Beloved by all his people, the face of Sheikh Zayed once again looked out across the city of Abu Dhabi last night with the official opening of a new art installation to mark the centenary of his birth.
Composed of over 1,000 illuminated shapes, the Founder’s Memorial recreates a likeness of the Founding President of the UAE as reflected in points of light. The artwork is the centrepiece of a site on Abu Dhabi Corniche and is being opened to coincide with the Year of Zayed.
The unveiling was watched by the Founding Father's son, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, joined by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, along with other members of the Ruling Families of the UAE.
The monumental, three-dimensional work has been created by the American sculptor and public artist Ralph Helmick. Titled The Constellation, the shapes are illuminated at night.
The Constellation is made up of more than 1,300 geometric shapes suspended on more than 1,000 cables. At night, these shapes shine like stars, evoking the timelessness of Sheikh Zayed’s vision as a guiding light for the UAE people. It is a memorial unlike any other, breathing life into the image of the nation's first Ruler.
It is designed to be experienced differently from multiple viewing points, both around the memorial and from other vantage points with the concept of offering a series of infinitely evolving personal encounters with his image.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid called the memorial: “An important message that links future generations to the memory of the leader who laid the foundations of the nation.
“It is a message that the youth must absorb and work to achieve in various sectors to continue the process initiated by Zayed and the UAE’s founders and to build the future of a country that wants its citizens always to excel,” he said.
The site will open to the public in spring, according to the event commentary, although an exact date was not given.
"The memorial will open its doors to the public this spring and we welcome you to explore it so you can get images of pride and wisdom drawn from his ideas and noble values," it said.
When it does open, the attraction will include a visitor’s centre celebrating the life of Sheikh Zayed and gardens with trees and plants indigenous to the UAE. A walkway will offer views of The Constellation as well as the skyline of Abu Dhabi as it would be seen through the eyes of Sheikh Zayed.
Images were projected on a large screen covering the memorial, including an homage to the original, 35-metre-tall portrait of Sheikh Zayed painted by Pakistani artist Liaquat Ali Khan that was displayed on the site since at least the turn of the millennium.
The opening ceremony included CGI wizardry that saw some of the most famous images of Sheikh Zayed brought to life on the same screen, including the portrait of the former President as a young man, taken by the noted British explorer Wilfred Thesiger and a later image of Sheikh Zayed with a single rose.
"As Sheikh Zayed grew up in the desert, he stared at the sand and imagined a different future and the dream started developing into a reality in 1971. He is the father of everyone," said the accompanying commentary.
The show included scenes of the seven emirates as they were over half a century ago that then transformed into the modern country as it is today: locals running under the dome of the new Louvre Abu Dhabi, Al Ain Oasis and children flying kites.
A 40-strong choir then performed Allah Ya Dar Zayed, as well as new arrangements of other traditional songs and music, and a touching compilation of Sheikh Zayed's performances of the traditional Ayala dance.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said the memorial would help people understand how the happiness of his countrymen was Sheikh Zayed’s only goal.
"He instilled the values of hard work, giving and dedication in his people, inspiring them to take the country to new heights under the leadership of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan," he said.
Read more: How the Year of Zayed will pass on his story and values to a new generation
"Our connection with Zayed was that of a father to his son, a leader to his people and a man to his homeland, Sheikh Mohammed said. “It is a close connection, an extension of the love of the founder of our union, which has grown over the years. We pride ourselves on this love and hand it down to future generations.”
As the screen was pulled to unveil the memorial, the commentary said: "This memorial is the story of a father who left an immortal inheritance. This artistic structure talks to the stars in the sky to guide us ... the artwork enables us to connect with a character who inspired leaders and helped us move forward ... he gave us everything."
After the ceremony, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid took to Twitter to express his happiness with the memorial and honour Sheikh Zayed.
"I am delighted today with my brother Mohammed bin Zayed and my brothers [fellow rulers] at the inauguration of the Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi.
"Zayed is a national and international monument and he is at the heart of every Emirati and every lover of the UAE," he said.
"The people of the UAE will be happy with this new monument because everyone has a story of Zayed. Every citizen has a heart that loves Zayed. Our history began with Zayed and our future will continue bearing his fingerprint, his value and memory forever."
The Founder’s Memorial coincides with the national Year of Zayed initiative, declared by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed to mark 100 years since the birth of Sheikh Zayed.