An artist measures his brushstroke at Qasr Al Watan.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Qasr Al Watan, one of the only working palaces of its kind in the world, welcomed a host of UAE-based artists and art students from La PAROLE Art Gallery and New York University Abu Dhabi. The painting session, which took place in March-end, saw the participation of 16 emerging artists. In a bid to preserve and promote culture, art and local talent, artists were — for the first time ever — invited to the Palace of the Nation with their canvas, paint and tools. They created their very own Qasr Al Watan masterpieces, which will later be displayed at the Palace of the Nation. They found their spots inside the Palace’s walls and channeled inspirations from traditional Arabian art and Islamic geometrical patterns, before going on to depict their personal artistic interpretations of the Palace of the Nation, on canvas.
Claude Habib, renowned international artist and founder of La PAROLE Art Gallery, participated in the sessions alongside a group of her art students, who relished the opportunity to create artwork in a uniquely inspirational setting. Qasr Al Watan abounds with architectural marvels, artistic wonders and has a proud historical legacy. A cultural landmark housed within the Presidential Palace compound, it is a working palace which hosts official state visits and summits, including Federal Supreme Council meetings and UAE Cabinet meetings. Visitors gain a deeper understanding of the UAE’s traditions and values, and can explore a well-preserved legacy of knowledge and history besides exploring a vast collection of artifacts and manuscripts that highlight the Arab world’s contributions to various intellectual fields, including science, arts, humanities and literature.
It is home to the Qasr Al Watan Library, where visitors can study a vast collection of books and resources about the UAE and learn about the nation’s progressive journey.
Its architecture and design reflects centuries of Arabian architectural design and tradition in a palace built for the 21st century. Highlights include The Great Hall, located at the heart of Qasr Al Watan, which measures 100 metres by 100 metres. The main dome, one of the largest in the world, measures 37 metres in diameter.
The House of Knowledge is located in the east wing, where visitors can see an impressive collection of artifacts and manuscripts that highlight origins of libraries in the Arab world and their contributions to various intellectual fields including science, arts, humanities and literature. The exhibition shows Arab contributions to human knowledge in the period of enlightenment known as the Arab Golden Age, which paved the way for the later European Renaissance.
Visitors can see a collection of manuscripts from across the Arab world spanning several centuries, including The Birmingham Qur’an, The Atlas Manuscript on Astronomy and Explanation of Lamiat Al-Zukak on law and judicial rules. Many of the manuscripts are rare — whether in terms of the subject, form or scarcity of copies.
The Birmingham Qur’an is a replica of one of the earliest surviving records of the Holy Qur’an. It is written in Hijazi, an early form of Arabic script. The original Birmingham manuscript was composed in the Middle East in the earliest years of Islam, and is today found at the University of Birmingham. The Atlas Manuscript on Astronomy contains astronomical tabulations, coloured drawings and maps of the four sides of Earth, as well as maps of ancient continents. The reproduction of the manuscript is thought to date back to the late 13th century AH.
Lamiat Al-Zukak is a rare manuscript, and was composed by Mohammed bin Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Dulaimi Alwerzazi Al-Der’ei, who died in the year 1166 AH.
Displayed here is the first modern map of Arabia from 1561, by the Italian Giacomo Gastaldi. It uses information gathered by Portuguese explorers and is thought to be the earliest map to name Abu Dhabi. One of the masterpieces of the collection is the Historia Naturalis, an encyclopaedia comprising up to 20,000 facts, compiled by Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE). It was the most important source for geographic and scientific knowledge in ancient times.
The Power of Words sculpture is located in the East Wing, facing the House of Knowledge. Designed and crafted by Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej, the sculpture is a quote by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It reads: “Wealth is not money or oil, wealth lies in people and it is worthless if not dedicated to serve the people.”
The Qasr Al Watan Library collection is vast, consisting of circa 50,000 books and a total of nearly 500,000 titles. It houses examples of Travelogues on History, Architecture, Biology and Ethnography and the publications housed here originate from cultural institutions, research centres, ministries and UAE publishers and cover a wide range of fields, including archaeology, history, culture, literature and arts. Also featuring is the Digital Library collection of over 16 million items, which can be accessed online from anywhere in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. La PAROLE was inaugurated in 2009 as a platform for Contemporary Art. It seeks to promote local talent found in the UAE. New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) is a degree granting, portal campus of New York University (NYU), serving as a private liberal arts college.
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