More than 80 UAE artists will take over Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington

The annual US festival, which was launched in 1967 and attracts close to one million visitors, will have the UAE as the country in focus for 2022

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More than 80 artists from the UAE will be flying to the US capital Washington to represent the country at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival next week.

The annual festival, which was launched in 1967 and attracts close to one million visitors each year, will have the UAE as the country in focus for its 2022 iteration.

The UAE was scheduled to be featured last year, however the event was postponed due to Covid-19.

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 is running from June 22 to 27, and again from June 30 to July 4.

Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, says the participation of a group of UAE creatives, including both Emirati and resident artists, at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival 'reflects the rich heritage of our country'. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, met with the creatives who are participating in the festival during an event at Abu Dhabi Youth Hub on Thursday.

“The event represents the UAE as a country that just celebrated its jubilee but is still very much connected to its heritage and identity,” Al Kaabi said.

The role of creatives in such cultural events goes beyond local and regional boundaries, she said, adding that festivalgoers will come to learn about the UAE’s art and heritage, helping upend stereotypes about the region.

“The participation of a group of UAE creatives including both Emirati and resident artists in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival reflects the rich heritage of our country,” she said. “As the country in focus, the UAE will showcase a glimpse of Arab civilisation and its living heritage by exhibiting Emirati and Arab culture and arts."

The festival’s UAE aspect is being held under the banner Living Landscape, Living Memory. It will present a variety of events involving more than 80 craftspeople, creators and musicians from the UAE whose mission is to introduce the legacy of Emirati heritage alongside the country’s contemporary arts and culture.

Sarah Al Hosani, Lest We Forget initiative and founder of Khazaf for Fine Arts participates in the media briefing for Smithsonian Folklife Festival at Abu Dhabi Youth Hub. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

“It was our pleasure to be the sole country this year to be presented,” Shatha AlMullah, acting assistant undersecretary for heritage and arts at the Ministry of Culture and Youth, told The National.

“It has been a discussion with the Smithsonian Institution for more than two years. It’s a great opportunity for us to participate this year with more than 80 artists from the UAE, whether Emirati or residents.”

AlMullah said the festival is also an opportunity to shatter misconceptions about the UAE and the region.

“We want to show that the UAE is not about falcons, camels and deserts,” she said. “It’s more about creativity, culture, the depth of tradition, and most of all, the people.”

Cultural expressions found throughout the UAE will be highlighted in workshops and exhibitions.

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.

“I will be giving ceramic workshops, teaching people how to make Arabic coffee cups,” said Sarah Al Hosani, founder of Khazaf for Fine Arts.

Working with Lest We Forget, a cultural project that preserves the vernacular photography, oral histories and cultural traditions of the UAE, Al Hosani will decorate the coffee cups with motifs inspired by the initiative’s archives.

“The coffee cups and the motifs on them will be inspired by the oral history of the UAE and the photographs of people found by the initiative,” she said.

Asma Baker, an Emirati artist and motivational speaker will be leading an art workshop at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

The cultural ambassadors at the festival also include several people of determination, including Abdulla Lutfi, Asma Baker and Victor Sitali. The three artists, who use mediums ranging from oil paints and felt pens to charcoal, will lead workshops to teach attendees how to make art while giving insights into their unique methodologies.

“My art is concerned with what the heart talks about, like love, family and friendship,” Baker said. “It talks about stuff that’s happening in the UAE.”

Dorian Paul Rogers, founder of the poetry collective Rooftop Rhythms in Abu Dhabi, is also among those flying to Washington to represent the UAE. The poet will also be leading a workshop and performing work that touches upon the festival’s themes of belonging, place and creativity.

Rogers says it was "surreal" being asked to represent the UAE at an event held in his native US and feels like a journey “has come full circle".

Poet Dorian Paul Rogers will be among the 80 UAE artists participating at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

“The UAE was very integral in my growth as a man ... I moved here in 2011,” he said.

“I was very humbled and taken aback by the fact that the leadership was looking for Emirati representation but that since a lot of this population is also coming from many different nationalities and cultures that they wanted to celebrate that and that's important to me, and it means a lot.”

The team of cultural ambassadors also include a group of students and alumni from Zayed University. Marco Sosa, assistant dean for research and outreach at the university’s College of Arts and Creative Enterprises, said the work that will be featured at the festival will include both research and creative projects.

“There’s a group of visual artists who will be painting a mural live throughout the 10 days of the festival. It will be massive,” Sosa, an architect teaching interior design, said.

“My group will be concentrating on looking at modern architectural heritage in the UAE. So what we’ve done is travel to Al Ain and surveyed and 3D-scanned a house. We’re going to reproduce the house one-to-one at the festival site using VR. Hopefully, we’ll be taking people to Al Ain using VR Oculus headsets.”

More information about the festival and the programme can be found at festival.si.edu

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