Italy experiences a taste of UAE’s rich heritage - GulfToday

Italy experiences a taste of UAE’s rich heritage


An Italian man tries a traditional Emirati attire at Turin International Book Fair.

Sohaila Ahmed, Staff Reporter

The unique sounds and scent of a massive Sharjah pavilion in the heart of Turin International Book Fair (TIBF) 2019 has continued to attract huge Italian crowds, who are pouring in to have their first taste of Emirati culture and hospitality.

As part of their efforts to share Sharjah’s and UAE’s authentic heritage with people around the world, an ensemble of cultural entities from Sharjah, including Sharjah Institute for Heritage, Sharjah Department of Culture, Dr Sultan Al-Qasimi Centre, and others, are presenting a vibrant selection of customary practices that define the nation.

Enticed by the sweet aromas released by Oudh-infused bakhour burners, visitors, curious to know about all the interesting things on display, have been trickling in like a steady stream to sip on their first cup of gahwa (Arabic coffee) and sink their teeth into freshly-made (fried saffron and cardamom cakes drizzled with honey), or the delicate bethith (date and pistachio truffles).   

One bumps into young girls and women walking around with their palms intricately decorated with henna art, or people excitedly waiting in long queues, to have a chance to see how their names are interpreted by the beautiful letters of traditional Arabic calligraphy.

“I am here to have my name written in Arabic calligraphy letters because the style seems very delicate and romantic to me,” said a young visitor who queued up to take home her special souvenir created by Emirati calligrapher Khalid Al Jallaf.

Jallaf is communicating Sharjah’s cultural message to the Italian and European communities through the execution of traditional forms of Thuluth, Diwani and Naskh – all showcasing the beauty of Arabic letter designing and calligraphy’s ink-on-paper handwriting techniques. The artists is also offering visitors detailed presentations on the history of the different scripts of Arabic calligraphy, their unique characteristics, and artistic schools they emerged in.

The fun continues with photo opportunities of people wearing Emirati costumes, folk attire and jewellery. Visitors are engaging with Emirati craftswomen from the Sharjah Institute for Heritage who are offering farrokhah-making (a straight plait of thread fixed to a kandora as a symbol of respect) and traditional doll-making lessons using scraps of fabric, cotton ropes and other recyclable materials.

An exhibition titled, ‘The Evolution of the Image of the Gulf in Historic cartography’ has been curated by the Dr Sultan Al-Qasimi Centre at the Sharjah pavilion. This has enabled students and researchers visiting the pavilion to view a selection of cartographic maps that document the evolution of human knowledge about the Gulf, starting with the Renaissance period and all the way to the early 20th century. Works include Map of the Ottoman Empire by Frederik de Wit (Amsterdam, c. 1680); Nautical Chart from the French Nautical Atlas, Neptune Oriental (1775); Map of Asia by Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville (1752), which is considered by many as the first truly scientific map of the region, and several others.

All these activities are a continuation of Sharjah’s efforts to promote Arab culture around the world by highlighting its beauty through literature, music and art. The emirate is guest of honour at TIBF 2019.

Supervised by Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), the emirate’s pavilion is hosting a series of activities through the duration of TIBF 2019, which runs until May 13. The programme includes seminars, workshops and cultural shows including traditional Emirati dances and songs during the 5-day event. In the days that follow, 57 Emirati book titles translated into Italian for the first time will be launched – one of the main highlights of Sharjah’s participation, the aim of which is to introduce Italians to the culture of the UAE and larger Arab region.

Local entities from Sharjah participating are: Emirates Writers Union, Sharjah World Book Capital Office, Sharjah Broadcasting Authority, Emirates Publishers Association, Sharjah Publishing City, Sharjah Department of Culture, Sharjah Heritage Institute, The UAE Board on Books for Young People (UAEBBY), Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council (Irthi), Al Qasimi Publications, Kalimat Group, Knowledge without Borders (KwB), and its literary initiative - ‘1001 Titles’.

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