5th and 6th millennium BC, before moving on to the early Bronze Age period of the first settlers, evidence of which can be found in the hundreds of tombs in Jebel Hafeet, Abu Dhabi, built between 3200 and 2700BC.

"This period shows contact with Mesopotamia, through objects found in the tombs. We will then look at the Umm An-Nar period (2700-2000BC) during increased interaction with other civilisations," says Yasin.

"From the 5th millennium BC, ancient Mesopotamians visited the eastern shores of the GCC and exchanged commodities. The Mesopotamians were in need of copper of Magan, what is known as the emirates and Oman."

Further interactions, including with south eastern Iran and the Indus Valley, resulted in the exchange of pottery and other items, which will be displayed.

"Scholars and researchers know the UAE has extensive history but the public are unaware. The image of the Emirates as a new country with no history has changed and the museums present living evidence of an extensive background," Yasin says.

* Leadership in Human History, the last talk in a series of lectures supporting the Treasures of the World's Cultures exhibition at Manarat Al Saadiyaat, will be held tonight at 6.30pm, free admission. For more information, visit www.saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae