In Venice the UAE is building bridges with the world

The UAE’s pavilion at the event is an investment in both cultural diplomacy and the country’s cultural ecosystem

The UAE was founded in the conviction that we are stronger together than divided. We believe that well-being and prosperity depend on our unity and tolerance. This conviction has guided the 50 years of our national development and it has motivated our participation on the world stage, including our commitment to an active National Pavilion at the Venice Art and Architecture Biennale.

This year, when the UAE celebrates its 50th anniversary, we can confidently affirm that the country’s dynamic growth and stable security are the outcome of a multicultural, inclusive society working together as a vibrant community. We can take pride in our history of peaceful collaboration with other nations, our service to global institutions, the multilateral partnerships we have enabled, and our leadership in addressing regional problems that threaten international security, stability and peace. The UAE is the world’s largest donor of humanitarian and development assistance in proportion to its gross national income. It has initiated and led international medical aid to alleviate the Covid-19 pandemic.

In June this year, the UAE was elected to the UN Security Council for 2022-23. This is symbolic of our steadfast commitment to unity and tolerance. It is also a global recognition of the powerful relevance of our founding conviction. It is essential that nations unite to work together on a collaborative strategy for environmental, social and economic sustainability. The well-being and prosperity of nations depend now, more than ever before, on our collective willingness and joint ability to seek shared solutions to these mutual challenges. Diplomacy – the process that builds and sustains effective relationships – has never been more vital.

The UAE’s conviction in the wisdom of tolerance and unity is demonstrated in its investment in the processes of diplomacy, at home and abroad. Within the UAE, we invest in the infrastructure and activities that bring together people and communities from across the world to connect, explore and collaborate. Through channels such as the Office of Public and Cultural Diplomacy, we stimulate and enable intercultural exchange, learning and relationships on different scales – sometimes individual, sometimes based on common interests, and sometimes at an institutional level. Our confident and inclusive diplomacy embraces human potential, brings people together and results in innovative and lasting impact. The Expo 2020 Dubai is one very good example of all of this.

Our missions abroad are also very important to the diplomatic process. These open windows to the culture and traditions of the UAE and communicate both our heritage and our progressive, cosmopolitan values. They allow us to explain and take pride in our identity and provide our talented community with a showcase for their originality and forward thinking. When we engage with others, we enable mutual understanding and learning. We use dialogue to create the trust that builds and sustains long-term international partnerships. The National Pavilion UAE at the Venice Biennale is a very good example of this.

This year we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the pavilion at one of the world’s most significant international festivals of art and architecture. In the context of the pandemic, the event itself was not inevitable. The opening in May is testament to the conviction of the 90-plus participating nations and the importance of their international exchange and co-operation. Italy deserves much credit for its commitment to hosting people from all over the world, in the belief that their exchange is important, and their artistic expressions and architectural thinking are worthwhile to talk about. The UAE is grateful to be able to participate in international dialogue and engage with the biennale’s question: “How do we live together?” This question has never been more important to ask, and provokes debates about sustainability, urban development and climate change.

The pavilion presents the UAE to the world, telling the stories of our history, representing current issues and envisioning our future aspirations. In the past 10 years, we have raised awareness and interest in the UAE as a vibrant centre of art, architecture and scientific research. The pavilion is an investment in both cultural diplomacy and the UAE’s cultural ecosystem. It represents our significance in hosting world-class exhibitions and our wish to support talented new professionals. It is part of the strategy to ensure that our creative industries continue to connect with local, regional and international communities, and generate economic value.

Our architectural response titled “Wetland” is inspired by the UAE’s sabkhas – salt flats – and has led to scientific and manufacturing innovation. Scientists at the American University of Sharjah, the University of Tokyo and New York University Abu Dhabi have invented environmentally friendly cement made from recycled saltwater – the waste of industrial desalination. Architects Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto have used this to design and build large-scale prototype structures.

The exhibition is complemented by Farah Al Qasimi’s photographic portrayal of the tensions between urbanisation and nature in the UAE’s sabkha. How we live together sustainably means balancing the modern world’s need for an immense amount of construction and manufacturing with the need to preserve our natural environment. The pavilion shows other countries how they, too, might combine local resources with modern technology to find such a solution.

Art and architecture are a powerful vehicle for diplomacy. They engage people in exchanges about culture, invention and values without the barrier of spoken language. They use symbols and artefacts to prompt questions and responses about what is important or new. They depend on collaboration for their technical and methodological innovation, and this often means drawing on the talented and the experts in different parts of the world. Art and architecture speak to the aspects of our humanity that are universal, such as our human emotions and our interaction with the environment around us. This creative production enables us to focus on what we share.

We look forward to welcoming the world to the Expo in October. With its overarching theme of connecting minds and creating the future through sustainability, mobility and opportunity, we aim to continue broadcasting the message of post-Covid-19 hope for humanity so manifest in Venice, to say together that we have the power to build a better world and to shape the future.

Published: August 12th 2021, 4:00 AM
Zaki Nusseibeh

Zaki Nusseibeh

Zaki Nusseibeh is the Cultural Adviser to the President of the UAE