It may have spent several months of the year with its doors firmly shut, but the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation did not sit idle.
The foundation, which reopened to visitors in June after a three-month closure due to the pandemic, has now launched three new exhibitions, including a solo showcase of works by Emirati artist Abdulrahim Salim.
"We are very excited about bringing visitors back into our building," Reem Fadda, director of the Cultural Foundation, tells The National. "Our exhibition areas can easily receive visitors while abiding by strict regulations and safety guidelines."
When the pandemic hit, the Cultural Foundation, like many institutions around the world, moved some of its activities, including exhibitions, online.
On its website, there are three virtual tours of previous exhibitions, including The Red Palace.
"That's still something we want to continue doing and we felt the current situation was an opening to reach out into the digital realm and to offer to the widest audience possible our activities and our programmes," Fadda says.
This shift towards online has also allowed the Cultural Foundation to gain new fans.
For instance, its library has now been fully transformed into a digital entity, allowing anyone around the world to become a member, with access to e-books, digital resources and more.
The foundation has also seen its audience grow by introducing online performances, such as this month's free streamed concert by Moroccan-Canadian singer Faouzia.
"The capacity of our theatres is up to 800 or 900 people; we've started to see thousands of followers regionally and even internationally coming to see our events once we debut them online and that's been really fantastic," Fadda adds.
While she agrees nothing compares to being in the physical space of an exhibition or a performance, the director believes this newfound accessibility has presented an opportunity to stay connected.
"There are only so many exhibitions in the world that you can go to, right? If I have access to museum tours online, I wouldn't feel so disconnected and I don't have to actually get on a plane to see all the shows," Fadda says.
"We have to remember that exhibitions are a means for knowledge-making; a means for diversifying that knowledge and sharing it with a wide audience," she adds. "Of course, physically being with an artwork is incomparable, but sometimes a virtual tour can give you access to knowledge and that is really essential. We've started to learn to tap into that."
The Cultural Foundation now hopes to encourage visitors back to its premises, while striking a balance between its physical and digital offerings.
Its visual arts programme features established and emerging artists from more than 10 countries. Its main exhibition, titled Abdulrahim Salim: Between Chaos and Serenity, is a study of the Emirati artist's works. The exhibition explores Salim’s investigation of dualistic subjects and their inner conflict or struggle, with works oscillating between the figurative and the abstract. Curated by Aysha Al Hemeiri, the exhibition is divided into six themed chapters that include works from as far back as the 1980s, both paintings and prints of collages.
A second related exhibition, titled Maheerah, celebrates Salim's titular muse through the works of 35 multimedia and figurative artists from the UAE, Middle East and beyond.
The third and final exhibition, Wonder Writers, comprises a collection of short stories by students from Aldar Academies schools in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Chosen through a writing competition, the students' stories can be read by scanning a bar code on each of the books placed on display.
"To come here provides a space for contemplation, for imagination, a diversified cultural offering for residents of Abu Dhabi who are not travelling," says Fadda. "That is something that we feel becomes our responsibility, to give back to our audience."
The Cultural Foundation is open Saturdays to Thursdays from 10am to 7pm and on Fridays from 2pm to 7pm. All three exhibitions are on show until February 2021