Although the facility is envisioned as a focal point for Emirati pride, experts say its unique nature will appeal to a much broader audience, offering something unlike anything else in the world.
Museum to reflect the unique UAE story
ABU DHABI // The Zayed National Museum will be just that - a national museum about a national figure with a national focus.
But experts say the appeal of the new Saadiyat Island cultural centrepiece will extend beyond the UAE.
"For a lot of visitors, the museum will be an even greater attraction than the other museums that are planned for Saadiyat Island," said Ronald Hawker, an associate professor of art and art history at Zayed University.
"You can go see the Louvre in Paris and the Guggenheims elsewhere, but the Sheikh Zayed museum represents something fundamental about this country. I think people will want to see something they can't see anywhere else."
Although the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), the project's developers, have said the cultural institution's main purpose is not tourism, the museum is expected to attract visitors from across the country and the region.
"This will be a public and civic centre. It will be reflecting the national story. It will be a mix of exhibits … so a visitor, even if he is not an Emirati, when he enters this place, he will be able to witness the reflection of the story of the United Arab Emirates," said Rita Aoun Abdo, the director of the cultural department at the TDIC, which is overseeing the museum's development.
The focus of the museum is multi-faceted. In addition to showcasing the UAE's history, it will serve as a memorial to Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, honouring his life and legacy. A civic space with a strong emphasis on education and learning, the Zayed National Museum will include galleries dedicated to the core values of Sheikh Zayed, including environmental sustainability, humanitarianism and traditional values.
Nabil Safwat, a Dubai-based expert on Islamic art history and calligraphy, said he hoped the museum would find a balance between celebrating the past and looking to the future. "They say knowing your past will illuminate the path to the future," Mr Safwat said. "The museum needs to tie the past to what we're looking to in the future."
Mr Safwat also said a modern museum must be dramatic, with content that appealed to children.
"It dignifies a country to have a very respectable and well designed museum in a modern setting that is immaculate," he said. "It's mostly children and tourists who are interested in museums these days, and if it's done in a modern way, this museum would absolutely fit in with the other cultural institutions planned for Saadiyat Island."
Leaders from across the UAE applauded the concept of the museum and many urged the younger generation to visit, once it opened, and learn from the experience.
"Through this museum, the coming generations will find images of the life and times during which the late leader lived," said Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid, Ruler of Ajman. "It is a life worthy of being observed and appreciated by those who have not witnessed it themselves, so that they may become more proud and devoted to Zayed's path and legacy."
Sheikh Saud bin Saqr, Ruler of Ras al Khaimah, said Emirati heritage "is alive and present".
"It is through such an endeavour that his annals may remain as an example and a guiding beacon from which valuable lessons and morals may be drawn," Sheikh Saud said.
The exhibits will rely on film, art and audio in addition to historical documents and documentary footage to tell the story of Sheikh Zayed.