x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 14 December 2017

Louvre Abu Dhabi honours our universal civilisation 

The museum speaks to the world of the regenerative potential of this region and this country's role in preserving our heritage

The Louvre Abu Dhabi stresses our civilisational continuities and sheds light on our commonalities.   Chris Whiteoak / The National
The Louvre Abu Dhabi stresses our civilisational continuities and sheds light on our commonalities. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Louvre Abu Dhabi will this weekend open to the public, a decade after it was first conceived and eight years after the first stone for its construction was laid in 2009 by then French president Nicolas Sarzoky. But the silver-canopied building, designed by the acclaimed architect Jean Nouvel, is much more than a museum. As the French president Emmanuel Macron said at Louvre Abu Dhabi’s opening on Wednesday, it is a “temple for beauty”. Its audacious creation, Mr Macron said, confirms the UAE’s position as “the nerve centre of the East and West meeting”. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, spoke of the links between the museum's striking dome roof and the Sumerians and Babylonians who believed, thousands of years ago, that "the sky above us was a large dome". Under this new structure, he said, the "world can meet, talk and come together". The art within the museum's walls, he said, do not merely prompt “dialogue between civilisations” but stir us to forge “an alliance between civilisations”.

In this feverish age of demagoguery, when our differences are magnified to breed and deepen antagonism, Louvre Abu Dhabi stresses our civilisational continuities and sheds light on our commonalities. Its galleries chart human history from the birth of the very first villages to the global village of the 21st Century. In between, the entire story of civilisation is spellbindingly conveyed. The message by the end is unmistakable: if there is such a thing as a universal civilisation, Louvre Abu Dhabi is both its repository and reminder.

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Situated in a region identified with strife and conflict, Louvre Abu Dhabi speaks to the world of the regenerative potential of this region and the pioneering role this country is playing in preserving our cultural heritage. The vision that has given us Louvre Abu Dhabi will in the end prevail against the forces that destroyed Palmyra and other priceless treasures in our neighbourhood. It is fitting that the Louvre Abu Dhabi should pay rich tribute to the source of that vision, Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE, by erecting a wall of porcelain tiles that depict hand-drawn concentric circles originating from his fingerprint. Had he not risen above differences to bring seemingly disparate peoples together to form this union, there would today be no museum here honouring the unity of the larger human civilisation of which we are all a part. As Sheikh Mohammed said on Wednesday, Louvre Abu Dhabi is an embodiment of the “legacy of Zayed”. Its beauty and purpose, to borrow the phrase Mr Macron borrowed from Dostoyevsky, will inspire humanity to “save the world”.

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