“This is a great day for Arabic arts and culture, indeed a great day for Arabic history,” announced HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, on the inauguration of the Abu Dhabi’s newly renovated cultural foundation as it opened its doors to the public. Situated on the site of the UAE capital’s oldest landmark Qasr Al Hosn, the Cultural Foundation was conceived by the country’s founding father Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan as the “cornerstone” of the modern nation. It would be a place for learning, for sharing creativity and for preserving heritage and history. Founded in 1981, it was a beacon of the nation’s openness to the wider international community and fostered an environment of cross-cultural exchange.
The building anchored cultural activities in Abu Dhabi until it closed in 2008 for renovation. Partly reopened last year after a decade of work, the fully functioning Cultural Foundation was unveiled on September 4, with a plethora of new and exciting venues to foster artistic development, education and inspiration.
“We are embracing art in all its forms,” continued Mubarak, “and acknowledging the pivotal role that art and culture have always played in UAE society.”
He gave his impassioned speech from the stage of the Cultural Foundation’s brand-new state of the art, 900-seat theatre, which opened later that evening with a sell-out performance by celebrated oud player Naseer Shamma and the 2350BC Orchestra.
Reem Fadda, the director of the Cultural Foundation said the place was a “cornerstone” allowing progressive citizens to rise from its roots.
She also welcomed visitors to the newly inaugurated Bait Al Khatt. This on-site studio and workshop is run under the watchful eye of calligrapher Mohammed Mandi, who will be overseeing classes in many forms of Islamic script. Alongside the calligraphy house is Al Marsam Al Hor – a series of open studios catering to a wide variety of art forms. Classes in painting, drawing, graphic design, fashion design, jewellery making, sculpture, mosaics and many other subjects are open to anyone over the age of 15.
The main attraction however lay in the large exhibition halls on the ground and first floors.
The opening exhibition Luminescence showcases the work of Najat Makki, the first Emirati female to travel abroad to study art in the 1970s. Her brightly coloured paintings are full of the texture and vibrancy of nature and her oeuvre is an investigation the female form. She also takes reference from the UAE’s archaeological past as well as an understanding of the rhythm and cadence in music and mystic poetry.
The first floor is dedicated to the Emirati community of contemporary artists with the gallery space given over to a curated exhibition of work by 19 artists who have each produced a piece of work dedicated to Najat Makki.
Also open is a screening room and a large children’s library with more than 20,000 books. The Cultural Foundation is also offering a residency for four professional artists. They are offered private studio space, support in terms of mentorship and financial grants advice and the chance to exhibition their work.