Sharjah museums chief Manal Ataya awarded Germany's Order of Merit

Director general of Sharjah Museum Authority honoured for her work strengthening cultural links between UAE and Germany

Manal Ataya, director general of Sharjah Museums Authority, receives the Order of Merit from Ernst Peter Fischer, German ambassador to the UAE, at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation. Photo; Sharjah Museums Authority
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Sharjah's long-serving museums chief has won a prestigious international honour for her sterling contribution to boosting cultural ties between the UAE and Germany.

Manal Ataya, director general of Sharjah Museums Authority (SMA), received Germany's Order of Merit for her dedication to promoting cultural exchange across continents at a ceremony on Wednesday.

Ernst Peter Fischer, German ambassador to the UAE, presented the accolade to Ms Ataya at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation on behalf of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, President of Germany.

Ms Ataya has worked tirelessly to develop partnerships with Germany since the signing of an agreement between SMA and Berlin State Museums (BSM) in 2013.

“I am extremely honoured to be awarded with the Order of Merit of Germany, which I dedicate to all my fellow colleagues here and in Germany for their support and hard work that made this partnership so pioneering and successful,” said Ms Ataya, who joined SMA as its founding deputy in 2006 before being promoted to her current role two years later.

“I wish to thank His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in both the UAE and Germany and Ambassador Fischer for all their continued support.

“It gives me immense satisfaction that we have fulfilled the long-term goals of research, conservation, new exhibition curation and academic learning that we had set out to achieve 10 years ago.

“Being awarded with this prestigious accolade is a truly wonderful way to show appreciation and motivate all of us who worked together as a strong team to elevate and expand Emirati-German dialogue and cultural exchange.”

A flourishing friendship has resulted in the staging of three major exhibitions, titled The Radiance of Islam, Early Capitals of Islamic Culture, and Crossroads, which displayed artefacts curated by SMA in collaboration with BSM and received record visitor numbers.

Another key partnership has been the Sawa (Arabic for together) Museums Studies joint programme, launched in 2015 with BSM, Goethe-Institut Gulf Region and the University of Applied Sciences (HTW Berlin) for students of museums studies and young museum professionals.

The scheme, funded by SMA and Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, offers participants an opportunity to learn together about diverse museology disciplines through theoretical and practical seminars at renowned museums in Berlin and Sharjah.

SMA won "Best Cultural Collaboration" in the International Leading Cultural Destinations Award 2020 and the Humanities Award for "Promoting the Role and Value of the Humanities in Research, Education and Society" from the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin, for the innovative initiative.

“Manal has built lasting cultural bridges between the UAE and Germany," said Mr Fischer.

"She has been leading a deep and meaningful co-operation between our museums and – more importantly – the people that make them and has also touched the hearts and widened the knowledge of many young museum professionals in both countries.”

Embarking on a journey of discovery

Ms Ataya's road to success has been paved with passion.

A lover of art and history since she was a child, she says her fascination burns as bright as ever.

"It is fascinating how art develops, the different way art reflects society, aspirations and history. It is amazing," she said.

"Museums ignite your curiosity and that has never left me."

Born in the Emirates, she graduated from Harvard University with a degree in museum studies and returned home to find her way.

She said she faced some scepticism over how she would use her education to forge a career but found herself in the right place at the right time.

She learnt the Sharjah Ruler was seeking to give a greater structure and organisation to the emirate's museum offerings and successfully applied to be the authority's first deputy director.

Two years later, she rose to the position of director general and has overseen the opening of seven museums as Sharjah has become a cultural centre in the UAE.

Its top attractions include Sharjah Aquarium, Sharjah Maritime Museum, Hisn Khor Fakkan and the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, which will open the Wonder and Inspiration Venice and the Arts of Islam exhibition to the public on Thursday.

She praises Sheikh Dr Sultan as a driving force behind the emirate's cultural rise.

Under Sheikh Dr Sultan's rule, Unesco declared Sharjah “cultural capital of the Arab world” in 1998. The UN body made it the "world book capital” in 2019. It was also named Islamic culture capital in 2014 and capital of Arab tourism in 2019.

He has also led the development of Sharjah’s east coast areas of Khor Fakkan and Kalba.

While there has much success on which to reflect, the Sharjah Ruler and Ms Ataya refuse to stand still as they look to a future filled with optimism and progress for the emirate.

Updated: February 17, 2022, 3:00 AM