By Colin Simpson

DUBAI // Picture the UAE as a canvas, where life is art and not just an imitation of it.

The Ara Gallery
The Ara Gallery

That is what seven emerging Emirati artists have done, exploring the concept of their country as a work of art in an exhibition that opens next week in one of the emirate’s newest galleries.

UAE; a Work of Art is being staged at the Ara Gallery in Downtown Dubai in association with the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which will provide speakers for weekly talks on Emirati life and heritage.

“I wanted to create something that was not the usual kind of cultural exhibition. I wanted something deeper,” said the Ara founder Moza Mohamed al Abbar. “This title reflects that the UAE was created with so much effort and in turn it has grown to become a work of art.

“That links to the pieces we will be having in the exhibition in terms of it being basically an interpretation of what Emirati artists feel about the UAE.

“The UAE is a work of art in terms of infrastructure, in terms of the vision behind it. I think it’s an artistic vision. Everywhere you look you see something new happening, something beautiful, something very pleasing to the eye – like this area where the gallery is.”

Ms al Abbar said some of the artists had submitted existing works while others had created new pieces for the show.

“We have one artist, Mohammed Ahli, who has produced landscapes of special out-of-town places in the UAE like Hatta,” she said.

“Then we have artists who are going more into calligraphy and some who are going more into patterns, so basically it’s a very holistic exhibition and there’s not one specific style.

“It’s each artist’s interpretation of how they want to represent what they see as culture in the UAE.”

Aljoud Lootah, who works for Dubai Government and has her own fashion line called Niftee, has submitted three pieces featuring patterns inspired by traditional Emirati jewellery.

“I’ve created Arabesque patterns using elements from gold necklaces that are screen printed on teak,” Ms Lootah said. “I was trying to celebrate the beauty of the traditional culture in a modern way. The patterns have a modern twist to them, they’re not totally traditional.

“These gold jewellery pieces are only used when a bride gets married. They are very big and very heavy. I used elements from them like coins, chains and things like that, and created a new modern pattern with these elements.”

Ms Lootah is looking forward to seeing her works on display alongside those of the other artists.

“The show really puts across the diversity of the UAE, there are seven artists using different mediums,” she said. “And the location of the gallery is excellent.”

The Ara – the Arabic name means to decorate or add beauty – has the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountain as a backdrop. It opened in April to give a platform to emerging Arab talent.

Ms al Abbar revealed the gallery planned eventually to act as an agent overseas for particularly promising artists.

“We want to promote Emirati art abroad. That’s something we have in our long-term vision,” she said. “Maybe in a year, two years, we’ll begin representing artists professionally and getting them out there even more.”

Emirati Enlightenment, the talks by speakers from the Sheikh Mohammed Centre, will take place every Thursday at 11am.

They are aimed at tourists and expatriates, and will promote understanding and awareness of UAE traditions and culture. They will also describe how Emiratis lived in the past and their modern-day lifestyle.

“They will basically be enlightenment sessions where visitors to the gallery will not only see the artwork but also be able to speak about our culture,” added Ms al Abbar.

“They’ll discuss the little things that everyone wants to know more about, for example the way we dress as Emirati women and men, the food we eat, the way we eat it – all these little details that are very interesting that we maybe take for granted.”

The other artists taking part in the show are Ammar al Attar, Hamdan Buti al Shamisi, Nawal Khoory, Wafa al Qusaimi and Zeinab al Hashemi.

UAE; A Work of Art opens next Tuesday and continues until August 30. The Emirati Enlightenment sessions run from June 16 until July 28.