After a two-year hiatus owing to Covid-19, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival has returned with a celebration of the UAE’s culture and heritage.
The event opened to the public on Thursday at the National Mall in Washington DC, US. It will be running until Monday, then again from June 30 to July 4.
The festival's theme is United Arab Emirates: Living Landscape, Living Memory. The programme will highlight cultural traditions that emerged from Emirati experiences of migration, intercultural exchange and survival in close connection with land, sea and sky. It will also shine a light on the country’s diversity and visions for an inclusive, sustainable future.
More than 80 artists from the UAE have flown to the US capital to represent the country at the festival.
The Ministry of Culture and Youth is leading the participation in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation along with the UAE Embassy in Washington.
“The festival has been celebrating cultures of the world for more than 55 years and it is really an exciting experience for the UAE to be featured in its current edition,” Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, said in her video address during the festival’s opening.
“The festival comes at a very opportune time for the UAE, close on the heels of our nation’s golden jubilee celebrations. The UAE is a nation founded on the principles of equality and peaceful coexistence, we believe in a culture of inclusion and acceptance and most importantly we celebrate diversity as we actively engage with our larger human fraternity.”
Mubarak Al Nakhi, undersecretary of the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, who led the UAE delegation of participating artists to the festival, said while the world recognises the UAE “as a fast-growing, future-focused nation”, not many are familiar with the local heritage.
“The UAE has a lot to offer in terms of traditional arts and crafts, and the way we keep age-old customs alive," he said. "The festival will showcase Emirati customs and traditions, celebrate 50 glorious years of the nation’s formation, and pay tribute to the UAE’s folklore.
“We have a treasure trove of oral traditions and intangible heritage which speak volumes about our rich culture. The festival will introduce all these and more through a well-curated programme featuring more than 80 Emirati artists and offer a window to the core of the Emirati identity.”
Cultural expressions found throughout the UAE will be highlighted at the festival.
Through perfume-making workshops, attendees will learn the importance of aroma in Emirati culture. Master falconers will demonstrate this ancient skill while describing its important historical role and its role in sustainability today. Then there are the plaintive songs of pearl divers, traditional Bedouin cooking and the creative methodologies of contemporary UAE artists, all of which will be featured at the festival.
The festival is accompanied by the exhibition Falcons: The Art of the Hunt at the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art. The exhibition features a selection of paintings and objects from ancient Egypt to China offering a glimpse into the fascinating world of falcons.
It also includes a marketplace, which offers exclusive artisan crafts from the UAE along with other locally sourced products. Food concessions, featuring Emirati traditional flavours and dishes using sustainably produced ingredients, will be available for purchase throughout the festival.