Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

Venice Architecture Biennale: Observations and Drawings

The National Pavilion of the UAE opened its doors earlier this month to the public. Some visitors, like Nasser Alzayani, came with a sketchbook.

Courtesy: Nasser Alzayani
The National Pavilion of the UAE opened its doors earlier this month to the public. Some visitors, like Nasser Alzayani, came with a sketchbook. Courtesy: Nasser Alzayani

Today we continue our ongoing series following the interns who are undertaking a six-month rolling programme acting as custodians and docents of the National Pavilion of the UAE throughout the duration of the exhibition Lest We Forget: Structures of Memory in the UAE at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia.

There are 19 Emiratis and long-term residents of the UAE selected for the programme and they have been divided into smaller groups, each spending one month Venice where they will live and work. They will also work alongside eight Italian interns from the prestigious Ca’Foscari University in Venice, whom will be partnering with the Emiratis for cultural and language exchange.

Here Nasser Alzayani shares with us both his thoughts and his marvellous sketches of the Pavilion and other sights around the beautiful city:

Upon my arrival in Venice, I was greeted by a set of instructions and a deadline. La Biennale di Venezia was set to open its doors in less than 72 hours, and at the UAE’s pavilion, catalogues needed to be arranged, drawers needed to be filled and graphics needed to be printed. The preparation for the big opening meant that everyone was working incessantly – save for the daily pizza parties at 10pm. Ultimately, the 12-hour work days produced a masterfully designed exhibit, filled with fascinating gems from back home. It was something we could all be proud of.

On the day of the opening, we – curatorial team, exhibition management and interns – prepared to welcome the press and invited guests. Final touches were applied and everything was in order. As people drifted in I took the time to speak to them about the exhibit, walking them through the memories on display and answering their questions.

I learned that many people were so open to sharing their opinions about what they saw; they were even more open to entertaining other opinions. In the world of art and architecture – where so much is open to interpretation – it is quite wonderful to converse and learn about what others think and feel. From my experiences interacting with visitors to our pavilion, I have noticed that the learning experience is most mutually beneficial when the time is taken to explore the spaces and objects on display.

My approach to my forays around the Biennale, as well as the rest of Venice, is quite similar. I see too many people walk by astounding pieces of art and breathtaking buildings without stopping to take it all in. Sure, some will take a moment to pause and snap a quick photograph, but where are the memories that are formed through the interaction with a new place? I carry around a sketchbook (more than one in fact) whenever I travel. In these books I record my experiences: I draw, I write, and sometimes collect objects I find. For every page I finish, a new memory is created. Whether it be sitting at a café and admiring a beautifully designed space, or at a museum learning about the famous Venetian navy, the pages of these sketchbooks will always remain as traces of my journeys. The time I spend looking and taking note of what is in front of me helps me see more than any photograph I can take.

* Nasser Alzayani is a Bahraini/American Architecture student at the American University of Sharjah. He is also an aspiring artist and writer, who documents his travels with drawings and things he finds. Check out his photos and drawings on by following @veniceinterns and #veniceinterns on instagram and twitter, as well as his personal accounts, @nmzayani on instagram and twitter

Updated: June 18, 2014 04:00 AM