#UAENationalDay45: WAM Report – Culture and Heritage

ABU DHABI, 30th November, 2016 (WAM) — On the occasion of the 45th National Day celebrations of the United Arab Emirates, the Emirates News Agency, WAM, has issued a series of reports regarding the achievements of the state over the past year. In part ten, we examine the UAE’s Culture and Heritage and its achievements.

The UAE is rightfully proud of its rich cultural roots, its varied and abundant heritage, which stretches back through the region’s history.

As part of the nation’s march of progression, government departments, the private sector, and even individuals are actively involved not only in the preservation and exposure of the past to today’s youth, but also to project historical values and traditions into the future.

As the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founding father of the state, said, “A nation without a past is a nation without a present or a future. Thanks to God, our nation has a flourishing civilisation, deep-rooted in this land for many centuries. These roots will always flourish and bloom in the glorious present of our nation and in its anticipated future.”

Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has said that the UAE’s cultural heritage is key to its prosperity.

He said that the country’s cultural heritage is an important factor in achieving its unique ambitions, and can inspire innovative and creative approaches to ensuring the happiness of its people. He stressed the importance of preserving the UAE’s cultural heritage and helping the new generation deepen their understanding of the country’s past.

The year 2016 was declared the year of reading in the UAE to create a generation of book lovers and consolidate the UAE’s position as a global capital for culture and knowledge. Its purpose, to create a national framework that promotes reading among Emirati families in a quest to create a generation of book lovers and lifetime readers, was to encourage new skills and new generations of scientists, intellectual, researchers and innovators.

A variety of initiatives, programmes and events designed to support the project were put in place over the year, with elements even becoming enshrined in legislation, as the National Reading Law came into effect in October.

This year, a Decree to establish the AED1 billion Mohammed bin Rashid Library in Dubai was issued. The library will hold more than 1.5 million volumes, 1 million audio books and 2 million e-books, making it the world’s largest electronic collection and the biggest library in the Arab World.

The book-shaped library will cover more than 92,000 square metres, be seven storeys tall and have children’s, Arabic, international, business and media sections to make reading accessible to all.

It will include a centre for conservation and restoration of historical manuscripts, and a museum section displaying rare artefacts from the Maktoum family collection.

Plans for the future library, which will be able to accommodate more than 42 million visitors a year, include hosting more than 100 cultural and intellectual events each year in its seminar and conference rooms.

In Sharjah, its museums and galleries, including the Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah Art Museum, the Sharjah Biennial, Sharjah Heritage Days, and the Annual Islamic Arts Festival, cement the emirate’s position at the top of Arabic and Islamic culture and heritage. Every year, new and dynamic features are added to packed programmes that are visited by hundreds of thousands of people.

This year’s Sharjah Book Fair broke all records in both attendance and participation, in what was described as the most exciting edition of the globally renowned event yet, dedicated to authors, publishers, poets and illustrators.

Also in 2016, The Sharjah Archaeological Exhibition, which was organised by the Department of Culture and Information in conjunction with the Autonomous University of Madrid, UAM, at the National Archaeological Museum of Spain, displayed a number of important original artefacts that have been discovered in various archaeological sites in the Emirate of Sharjah.

The exhibition saw a high turnout from Spanish society and more than 45,000 people visited the event.

In February, Abu Dhabi Emirate saw the launch of the 4th Qasr Al Hosn Festival, which featured workshops, exhibitions and traditional markets displaying handicrafts, local cuisine and Emirati heritage products.

The festival also displayed old pictures of life in the UAE and told the story of Abu Dhabi and its links with Qasr Al Hosn as the first landmark building on the island. The festival plays a vital role in educating today’s generations with their history and culture, as well as showing the values adopted by their forefathers during the pre-oil era and how the desert sands turned into a successful country, founded on tolerance and unity and a rich culture.

In 2016, the first Fujairah International Arts Festival, organised by the Fujairah Culture and Media Authority, FCMA, on the Fujairah Corniche, was inaugurated to host international cultural and arts events.

