Arabian Days festival puts Arabic language and artists in Abu Dhabi spotlight

New event being billed as a key date in capital's annual cultural calendar

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Colourful, almost quirky, depictions of the life of pre-Islamic Arab knight and poet Antarah Ibn Shaddad line the exhibition walls of Manarat Al Saadiyat's main gallery.

The paintings, by Iraqi abstract artist Mahmoud Shubbar, pay homage to the historic figure, whose work has had a major impact on Arabic literature through the years.

The exhibition is part of the Arabian Days festival, which began on Friday and is now being billed as a key event in Abu Dhabi's annual cultural calendar.

The event, organised by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, celebrates the Arabic language and promotes its preservation and cross-cultural understanding. It will aptly conclude on World Arabic Language Day on Monday.

Aside from the selection of paintings by Shubbar, the festival has a daily programme of musical performances, film screenings and literary talks. On opening night, Lebanese singer and musicologist Abeer Nehme performed a set on folk music, Islamic devotional songs and age-old lullabies.

Other regional musicians have also taken to the stage, including oud player and singer Anwar Abu Dragh and Palestinian singer Noel Kharman, who made a debut Abu Dhabi performance at the festival. Lebanese singer Marwan Khoury will close the festival at 9.30pm on Monday.

Also displayed are works shortlisted by this year’s Kanz Al Jeel Award, a competition by the language centre that recognises visual art works inspired by Arabic literature.

There have also been screenings of Arabic-language films, hosted by Cinema Akil at a pop-up on site. Festivalgoers can catch a screening of In Fields of Words – Conversations with Samar Yazbek on Sunday, and Algerian period drama The Last Queen on Monday, both at 6pm.

The films are screened with English subtitles, as the festival encourages even those who don't speak Arabic to participate. There are literary workshops for both Arabic and non-Arabic speakers, as well as panel discussions featuring regional poets, artists and writers.

The free festival also features a conference that tackles more pressing issues concerning the language, such as the shifts and challenges in the Arabic curriculum in schools.

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Updated: December 18, 2023, 1:26 PM