The Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation has launched two publications that celebrate the works of artists who have contributed to the local arts scene.
The two books, Portrait of a Nation II and Art of the Emirates II, build upon their predecessors in mapping the growth of the UAE arts scene over the past 50 years, while commemorating the country’s Golden Jubilee.
“With the launch of these two extraordinary publications, we make a daring attempt to capture the essence of the country’s creative energy as it unfolded over the past half century, contributing to the nation’s rapid development in the cultural and creative industries,” said Huda Ibrahim Al Khamis, founder of Admaf and artistic director of the Abu Dhabi Festival.
“Celebrating the launch of the second editions of Art of the Emirates and Portrait of a Nation during the milestone of the UAE’s Golden Jubilee is befitting and reveals what is yet to come as our beloved nation continues to rise, propelling its art and cultural sectors into the global arena,” she said.
Portrait of a Nation II
Portrait of a Nation II comes as a companion publication to an exhibition at Manarat Al Saadiyat, running as part of Abu Dhabi Festival until April 16.
It documents more than 100 artworks, including 17 commission by more than 60 national and resident artists. The works include paintings, photographs, installation and audiovisual creations.
The book showcases the artworks with descriptive notes by curators and writers, as well as the artists themselves. It also provides biographies and information about the country’s leading visual artists, along with articles by the exhibition's curators, Maya El Khalil and Roxane Zand, on the development of the arts scene in the UAE.
“Early on, I discovered it was very difficult to tell [that] story from a beginning,” El Khalil said during the book launch event on Tuesday. “It was not really a beginning but things that were happening concurrently. At one point, I felt everything was overlapping. The contributions that were happening early on, are still happening. The mentorships that were happening, are still happening. Some of the ideas that were being discussed and challenged, a number of them are still being discussed and challenged today. And an older generation is still operating today, influencing a younger one.”
Yet there was an obvious chronology to landmark artistic moments that couldn’t be ignored. When thinking about how to organise the exhibition and its companion publication, the curators decide that it should primarily be presented according to thematics that eventually bare a chronology that reveals turning points in the UAE arts scene.
El Khalil said she made sure to include work from both local and resident artists, saying their contributions were fused together.
“I also started looking at the contributions of resident artists and practitioners — looking at poets, writers and art critics — that were not Emirati by passport but chose the Emirates as their home,” El Khalil said. “Then I also started looking at the development of the scene within the probably more well-known contributions from Emirati artists.”
Art of the Emirates II
While finding or accessing sources on the earlier years of the UAE’s art scene may have been difficult for El Khalil, arts writer Melissa Gronlund, editor of Art of the Emirates II, said her challenge was in finding a holistic way to map developments of the past six years.
“My problem was the surfeit of information,” she said at the book launch event. “There are so many things happening now. There are so many attempts to take stock of the scene. I had a similar problem of mapping, but not a problem in finding information.”
The first volume of Art of the Emirates was one of the foremost publications to present an expansive view of the local arts scene, presenting the country’s contemporary artists as well as its galleries and foundations in one compendium.
Art of the Emirates II continues where its predecessor left off, detailing the growth of the country’s art scene from 2016 onwards.
Available at booksarabia.com, the book features interviews, round-table discussions and essays by the people who have built the UAE’s visual art scene, from the director of Louvre Abu Dhabi to some of the country’s best-known living artists.