Artist Christo on his special relationship with the UAE

Christo and his wife, artist Jeanne-Claude, first came to the UAE in 1979, and after her death, he continued to visit and teamed up with the Abu Dhabi Music and Art Foundation to launch an award for young talent.

The artist Christo first visited the UAE in 1979. dpa / Corbis
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On the eve of the official unveiling of and award ceremony for the winner of The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award, Bulgaria-­born artist Christo says that its very existence is all thanks to his unique relationship with the Emirates.

“This award is directly related to the UAE,” he says. “Myself and Jeanne-Claude began visiting here in 1979, and we have a specific relationship with this country that can never be replicated anywhere else.”

The annual award, which was created to nurture artistic talent among the country’s students and recent graduates, and provide an opportunity to build and produce a public piece of art, is in its fourth year.

“Jeanne-Claude always said that it was important to be surrounded by young people because they are the future and they will survive us,” Christo says of his late wife, his partner in life and in art, who died of a brain aneurysm in 2009.

The couple met in Paris in 1958, and became internationally renowned for creating large-scale, public pieces of art in many major cities.

They wrapped the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris in fabric in 1985, followed by Berlin’s Reichstag in 1995.

In 1977, the artists conceived the ongoing Mastaba project in Abu Dhabi’s Western region. The idea, yet to be realised, is to erect a massive sculpture of 410,000 steel barrels amid the sand dunes. Christo confirmed that he made a site visit on April 3 to ­inspect the progress.

After Jeanne-Claude’s death, Christo continued to visit the UAE and teamed up with the Abu Dhabi Music and Art Foundation to launch the award. “It started with a simple idea, and now it has become valuable and exciting,” he says. “To be an artist is not a career choice, it is not a job – it is a way of life, and only an artist can know that. This award can’t produce passion and love, but it can go some way to support it.”

Looking back over the previous editions of the award, Christo says the quality of work has only improved. “I am happy to see so many strong submissions over the years, and especially from female artists,” he says. “There are so many artistic opportunities in the UAE and this is very significant for visual artists.

“The most important thing is that the artists should fight for their freedom to do whatever they want to do.”