The UAE Art Archive is first online facility dedicated to preserving the country’s visual arts history

It will be launched as part of the annual Abu Dhabi Festival, but work has been going on behind the scenes for the past two years under the watchful eye of its founder, Nasser Abdullah, the chairman of the Emirates Fine Arts Society.

Emirates Fine Arts Society's exhibition held in 1981. Courtesy Emirates Fine Arts Society
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Have you ever wondered what to do with all the catalogues and pamphlets you accumulate after visiting art exhibitions? Do they end up in piles, collecting dust, or do you file them away for your own research and reference?

Now there is a new home for them: the UAE Art Archive – the first online facility dedicated to preserving and documenting the UAE’s visual arts history.

It will be launched officially on Sunday, April 10, as part of the annual Abu Dhabi Festival, but work has been going on behind the scenes for the past two years under the watchful eye of its founder, Nasser Abdullah, the chairman of the Emirates Fine Arts Society.

“The society is the oldest in the UAE dealing specifically with art and there is great strength in that,” he says.

“I have been thinking for some time about the best way to show the value of the society, and documenting everything we have done since 1980 is a very important step. We want to show our deep and fertile history.”

Abdullah has been the society’s chairman for two years, and was recently re-­elected to the post for two more.

Along with a relaunch of the society’s magazine, the art archive has been his main focus.

“It began as an idea and then I went about finding support,” he says.

A collaboration with Abu ­Dhabi Music and Art Foundation means that not only did he secure funding, he also found an elevated platform from which to launch the project.

“Over the past 20 years, through our many platforms and programmes, we have invested in artistic expression in all its forms while embedding culture at the heart of the nation,” says Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo, founder and director of Admaf.

“The UAE Art Archive is a definitive, comprehensive and official historical resource for the country’s visual-arts sector, and is part of our efforts to continue to deepen our involvement with creative practitioners both here and across the Arab world.”

The process of digitisation began in January. A third-party company has been hired to take on the exhaustive task of scanning and recording more than 10,000 documents, including photographs, catalogues, essays, exhibition invitations and newspaper articles in Arabic and English.

When the website goes live next week, only a fraction of the full archive will be available, but it will be constantly updated with not only historical material, but also information about current activities.

“The important thing about this archive is that it is a continually evolving entity, just like the art scene itself,” says Abdullah. “We want to provide a resource that will be useful for students and researchers, now and for many generations to come.”

The archive will be open to anyone for free after registering. The material will be ordered chronologically and fully searchable.

When you log on, you will be asked why you are using the archive and what for, as a way of gathering information about its use and ­to help understand the audience.

There will also be an opportunities to borrow hard copies of documents, if you apply to the society and agree to protect the original copyright.

“This project will benefit the entire nation,” says Abdullah. “It is a new achievement for the UAE art field, and it not only documents our history, but also give support and encouragement to ­artists.”

One of the key benefits in the long term, he says, is how it will affect future generations.

“It will give the opportunity for young artists to be educated about all the work of those who came before them, and help them to continue to forge the same paths,” he says.

“I also think that once this archive is fully functional, it will be very clear that the UAE has a rich history that goes way beyond what people see today.

“The international status we have today, with art fairs and biennales that people come from all over the world to see, is all thanks to the foundations put in place by the Emirates Fine Arts Society and the artists involved with it.

“This archive is a way of documenting their efforts and keeping them safe for the future.”

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