Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 November 2019

Sharjah hailed as new Creative City by Unesco

'Traditional crafts, folk art, literature and other products of a nation’s creative industries are what shapes people’s collective identity,' says Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi

Sharjah has been designated a Unesco Creative City.
Sharjah has been designated a Unesco Creative City.

Sharjah has joined the Unesco rankings after the emirate was designated a creative city of crafts and folk art by the United Nations agency.

The emirate joined 65 other cities around the world to be listed as a new member on Unesco's Creative City list. The announcement was made as part of World Cities Day on Thursday, October 31.

“Sharjah is working tirelessly to preserve the heritage of this nation and breathe new life and meaning into it, so it can be practiced sustainably and can inspire the rapid cultural renaissance the UAE witnesses today. Thanks to this forward-looking vision, Sharjah has positioned itself as a hub of investment in contemporary crafts and an incubator of Emirati heritage," commented Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, chairperson of the NAMA Women Advancement Establishment and founder and royal patron of the Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, and wife of Sharjah Ruler Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi.

“Traditional crafts, folk art, literature and other products of a nation’s creative industries are what shapes people’s collective identity. Moving into a future without knowing who we are, where we come from – without being rooted in our authentic identity – will not bear any fruit," Sheikha Jawaher added.

Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi with artisans from Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council.  
Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi with artisans from Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council.

The destinations added to Unesco's Creative City list were chosen for their ideas and innovative practices, as well as for their efforts in championing sustainable development actions that directly benefit local communities. “All over the world, these cities, each in its way, make culture the pillar, not an accessory, of their strategy,” said Unesco director general, Audrey Azoulay.

The Scroll by Gerry Judah outside the House of Wisdom in Sharjah. 
The Scroll by Gerry Judah outside the House of Wisdom in Sharjah.

Sharjah has been busy carving a name for itself on the world’s arts and heritage scene. The Sharjah Biennial for contemporary arts, the Sharjah Museums Authority's many sites, the Islamic Arts Festival, Al Noor art island and The Sharjah Art Foundation are all key pillars of the city’s creative scene.

“The emirate applies a forward-looking strategy to promote our local crafts and folk arts, with a specific focus on developing the traditional crafts sector represented by Emirati women. This was the reason for establishing Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council in 2016. We saw the need for an incubator for local craftswomen in Sharjah, as their talent required vocational upskilling. Irthi has played an unparalleled role in economically empowering these women by turning their practice into a sustainable source of income, and by finding their products a market both in the region and internationally,” said Sheikha Jawaher.

Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah and Prince Charles meet with women artisans from Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council. 
Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah and Prince Charles meet with women artisans from Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council.

Last month, the Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council was invited to represent the UAE as guest country of honour at the London Design Festival. This coincided with the launch of Irthi’s first-ever original product line, which features 78 luxury items across 12 exclusive collections, focusing on home decor, furniture, jewellery, perfume bottles, handbags and more. These items have been created in collaboration with craft-makers from across the world – from Pakistan to ­Palestine – and are all handmade by female Emirati artisans employed by Irthi’s Bidwa ­Social Development Programme, which is located in Dibba Al Hisn, a town in Sharjah.

“I take this opportunity to thank Irthi’s artisans and staff who work dedicatedly to achieve the council’s vision, hoping that naming Sharjah among UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network will be an incentive for more constructive work,” Sheikha Jawaher concluded.

Joining Sharjah as Unesco Creative Cities are Bahrain’s Muharraq, which was designated for its efforts in design, and Lebanon’s Beirut which was listed for literature. Ramallah in Palestine is also now a Unesco Creative City winning praise for its contributions in music.

Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, President of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, commented on Muharraq's inclusion on the list. "With its architectural heritage and cultural history, this new title reflects Bahrain’s belief in cultural activities through which we promote our kingdom’s beauty," she said.

Elsewhere, Cebu in the Philippines was noted for its design, Pakistan’s Lahore for literature and in India, both Mumbai and Hyderabad made the rankings, for film and gastronomy, respectively.

Exeter in the UK was listed for literature while Australia's Bendigo and South Africa’s Overstrand Hermanus made the cut for gastronomy.

The Unesco Creative Cities Network was created in 2004 to help promote co-operation among cities championing creativity as a strategic factor for urban development. The addition of these 66 new members brings the Unesco Creative City total to 246 cities around the world.

Dubai became the first city in the Middle East to join the Creative City list for design when it was included as a member in 2018.

Updated: November 2, 2019 06:20 PM

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