Preserving Culture in the U.A.E

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Art Exhibition

The Arabian Art Centre, Sharjah Heritage Area

Artifacts displayed on the grounds of Sharjah Heritage Area

We all know United Arab Emirates as a modern one, witnessing dramatic changes in the few short years since the state was established, change that has provided them with all the benefits of a modern, developed society. At the same time, however, both Government and the people are determined that their heritage shall be preserved, in line with the late Sheikh Zayed's belief that 'a people that knows not its past can have neither a present nor a future'.

To act as repository of this heritage and a source of information for both visitors and the younger generation who have not experienced a traditional lifestyle, museums and heritage centres have been developed throughout the UAE.‘We preserve our history and culture in museums, through paintings that are so realistic that they almost speak.’ said Najlaa Fikry, an official at Sharjah Museums Department.

The Orientalists Collection' displays the works of art in the Sharjah Art Gallery, which were personally collected by His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi. The paintings represent Romantic views of the Arab countries and other Islamic lands as they were depicted by European artists and travellers in the 18th, 19th and the early 20th centuries.’ explained Najlaa. Additionally, Sharjah was designated as the cultural capital of the Arab world by UNESCO for its commitment to art, culture and preserving its heritage.

Ms.Najlaa Fikry, Official at Sharjah Museums Department

The Culture and Art Authority play an active role in keeping the history and culture alive during this materialistic and digital today, where youngsters seem to forget the very beginning....‘We host a variety of exhibitions, workshops and programmes that are suited for all ages. Our family programmes that are held every week offer hands-on and minds-on fun with bilingual programmes that are designed to educating children and their parents/caregivers on the culture of UAE. We organize workshops especially for children aged six to eleven, as teaching them when they are young is best. The programmes are held on Saturdays suitable for all, to make some time in their busy schedules.’ said Najlaa.

Sharjah Art Museum, established in 1948

UAE is a fine example of how well an indigenous community which survived an adverse environment for thousands of years by observing a strict tribal code could absorb tremendous change of lifestyle producing the best of two worlds within decades. Today, the indigenous values, heritage and culture which were refined by the adoption of Islam over the past millennium or so, continue to thrive notwithstanding the ultra modern look, infrastructure and facilities and the cosmopolitan, moderately liberal lifestyle that especially characterise the nation’s capital, Abu Dhabi.

Scattered throughout the UAE are forts that were once charged with defending a range of elements including an irrigation system, palm groves and trading hubs. Many of the forts also provided residency to the ruling families, while others served as military/police headquarters and prisons. Heritage villages have been established in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Fujairah to provide visitors with a three-dimensional experience of life in the pre-developed UAE. The Emirates of Ajman, Sharjah, Al Ain, Umm al-Quwain and Ra’s al-Khaimah have established museums housing exhibits on archaeology, ethnography and other artefacts of historic and cultural significance. While some collections are not extensive and certain destinations are difficult to reach unless on a guided tour, their existence testifies to the growing focus of cultural preservation throughout the UAE.

Despite the Emirates limitations of being a mainly desert environment and a semi-nomadic lifestyle that prevailed up to the 20th Century, UAE has a rich past evidenced by scores of restored mud fortresses across the emirate and remains of an underground irrigation system in Al-Ain oasis, which has been continuously inhabited for more than 4,000 years and is considered as the old cultural centre of the Emirate.

According to the 2003 Convention, Intangible heritage is defined as “practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills- as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith- that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.” The UAE is ripe with such heritage. The seven Emirates are more than the Burj Dubai and Yas Marina. They are a vibrant and diverse federation of seven autonomous states which share an ancient heritage. Emirate’s cultural life is rooted in a long tradition of literary work, horseback riding, falconry, traditional artwork and the cultural exchange brought about by trade routes. The large collaboration of museums provide visitors with a glimpse of the emirate’s cultural life, history and heritage. Today, culture and arts are witnessing a revival in the emirate with many clubs and funds dedicated to their advancement.

According to Emirates News Agency, The UAE has offered $2million to UNESCO and African countries to safeguard the heritage projects. This was announced at the ceremony held by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage at Emirates Palace on 3rd October 2009 marking the conclusion of the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Committee on Safeguarding the Intangible Cultural Heritage at UNESCO, in presence of Director-General of UNESCO Koichiro Matsuura.

Photo credits: Megna Kalvani


kathy said...

hi! thanks for your blog...i'm finding it tremendously helpful (and interesting!!) as i plan my move out there.

Megna said...

Hey No problem, Glad to be of assistance :)
I hope you like it here. Good Luck.

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