First look: Louvre Abu Dhabi's Children's Museum reopens with focus on exploring emotions

The venue's latest exhibition uses artworks, games and immersive experiences to teach children about key feelings

After a year of being shuttered because of the pandemic, Louvre Abu Dhabi's Children's Museum reopens on Friday, with a new interactive exhibition that puts feelings front and centre.

Emotions!: The New Art Adventure focuses on four basic emotions – joy, sadness, fear and anger – and allows children and their parents to explore them through artworks, games, creative activities and immersive experiences. It is suitable for children from ages 4 to 10.

While Louvre Abu Dhabi reopened in June 2020, the children's museum had to remain closed because of the UAE capital's Covid-19 restrictions for children. At the same time, the team had to produce the exhibition and reconfigure a few elements to follow safety guidelines.

“We reviewed the designs to ensure that we have as much of a touchless experience as possible and that we can maintain social distancing,” says Amine Kharchach, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s interpretation and mediation manager, who headed up the creation of Emotions!.

The museum also installed additional sanitisation stations and limited the capacity of visitors to its spaces.

As museum-goers enter the space, they can create personal profiles and receive wristbands to scan at certain game stations throughout the show. Players can earn points with each game.

The first of the exhibition’s three sections lays the foundation for its theme. At the centre of the room is an interactive display with a cascading four-coloured waterfall, with each hue corresponding to each of the four basic emotions.

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We focused on works with facial expressions because this is more accessible to children

A total of 10 artworks from Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection, as well as loans from the Louvre Museum in Paris, Musee d’Orsay and Musee du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, become points of discovery, offering close observation of the art and the emotions conveyed within.

To appeal to children, the artworks' subjects have corresponding cartoon versions that speak to visitors on text displays. The 17th-century painting Boy with a Soap Bubble by Frans Hals the Elder, for example, is used as a model of happiness.

“This artwork shows me when I’m really happy. I’m so pleased my cheeks are all pink,” the character says, pointing out aspects of his painter’s style, too. “Frans has a talent for showing his models in a realistic manner with expressive spontaneous poses.”

A series of observation games on nearby screens, where players must find hidden details in the work and imagine the cause for his joy, encourages children to pay closer attention to the subject’s expression and mood.

Amine Kharchach of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Children’s Museum. Preview of the revamped space June, 15, 2021.  Victor Besa / The National. 
Reporter: Alexandra Chaves for Arts & Culture

“We always try to create the right level of engagement, so we rely on gamification and observational challenges that will make children look closer at the artworks,” Kharchach says.

The rest of the works span various periods and geographies, including a wooden mask from traditional Japanese theatre that represents a tragic prince figure, and a 2,000-year-old miniature terracotta mask with a fear-stricken expression from ancient Greek theatre.

Kharchach explains that he and his team considered both art history and scientific insights to select the works and find ways to utilise them.

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“We looked at the scientific literature on emotions and most experts agree on these four basic emotions that children can feel and experience, sometimes all in one day,” he says.

“Then we worked with art history to see how artists throughout the ages and civilisations worked with emotions and expressed them through their creations.

“We focused on works with facial expressions because this is more accessible to children,” he explains. “But we also added an example of a landscape painting and a sculpture that shows emotion through body gestures.”

Kharchach is referring to a clay sculpture entitled Weeping Woman, which dates back 2,700 years and shows a sorrowful female figure with her arms placed on her head and chest.

The second section of Emotions! moves from observation to creation, with three stations for children to draw, create a collage or a sculpture. For this, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s Children’s Museum worked with local artists to film instructional videos that are played on a loop at each station.

Ali Kashwani's tutorial teaches children how to draw facial expressions, while Shaima Al Amri helps them create a collage with stickers and Maryam Al Atouly shows them how to fashion sculptures from coloured pipe cleaners.

While the first section focuses on visual demonstrations of emotion, a digital DJ or music booth in the second section explores it aurally. By switching from different coloured vinyls, visitors can play sounds that echo feelings of happiness, sadness, fear and anger.

Louvre Abu Dhabi Children’s Museum reopens this week. Preview/tour of the revamped space June, 15, 2021. Jacob Morella, 4, launches his paper boat at the garden area of the exhibition. Victor Besa / The National. 
Reporter: Alexandra Chaves for Arts & Culture.

The final section of Emotions!, decked out as more of a playground, is where feelings can be expressed and released. In one display, The Anger Eater, children are asked to write or draw something that upset them on a piece of paper, then feed it to a giant mask with a gaping mouth.

Housed under the museum's dome, the section also features a colourful Tree of Joy, whose branches can be filled with visitors’ replies to prompts on leaf-shaped notes, as well as an artificial stream for paper boats covered in confessional scribbles.

On one side, individuals can spin a wheel of emotions that details how to deal with certain feelings when they arise. By registering for a wristband at the start of the show, visitors can receive a similar colour wheel of emotion that they can print out and use at home.

Louvre Abu Dhabi Children’s Museum reopens this week. Preview/tour of the revamped space June, 15, 2021. Digital DJ area at the museum. Victor Besa / The National. 
Reporter: Alexandra Chaves for Arts & Culture

Though vaccination rates are on the rise and lockdowns are easing around the world, the pandemic has, undeniably, had a lingering effect on people's mental health. With many children adjusting to hybrid schooling and parents working from home alongside them, issues of emotional well-being have come to the forefront in many households. Kharchach is hoping that Emotions! can serve as a place to start a conversation for families.

“When we’re able to trigger interactions that encourage parents and children to explore together, sometimes this whole experience is important than the content itself,” he says.

Entry to Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Children’s Museum is free for visitors aged 18 and under. Admission tickets for accompanying adults are valid for both the museum’s galleries and exhibitions, as well as the Children’s Museum.

Emotions!: The New Art Adventure opens to the public on Friday, June 18 and runs until May 2023. More information is available at louvreabudhabi.ae