x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The Ali Column: Mastaba a huge plus for our profile

Christo's desert artwork highlights the potential of the UAE's arts venues outside the cities.

Our government has always welcomed a variety of cultural projects deriving from international, innovative artists. Not only is the variety of cultural projects intensifying but also now even the locations of the cultural projects are shifting, from the cities to the Empty Quarter desert of Abu Dhabi.

A "new" location near the Liwa oasis, 160 kilometres away from downtown Abu Dhabi, is ready for the artwork called Mastaba from Christo, who is 77 and a well-known experimental Bulgarian-American avant-garde artist.

The Mastaba, a project for Abu Dhabi, was conceived in 1977. After 35 years on the drawing board, it is set to become the largest sculpture in the world. It will be made from 410,000 multi-coloured petrol barrels to form a mosaic of bright sparkling colours, echoing Islamic architecture.

All of Christo's artworks are known to be an international spectacle. He has wrapped the Berlin Reichstag in fabric, and surrounded Miami's Biscayne Bay with 600,000 square meters of pink polypropylene floating material.

The Mastaba, which literally refers to the ancient Egyptian stone benches, will be Christo's latest project, consisting of a huge trapezoid sculpture made out of the oil barrels. It is planned to be 150 meters high, which will make it taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Its planning has been 30 years in the making, but its implementation started in 2012.

Its costs are estimated to be more than $340 million (Dh1.2bn) and with that, it may become the most expensive artwork in the world. Moreover, the Mastaba could enjoy the same status as wonders of the world, such as Macchu Picchu, the Taj Mahal or Petra.

What makes Christo and his artwork unique? Well, for one thing, his friendly personality and the way he approaches Emiratis with his artwork.

During his last visit in the UAE, he talked to residents living in Liwa to ask them for permission to build artwork near their homes, gave lectures at the local universities, presented a documentary of his artwork at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival this year and recently launched the Art Award for students in Abu Dhabi. Christo doesn't intend to encourage associations with the oil barrels but rather wants to highlight their beauty in form of "poetry and not propaganda".

With his approach and skills, our country will only be recognised as a unique place for artists, so let's welcome more cultural projects that contribute to making our cultural diversity a more extraordinary, visible, dynamic and vivid feature.