National Pavilion UAE has announced Faysal Tabbarah as its new curator for the International Architecture Exhibition at Venice Biennale 2023.
He was chosen from a range of designers, architects and thinkers who submitted proposals addressing the biennale’s theme The Laboratory of the Future.
Tabbarah, associate dean and associate professor of architecture at the American University of Sharjah, collaborated with the Kuwait Pavilion’s curators last year.
His research proposal for Venice’s 18th International Architecture Exhibition explores the relationship between architecture and arid landscapes in the UAE, reimagining these dry regions as spaces of abundance and productivity.
In an interview with The National, Tabbarah says the project proposes that there is a deep reservoir of land-based knowledge that exists in arid and semi-arid landscapes, which challenges their representation as spaces of extreme scarcity.
“These landscapes are in fact already abundant," he says. "As such, one of the primary aims of the project is to highlight this abundance of knowledge and find opportunities to integrate it with contemporary advances in technology, and by doing so, amplify the relevance of these practices at a time of increasing climate change.”
Curated by Lesley Lokko, a Ghanaian-Scottish architect, academic and writer, the upcoming biennale invites architects and practitioners to imagine what the future might hold. Venice 2023 will mark the UAE’s 12th exhibition at the event since 2009, and its fifth participation in the International Architecture Exhibition.
Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, says the country remains committed to supporting the UAE National Pavilion at Venice. She says: “Tabbarah’s project will certainly contribute to the development of a thriving architecture scene in the UAE. At the ministry, we believe in empowering our creatives for them to contribute to the country’s holistic and sustainable development."
Meanwhile, Angela Migally, executive director at the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, says: "Over the years, the National Pavilion UAE has been delivering substantial work in its mission of showcasing the best of the UAE’s art and architecture practices through sharing curated stories at one of the most important global stages in the world, La Biennale di Venezia.
"The pavilion has been a platform for thought-provoking research and exhibitions, and we look forward to exploring the outcome of Tabbarah’s project, that addresses timely real-life challenges we see echoed around the world today, which are further exacerbated by the effects of climate change.”
Tabbarah says his approach represents an emerging attitude within architectural discourse in the Global South, which presents “architectural provocations and solutions”, bridging historical land-based knowledge and contemporary technology as a way to produce built environments that are rooted in their cultural and environmental contexts.
He also draws on his work at the American University of Sharjah. “I continuously work with the students to move across computational tools, emergent technologies, materials research, and historical archives," he says. "These methodologies will inform my approach for the National Pavilion.”
Laila Binbrek, coordinating director of National Pavilion UAE, says Tabbarah brings a unique perspective to the discourse around architecture and its responsibility towards the environments we live in.
She says: “We believe that research into our landscapes, understanding them, questioning them, will help us build better futures, not just for ourselves, but hopefully this line of investigation will open up dialogue with other communities around the world facing similar conditions and together we can find solutions to make better futures.”
Last year, the UAE won the Golden Lion for best National Participation for its exhibition Wetland. Commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Youth, the National Pavilion UAE has a permanent pavilion at La Biennale Di Venezia’s Arsenale — Sale d’Armi.
The country’s current exhibition at Venice’s Biennale Arte 2022 is Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset, curated by Maya Allison. It features a sculptural form made of 128 abstract and organic elements by Emirati artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim. It will remain on display until November 27.
Binbrek says the UAE is a country that “thrives on experimentation, exploration and innovation”. She says: “Winning the Golden Lion last year was a huge honour and privilege for us and the curatorial team, and I believe a testament to the processes we have in place that enable our selected curators achieve their best.”
The National Pavilion, she says, is an important platform for sharing the UAE’s story not just with the world, but also within the UAE itself. “We are still a young, rapidly developing nation and it’s important that we start to document some of this change,” she tells The National.
“Over the years, we have been able to support and publish first-hand research on a variety of stories that have added to the dialogue locally and internationally. Each year we push our curatorial teams a bit further to ask deeper questions, or more ‘what if’s’ to take a page from Lesley's book.”
She asks: “Is the UAE positioned to go beyond and amplify other regional stories? Maybe? For now, I believe we have so many stories within the UAE to explore and that will keep us occupied for some time.”
The National Pavilion UAE will present its exhibition for the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, from May 20 to November 26 next year. More information on the participation of the UAE at La Biennale di Venezia is available at nationalpavilionuae.org
Scroll through images of the UAE's Pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 below