Art in the UAE: Sharjah shines light on Arab art - GulfToday

Art in the UAE: Sharjah shines light on Arab art


Art showcased at Sharjah Art Museum. AFP

Gulf Today Report

Sharjah is one of the seven emirates that makes up the United Arab Emirates and has carved out a role for itself as a cultural capital.

The Museum of Sharjah showcases everything from daily life in the Old City of Yemen’s capital Sanaa to a massacre of Palestinian refugees during the Lebanon’s civil war.

Exhibitions are held at more than a dozen museums and festivals that celebrate poetry, calligraphy, theatre and photography.

Strolling through the galleries, Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi, a well-known Emirati academic with more than half a million followers said, "We are providing an artistic service for the Arab world."

sultan-art Curator Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi is pictured during an interview at Sharjah Art Museum. AFP

He founded the Barjeel Art Foundation in 2010 which aims to preserve and exhibit more than 1,000 modern and contemporary pieces by Arab artists.

"Sharjah is not the richest emirate in the Gulf, but it is in terms of being the richest culturally," said the 42-year-old who has taught in universities in the United States and France.

The financial and entertainment hub of Dubai hosts a number of contemporary art galleries, and is next year to host the multi-billion-dollar world exhibition -- Expo 2020 -- with major arts components.

Sharjah is placed on the global art scene has been sealed by the Sharjah Biennial, a large-scale exhibition of contemporary works which it hosts every two years.

"For a desert, Sharjah is an uncommonly fertile location for a biennial. There are countless untapped histories in the land and surrounding waters -- and just as many suppressed ones," ARTnews magazine said.

art-shj An Emirati man, wearing a protective mask due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visits Sharjah Art Museum.

UNESCO named Sharjah the cultural capital of the Arab world in 1998 and last year it was declared the World Book Capital.

Sharjah launched ‘International Literary Agency’, a first in the Gulf, this week. The goal is to promote Emirati and Arab writers.

"It's very easy to continue to support artists from Europe, but it's our artists here that need our support, resources and confidence," said Manal Ataya, director general of the Sharjah Museums Authority.

"There's been an under-representation of Arab artists globally," she told.

Qassemi said the eureka moment that inspired his collection came when he saw crowds flocking to view a Van Gogh at Paris's renowned Musee d'Orsay.

"I told myself one day I will see such a queue of people wanting to view the works of the best Arab artists," he said.

"The Arab world is rich in art... Unfortunately many young Arabs are not aware of it.

"We must fight against Western domination and the orientalist vision of the Arab world. We must know local art and Arab artists before we learn about Picasso and Dali."

shj-art Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi is pictured at Sharjah Art Museum.

Free expression a challenge

Moza Almatrooshi, a young Emirati sculptor, has set up shop in Sharjah where her quaint studio overlooks the museum, flanked by bright low-rise buildings.

Originally from the nearby emirate of Ajman, she splits her time between London and Sharjah, which she describes as "human-size" and the UAE's most habitable city.

With only a few skyscrapers in sight, Sharjah's alleyways and old buildings are an "inspiration", she said.

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