A festival to celebrate Islamic art and culture was launched in Abu Dhabi.
The event is an offshoot of the Al Burda awards, which honour contributions to Islamic art and design and have been running for 15 years.
“The goal ... is to look at the future of Islamic art and culture internationally and to have a global conversation on what is the future of Islamic art and what are the priorities of Islamic culture,” said Sheikh Salem Al Qassimi, assistant undersecretary for the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, the festival organisers.
This year, Al Burda has expanded to include a full-day programme of talks and performances at Warehouse421 in Abu Dhabi's Mina Zayed, culminating in an awards ceremony held in conjunction with NYU Abu Dhabi. The festival, yesterday inaugurated by Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, will become a regular event, held in Abu Dhabi every two years, while the awards will continue on an annual basis.
Discussions covered topics such as the development of audiences for Islamic art, the inculcation of skills, and the adaptation of digital technologies for new forms of Islamic expression.
The event set out to dislodge the perception that Islamic art is necessarily rooted in the past; it underlined instead its contemporary relevance and potential in the future.
This relevance was understood artistically and politically. As Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, noted in her opening remarks, culture is a bulwark against all forms of extremism, a message in line with the UAE's wider promotion of tolerance.
Islamic art and design is not a straightforward topic, as the conversations throughout the day revealed.
The day began with a panel discussion by Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, director-general of the Bahrain Authority for Culture; Ines Abdel Dayem, the minister of culture for Egypt; and Zaki Nusseibeh, a UAE minister of state, moderated by The National's Editor-in-Chief, Mina Al-Oraibi.
Ms Al-Oraibi led by asking participants about the definition of Islamic art today.
Ms Abdel Dayem, who is the former head of the Cairo Opera House, made a plea for a greater inclusion of music in the field of Islamic art. Mr Nusseibeh, a towering figure in the UAE cultural scene, argued that Islamic art and design should be defined as art and design from Islamic cultures, in the way that Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and Mozart's Mass in C Minor are not regarded as Christian works of art. "Art," he emphasised, "is global."
Sheikh Salem seemed pleased that the identity and future of Islamic art were being actively debated. "Defining it is always going to be discussed," he said. "There are going to be different opinions. I have a session on Islamic design and I had to ask myself: what is Islamic design? I look forward to what the panellists have to say as well as the audience."
“It’s not a very formal event,” he said. “It’s very interactive and we aimed to bring in the youth – students who study art and who are interested in Islamic art but who don’t understand the origins of it.”
The event also features speakers such as Saudi artist Ahmed Mater, the Kuwaiti musician Dr Ghazi Al Mulaifi, and the Aga Khan Museum director Dr Henry Kim, based in Toronto.
"The future of Islamic art has to be defined internationally," Sheikh Salem said. "It isn't just the Arab world, it isn't just the Islamic world, it's an international art form."