Abu Dhabi’s iconic Saadiyat Cultural District, an entire district on Saadiyat Island devoted to culture and the arts, is effectively a live canvas for global culture, drawing local, regional and international visitors with unique exhibitions, permanent collections, productions and performances. In 2016, it hosted Abu Dhabi Art, a distinctive platform that celebrates the vitality of Abu Dhabi and the ever-changing contemporary art scene. Evolving and adapting to the ongoing development of the cultural landscape in the Saadiyat Cultural District and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Art embodies the cultural intrigue and creative ambition that defines the city.

Dubai Opera, a 1,901 seat, multi-format, performing arts centre, located within what is now known as the Opera District in Downtown Dubai opened its doors in August. Developed to host a variety of performances and events including theatre, opera, ballet, concerts, conferences and exhibitions, its plans were announced in March 2012 and the structure was completed and opened to the public on 31st August with a magnificent performance by Placido Domingo. The Opera District includes art galleries, museums, design studios, and other cultural venues.

Dubai now has more than 50 art galleries and hosts cultural events such as Design Days Dubai, Art Dubai, and the SIKKA Art Fair.

Etihad Museum, due to open in Dubai before the end of the year, is focused on inspiring Emiratis and international visitors alike with the story of the founding of the United Arab Emirates. The museum celebrates the dedication, commitment and patriotism of the nation’s founders and invites individuals from all walks of life to follow their example in nation building.

The museum collection includes objects and documents relating to the events of the formation of the UAE nation, and will contribute to an active research and publishing programme on the story of the Union. All seven of the emirates have contributed to the museum’s unique contents.

Emirati nationals have a deep appreciation for falconry. The love and respect shown for the iconic bird certainly goes back through their own unique history. Deep-rooted in Emirati culture, the traditional sport is passed down from generations to generations, underlining the importance of preserving both nature and its inhabitants. This year, to mark World Falconry Day 2016, Emirates Park Zoo and Resort unveiled a series of activities to celebrate this hallmark of Emirati tradition and culture.

ADIHEX, the Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition, is the only dedicated hunting, equestrian, and outdoor sports exhibition in the region.

Part of its mandate is about preserving sustainable falconry, national heritage and the environment. For over 14 years, the exhibition has been committed to saving the majestic wild falcon from its endangered status by promoting farm-bred falcons, and working towards maintaining sustainability of the species.

For 2016, the event welcomed over 100,000 visitors, the largest number in its history, to see exhibits ranging from simple camping equipment to the Emirates Arabian Horse Society presenting educational workshops to teach students about the history, skills and handling of the Arabian horse.

In November, HRH the Prince of Wales presented a digital replica of ancient Holy Quran fragments discovered by the UK’s University of Birmingham, during his visit to the United Arab Emirates.

The copy of the manuscript was the centrepiece of the royal launch of the UK/UAE 2017 Year of Cultural Collaboration. The original Quran fragment, possibly the oldest in the world, remains in the University of Birmingham and has been hailed as a major discovery.

Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall attended the launch in Abu Dhabi Emirate’s second city of Al Ain, and in a written foreword for The Ancient Quranic Leaves exhibition catalogue, HRH the Prince of Wales said that he could not be more delighted that the extraordinary Birmingham Quran Manuscript is being exhibited in the United Arab Emirates as a centrepiece of the year’s events.

The presentation was made at the picturesque Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi Emirate’s second city, which is one of the UAE’s most historic buildings. It was erected in 1891 to defend the city and protect precious palm-groves, it also served as a residence for the local governor. It is set in beautifully landscaped gardens, and visitors are encouraged to explore it.

An Al Ain landmark, the fort has been carefully restored and now houses a permanent exhibition of the work of British adventurer Sir Wilfred Thesiger (whom the locals affectionately refer to as ‘Mubarak Bin London’) and his 1940s crossings of the Rub Al Khali (The Empty Quarter) desert.

