“Wealth is not money or oil; wealth lies in people and it is worthless if not dedicated to serve the people.” These words by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, have been transformed into a monumental golden sculpture by Emirati artist Mattar bin Lahej.
It is one of three works – part of the series Power of Words – which is live at Abu Dhabi’s Qasr Al Watan, a cultural landmark located in the presidential palace compound of the capital.
The two other sculptures are made of silver and located in the palace’s garden. These are also based on Sheikh Zayed's quotes, which speak of his appreciation for education.
One is: “Science and history walk side by side. By using science, man can record his history and preserve it for generations to come, so others may learn from it and come to know what their ancestors achieved.”
The other is: “The education of our people is a great wealth. We are proud of our educated nation because through knowledge and science we will open the horizon to a glorious future.”
The artist's spherical creations at Qasr Al Watan, which were first unveiled in 2019, are made of intricately connected Arabic scripts and are not only meant to be looked at – he has designed them so that visitors can enter and also experience the work from the inside.
When Bin Lahej was approached to create the work, he says he saw the chance to fulfil a long-term ambition. “I seized this opportunity with pride because I’ve always wished to create a piece from Sheikh Zayed’s expressions and proverbs,” he explained.
The larger gold sculpture, installed inside the palace, is surrounded by ornate halls with a crystal chandelier hanging above it. The piece weighs six tonnes, while the two sculptures in the garden weigh four tonnes each.
The presidential palace opened its doors to the public in 2019 and has since become a popular tourist attraction. It includes a library with books and resources on the UAE’s culture, society and politics, and also displays artefacts.
On weekends, the palace stages a sound and light show titled Palace in Motion, which traces the history of the UAE.
The cultural landmark was closed in March 2020, when attractions across the country were shut to protect the public during the early months of the pandemic. It reopened in October to public tours with strict measures in place to limit the spread of Covid-19.