x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Praise for move to bolster Islamic art

The arts community welcomes the prospect of the Prince's School of Traditional Arts opening a branch in the capital.

ABU DHABI // The arts community has welcomed the prospect of the Prince's School of Traditional Arts opening a branch in the capital. Preserving skills in Islamic art was vital to ensuring the country did not lose its heritage, according to specialists in the field. The memorandum of understanding signed by the Tourism Development and Investment Company and the Prince's School of Traditional Arts this week will look into the feasibility of establishing a centre for the traditional arts in the UAE capital.

Khalil Wahid, the manager of visual arts for the Dubai Culture and Art Authority, said he was pleased to hear Abu Dhabi could open a centre that would help preserve skills in traditional arts, including Islamic art. "It's something related to the place we grew up in, and something related to our religion, and it has links to other cultures and traditions," he said. "I am happy that they [will] have it. Islamic art is very important."

If the PSTA does open in Abu Dhabi, it will be the latest in a series of initiatives to strengthen the presence of the arts in the capital. At the heart of these plans is the development of Saadiyat Island as a centre for culture and tourism. Branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums are planned for the island, which is being developed by the TDIC. Saadiyat Island will also house the permanent campus of the Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi University.

To cater for the expected growth in demand for people trained in the arts and arts administration, universities have begun increasing the number of courses they offer in related subjects. Abu Dhabi Men's College, for example, in November last year signed a memorandum of understanding with London-based Goldsmiths College to help ADMC develop a master's degree in cultural and creative industries. The two-year course is designed for people keen to work for arts federations, ministries, agencies and consulting firms.

The agreement between the TDIC and PSTA was also welcomed by Dr Fatma al Sayegh, a professor of UAE and Gulf history at UAE University in Al Ain. Without centres to preserve the region's artistic traditions, Dr al Sayegh said, such traditions were in danger of being lost as a result of modernisation, because society was "evolving so fast". "Our society is passing through a transformation and many things are disappearing," she said.

"Such centres will help also in directing the attention of decision-makers to prioritising Islamic arts and crafts that are disappearing." Traditional arts from the region were part of the "history and memory" of Arabia, said Dr al Sayegh. Along with the new museums, which will include exhibitions of Islamic art, the proposed centre would help create "a new generation" with skills related to preserving Islamic art forms, she added.

The centre's impact would be greatest if it incorporated the use of new techniques and equipment in the traditional arts. "Many centres are trying to help the new generation keep these crafts, like, for instance, handicrafts, but by using new methods," she said. "The new generation will keep learning about these crafts as long as we introduce new technology." Dr al Sayegh said Emiratis of her generation were taught little at school about the UAE's artistic traditions because curriculums and textbooks in the early years of the country's development were usually imported.

"We had no idea what our local crafts were," she said. "As we get older and the UAE becomes independent, we begin to know our culture and local crafts and local traditions." dbardsley@thenational.ae