Preservation and promotion of the Arabic language in a state where more than 200 nationalities live together in harmony and peace, where the subject of language crops up frequently, is the stated object of the UAE authorities; to actively preserve and promote the Arabic language in order to counter the effects of globalism on communication.

By launching meaningful initiatives to enhance the status of the Arabic language and its cultural and intellectual contribution at a global level, authorities in Dubai set a target date of December this year for all business establishments in the emirate to use Arabic as the main language across menu cards, invoices and price tags, in addition to any other language of the business owner’s choice.

The regions pre-history came under the spotlight in March, when it was announced that evidence of late stone-age life was revealed by new excavations on Marawah Island, providing a unique insight into life during the late stone age in Abu Dhabi’s western region.

Located around 100km to the west of Abu Dhabi, and home to important marine and coastal ecosystems, Marawah Island has revealed more than 20 major sites, ranging in date from the Late Stone Age period (around 7,500 years ago) to the recent historical period, with two Late Stone Age villages discovered at the western end of the island.

A new international partnership aimed at protecting cultural heritage during armed conflicts is to be announced between the UAE and France at the Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage Conference in Abu Dhabi under the patronage of UNESCO, on 2nd and 3rd December at Emirates Palace.

This is in response to the growing threats to some of the world’s most important cultural resources arising from sustained periods of armed conflicts, acts of terrorism and illicit trafficking of cultural property. The systematic destruction or looting of historic sites and monuments representing civilisations that go back millennia, like in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Mali, and throughout the world, are among the cases that have motivated the UAE and France to partner and to support UNESCO’s global mandate to protect cultural heritage during armed conflicts.

Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of TCA Abu Dhabi, said, “The legacy of a nation is manifest in its art, architecture and culture. The continuing devastation of these treasures in combat zones deprives us, and future generations, of a resource that is of enormous historical value. The deliberate destruction of cultural artefacts as an act of war reflects not only their symbolic importance to a nation’s collective consciousness but also underscores the urgent need to protect them.”

He continued, “Our ancestors passed down cultural heritage that has defined our civilisation and united mankind through shared history. Safeguarding this heritage often becomes secondary to humanitarian, social and economic issues in times of unforeseen conflict, yet it is our duty to come together and strive for the protection and perpetuation of this heritage.”

Meanwhile, work carries on apace at the Saadiyat Cultural District, a place where people can build bridges and connect with each other through the universal language of the arts. Abu Dhabi has sustained its culture through exchange between the regional and international for millennia, and when complete, Saadiyat Island will be home to Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed National Museum, The Guggenheim, the Maritime Museum and a performing arts centre.

Art and Culture have always played a major role in the evolution of UAE society and community. All seven of the emirates have dedicated bodies that pursue and demonstrate a commitment to the seven core elements of art: space, texture, form, colour, value and shape.

2016 has already seen film festivals, art extravaganzas, book fairs, handicraft exhibitions, classical music concerts, food fiestas and heritage events across the nation, and as the year ends, we look forward to new museums, new shows, new ideas and new cultural phenomena.

For the future, 2017 has been officially designated as the UK/UAE Year of Culture, a year of creative collaboration and cultural exchange between the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, organised by the British Council, the UK’s international organisation for education and culture, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and HRH The Prince of Wales.

Gavin Anderson, Director UAE at the British Council, said, “The purpose of UK/UAE 2017 is to strengthen creative collaborations between the UK and the UAE in order to give a greater focus, depth and contemporary relevance to the long standing relationship between both nations.”

Throughout 2017, the British Council will collaborate with a wide range of British and Emirati partners to create a diverse programme that spans the arts, literature, education, society, sport, science and trade.

By exploring the ways in which the two nations’ respective cultural heritage and contemporary creative expression inspire innovation in all sectors and all areas of society, UK/UAE 2017 will strengthen cultural and economic ties and identify major opportunities for future collaboration on both sides.