NYU Abu Dhabi launches unique fellowship to help cultivate future curators

The David Webb Museum Fellowship will provide an Arabic-speaking alumni from NYU Abu Dhabi with the chance to curate exhibitions and work with scholars at the university

David Webb Musuem fellow Tala Nassar studied art and art history at NYU Abu Dhabi. NYU Abu Dhabi
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A new fellowship designed to support exciting young curators in the UAE has been launched by the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery in collaboration with David Webb New York, a fine jewellery house.

The David Webb Museum Fellowship is the first to be launched in the country and will provide an Arabic-speaking former student of NYU Abu Dhabi with the chance to curate exhibitions at NYU Abu Dhabi's auxiliary Project Space gallery, while working alongside Maya Allison, executive director of the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, and scholars at the university.

"It is my treasured hope that this new fellowship will aid in giving rise to a generation of scholars and curators who will continue to write the histories of the Arab-language-speaking worlds," Allison says in a statement. "I know from my work on art histories of the UAE that language is a critical skill for the deeper development of art historical and curatorial practice: without it we cannot hope to tell the more nuanced Arab art histories."

The first fellowship, which will be rotated every two years, has been awarded to Tala Nassar, who studied art and art history at NYU Abu Dhabi, graduating this year, and worked alongside Allison on the opening exhibition of the Cultural Foundation at Qasr Al Hosn, which reopened in September.

Nassar, who was born in Amman, also curated the exhibition Al Tariqah at the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute this year and has worked as a research assistant to Salwa Mikdadi, associate professor of the practice of art history at NYU Abu Dhabi. Allison describes Nassar as the "pilot fellow" and explains that the next one will be chosen by a jury after an assessment of applications.

Allison hopes this fellowship will help to fill a "real gap" in the UAE, where there has historically been a shortage of Arabic-speaking curators. "I'm constantly getting people asking if I'll curate this, that or the other because there are so few curators in the UAE who actually understand where we are," she says in an interview with The National. "There are also very few curators who work on the Arab world or who are based in this region."

Curatorial fellowships are more common in the US, where Allison studied, and she believes they provide essential hands-on experience away from the lecture hall. "To curate in a museum is not something you can learn in school," she says. "What you learn in school is the art history and the theory of museology. But ultimately, being a curator is an apprenticeship career and you really have to do it to learn it. We're in a really unique position to be able to offer that training.

“Fellowships are a great chance to learn about the career in the career and it’s going to put Tala in a much better position to apply for a graduate programme with a substantial track record on her CV.”

Allison also paid tribute to David Webb New York and thanked the jewellery house for being "an investor in the cultural economy" of the UAE and forming a "meaningful partnership" with the university.

"Essentially, they have helped plant a seed that will grow," Allison says. "This is a chance for people in the UAE to recognise David Webb, not only as a New York-based jeweller but as an investor in the cultural economy here. It is very different from coming and doing a bunch of advertisements." 

Co-owner of David Webb New York, Mark Emanuel, says: "Among the primary influences in David Webb's life were artefacts of the ancient world, which he discovered on his weekly trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. We see the fostering of museum curatorial practice in the region as a continuation of that creative legacy.

“The relationships we have forged in the UAE and the GCC are immensely important to us. We are delighted and grateful to have the opportunity to support young talent in the region through this partnership with the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery.”