Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 January 2020

Making mini Masters: school children recreate Louvre Abu Dhabi’s celebrated artworks

We speak to two visual arts teachers who worked with their students for over a year to recreate masterpieces from the museum

Children taught by Amal Mohamed Al Zaabi and Aesha Khamis Alshehhi at the Mubarak Bin Mohammed School have created artwork similar to what is on display at Louvre Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National 
Children taught by Amal Mohamed Al Zaabi and Aesha Khamis Alshehhi at the Mubarak Bin Mohammed School have created artwork similar to what is on display at Louvre Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National 

When Amal Al Zaabi was in fifth grade, she took part in a school art competition and won. It’s a moment, she says, she will never forget, giving credit to her art teacher back then for pushing her to take part. It was an event so important that today, Al Zaabi is a visual arts teacher herself, and one who knows very well how an act as simple as participating in an art competition can change a student’s life.

Now, the visual arts teacher at Mubarak Bin Mohammed School in Abu Dhabi, along with her colleague, Aaesha Al ­Shehhi, trying to do the same for their students. Last year, the two, backed by the school and with the help of their colleagues, took on a big arts project – they wanted to turn their school’s unused storage space into an exhibition, with all the work produced by their students and inspired by a ­visit to Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Slide the dial below to see a side-by-side comparison:

'Oriental Bliss' by Swiss artist Paul Klee, left, and Yara Mohamed Kamal Abueida’s recreation of the piece

It all started when the teachers went to the museum for the first time. “When Louvre Abu Dhabi opened, we were invited as visual arts teachers to go and see the place,” says Al Zaabi.

They came back inspired. “We thought: why not create a smaller Louvre in our school?” Al Shehhi says. But that was no easy task. Al Zaabi and Al Shehhi started a school-wide selection process to find the pupils who would take part. Up to 40 students, including one with special needs, between Grades 1 and 4 were selected. They visited Louvre Abu Dhabi six times throughout the school year in preparation – mainly to sketch and study the artworks more closely. They produced more than 60 pieces, all replicas of masterpieces by the likes of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci and Paul Klee, as well as prominent pieces from the UAE, such as the Marawah Vase.

Musashi Koshigaya zai from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige, right, and Hamdah Alhantoobi’s recreation

For the teachers, it was an exercise that took their students’ work and potential to the next level. “We introduced the children to international artists and different forms of work,” says Al Zaabi. “They knew they were doing important work.” Today, the exhibition space that welcomes visitors as they enter the school also houses a workshop area, which students use regularly.

Louvre Abu Dhabi has welcomed the school’s initiative, with the museum’s director, Manuel Rabate, even attending the exhibition opening on July 4. Alia Alshamsi, academic and community engagement unit head at Louvre Abu Dhabi, tells The National that this is the kind of engagement they like to work with schools on. “It’s so important for the students to think about the art they see and interpret it.”

Children Wrestling by French artist Paul Gauguin, right, and Aisha Shinain Ali’s recreation of the piece

Alshamsi says that the students’ visit to the museum and the work created afterwards is such important extracurricular learning that Louvre Abu Dhabi wishes to engage with more schools in the future. She says the museum will be meeting with the Ministry of Education to discuss how they can replicate this model with other government schools.

With the academic year having come to an end, the teachers at Mubarak bin Mohammed School hope to still keep their project alive. “We would like to host workshops with other government schools, working with visual arts teachers and talented arts students,” says Al Zaabi. While the project had been demanding for the teachers, taking up their time outside of school hours, the result has been rewarding. Al Zaabi says it is enough for her that the exhibition “plants the seed for a love of art in young minds”.

And her message to her students? “No matter where you’re from, no matter your culture, you have a place in this world. You have something to contribute. The important thing is your confidence in yourself and that you can make it,” she says, passionately.

Al Zaabi and Al ­Shehhi’s dream is to see their students’ work in Louvre Abu Dhabi one day. And with such mentorship, that might just come true.

Updated: July 18, 2019 11:29 AM