Why UAE creatives are getting a profile boost in Spain: Casa Arabe calls for Arab artists

The cultural institution is working with Sharjah authorities to host exhibitions and events by UAE artists

Based in Madrid, Casa Arabe plays a central role in Spain’s cultural relationship with the Arab world. Courtesy: Case Arabe
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UAE creatives will now have the chance to showcase works in one of Spain’s most prestigious cultural institutions.

As part of a new agreement signed by the Sharjah Book Authority and Casa Arabe – which fosters Spain's cultural relationship with the Arab world – and overseen by Sharjah ruler Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, planning is now under way between both bodies to boost the presence of artists from the UAE across Spain.

While the strategy is in its early stages, Casa Arabe general director Pedro Martinez-Avial told The National the institute would serve as one of the main vehicles promoting artistic exchanges between both the UAE and Spain.

This will span various mediums, ranging from art and performance works to conferences and hosting guest speakers.

“The whole idea of the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) is to increase the presence of UAE artists and people of culture in Spain,” he said.

“I want them to come here to show us how what is happening in your scene. And this will be particularly interesting when it comes to the art coming from the UAE. I know the scene over there is absolutely dynamic and that is not known here.”

Opened in 2006 and headquartered in a stunning 19th century Neo-Mudejar building in the heart of the Spanish capital (there is also another branch in Cordoba), Casa Arabe plays a central role in Spain's cultural relationship with the Arab world.

Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi visits the Madrid cultural centre Casa Arabe. Courtesy Sharjah Media Office

Supported by public bodies such as the regional governments of Madrid and Cordoba, and Spain's Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Casa Arabe's diverse calendar of events range from high profile academic conferences to art exhibitions, theatre performances, concerts, weekly Arabic language classes and film screenings by regional filmmakers. The venue is also home to its an-house restaurant, Shukran, which serves a fusion of Lebanese and Mediterranean cuisine.

The whole point of it all, Martinez-Avial says, is for Casa Arabe to act as the meeting point for people and organisations from Spain who want to know more about the Arab world.

"And that could mean Spanish academics who are doing research or business people who are looking for opportunities in your region. Despite the fact that we are relatively close to some Arab countries, the people in Spain still [don't know] about that part of the world," says Martinez-Alvial.

“The general idea is that it all the same and very traditional and, as you know, that is totally false. I mean, the difference between Morocco and the UAE is bigger than Spain and Sweden and we want people to know that.”

While there is still some work to do to correct certain misconceptions, Martinez-Alvial says Spaniards have a great interest inthe Arab world. For example, he says, in Casa Arabe's 13-year existence it has continued to ramp up its offerings to the point where it now organises 400 annual events.

“And that is because we have a shared and common history. Spain was under Arabic rule for eight centuries and the legacy of that remains very positive,” he says.

“If you ask the people in the street about Arabic countries the image they have is always positive. This is why you will find that Spain is very pro-Palestinian and we as people integrate very well when living in Arab countries.”

While Casa Arabe's initiatives for UAE artists are being developed, Martinez-Avial urges creatives from the Arab world to pay a visit to centre on their travels.

“It will be a very good place for people from the Emirates or anyone from the region to come and make contacts. We will put them in touch with Spanish artists and they can exchange ideas,” he says.

“I want them to know that they are welcome here and we want to know more about your world.”

More information Casa Arabe is available on en.casaarabe.es