London's Royal Academy was the setting for a talk on the UAE's cultural diplomacy initiative
Zaki Nusseibeh: Art brings the UAE character to the modern world
A Global Art Forum event staged by Art Dubai at central London’s Royal Academy provided a platform for Minister of State Zaki Nusseibeh to showcase how ideas of modernism shaped the UAE’s growth.
A sellout audience gathered in the institution’s Burlington Gardens lecture theatre and heard how the country had adapted architecture, art and design to shape its rise from the outset of independence.
The launch this month of Mr Nusseibeh’s initiative to embed cultural diplomacy in every UAE embassy and mission worldwide is based on a vision that extremism and division can be overcome by reaching out to people across the world.
The audience included Noura Al Kaabi, the minister for Culture and Knowledge Development, Suleiman Al Mazroui, the ambassador to the UK, as well as former British ambassadors Sir Harold Walker and Richard Makepeace. Prominent figures from the art world ranged from Hans Ulrich Obrist to Andrew Graham Dixon, the television critic.
As an illustration of the guiding spirit that had brought the UAE from the pre-renaissance conditions of the 1960s to the forefront of the post-industrial era, Mr Nusseibeh recalled how he had watched the first man landing on the moon with Sheikh Zayed on a trip to Spain.
“He said man is created by the almighty and He has given him the ability to do anything He can do,” Mr Nusseibeh recalled Sheikh Zayed commenting. “Now the UAE is planning to be among the first places to create a city on Mars.”
Sheikh Zayed was a figure with an appointment with destiny. Fifty years later, the UAE had built the Louvre Abu Dhabi and was host to the Sorbonne and New York universities in Abu Dhabi as well as a raft of cultural organisations such as Art Dubai and the Sharjah Art Foundation.
“Art is what unites us, it is what makes us aware we are not just islands by ourselves,” observed Mr Nusseibeh. “Art makes us appreciate what is around us.”
Mr Obrist raised the many visits of the Paris-based artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude to the UAE in light of the Serpentine's summer exhibit. Mr Nusseibeh recalled their 1979 visit to Abu Dhabi at the start of his quest to build the Mastaba, a trapezoid of oil barrels bigger than the pyramids, in the Empty Quarter. Talks are still continuing on the project. A temporary version is currently on display in Hyde Park.
Presentations included Rashid and Ahmed bin Shabib looking at historic designs to build modernist islands in Abu Dhabi, such as those by Oscar Niemeyer. The curators Butheina Kazim and Munira Al Sayegh then spoke of the contemporary art and film scene in the UAE.