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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

A mix of tradition and modernity, the Abu Dhabi Festival stays true to the spirit of the Year of Zayed

By celebrating the Year of Zayed we do not only honour a great leader of the past, we also seek out a bright path to the future, writes Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo

A performance of ‘We the Living’ at the Abu Dhabi Festival
A performance of ‘We the Living’ at the Abu Dhabi Festival

As Sheikh Zayed, the UAE's Founding Father, said: "Science and culture are the cornerstone of civilisation, progress and nation-building."

For us to truly appreciate the significance of Sheikh Zayed’s visionary achievement we must travel back in time. The year was 1918, the year of his birth, and the place was Al Ain, a beautiful green jewel of date palm trees and clear pools of water amid the vastness of the desert. Life was focused on survival in the extreme, dry environment. He would become a young man who was determined to make a difference for his people. He dreamed of bringing together the peoples of the desert and those from the coast, the tribes and traders. He was chosen to forge a nation built on tolerance and inclusion. Throughout this voyage he never left behind the culture of tradition, while accepting the cultures of all others who came to be here. This spirit lives on today in the UAE in an enlightened, happy society in which all can prosper.

The Year of Zayed is quite a fitting theme for a cultural organisation such as the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation. Indeed, a lot of what we take for granted today was far from being obvious many years ago. Our organisation has always celebrated the diversity within unity this nation stands for. That diversity is evident in the seven emirates complementing each other, but also the cultural diversity within this country, which is home to so many different nationalities living side by side in harmony and prosperity.

Look at the extraordinary cultural institutions that Abu Dhabi is home to, including Louvre Abu Dhabi and soon the Zayed National Museum, which will trace the history of the arts both national and universal. We also see the Sharjah Biennial and the emirate's many diverse museums, the Dubai Film Festival and Dubai Opera House, each bringing different visions of the world to an ever growing audience, and the Abu Dhabi Festival, which continues its journey of discovery, education and enjoyment. One must pause and appreciate what Sheikh Zayed has granted us and how all these magnificent institutions of culture and creativity were made possible by the founder of this nation, at a time when it took vision, determination and audacity to choose unity over division, to choose diversity over the reassuring comfort of a closed society.

By celebrating the Year of Zayed we not only honour a great leader of the past, we also seek out a bright path to the future. If one looks at the suffering of so many in the Arab world, the many dangers we face in the very heart of our shared heritage and faith of Islam, we must realise that the message of Sheikh Zayed to the world is one that has become more urgent than ever. This message is one of hope, for it is also a challenge to our generation: as Sheikh Zayed succeeded, along with the other leaders with whom he built this nation, it becomes our duty to choose tolerance and hope over fear and exclusion. It is for us to carry on weaving the elegant and intricate balance between tradition and modernity. And this is precisely what culture is about.

During the Year of Zayed, the Abu Dhabi Festival symbolises this strong spirit to embody a mix of tradition and modernity, and to be rooted in our own culture while opening our minds and hearts to the world. Sheikh Zayed did not merely invest in education, he invested in his people, for the people are the true strength of a nation.

I end with a beautiful verse from the poetry of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai:“Zayed was not one of us. In fact, Zayed was all of us. We are the children of the nation of Zayed; we carry his dream and we all strive towards furthering and fulfilling his vision.”

As we celebrate the Year of Zayed at the Abu Dhabi Festival, we wish to honour his memory and his spirit through our endeavours. And as he did, so must all of us: we choose to believe in the future, in education, in culture and in ourselves.

Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo is the founder of the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation and the Artistic Director of the Abu Dhabi Festival

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