Emirati art gains permanent home at Venice Biennale

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has signed a 20-year agreement with Venice Biennale allowing the UAE to move to a designated building in the Arsenale.

The Arsenale, Esterni Sale d´Armi in Venice, which will hold the UAE's new pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia
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The UAE has become the first Arabian Gulf nation to secure a permanent pavilion at the Venice Biennale for art and architecture.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has signed a 20-year agreement with the Biennale allowing the UAE to move from the temporary space it has occupied since 2009 to a designated building in the old Venetian shipyards or the Arsenale.

Only 32 countries exhibit in the Biennale's permanent pavilions in the historic buildings of the Giardini di Castello, an area of parkland created by Napoleon Bonaparte.

In 2011, the Biennale announced a €20 million (Dh94.4m) restoration of the Arsenale's central body, the Sale d'Armi complex.

As it nears completion, the UAE will be one of a handful of countries to secure a permanent spot.

"By securing a permanent pavilion for the UAE in Venice, we hope to ensure that the focus of the nation's international artistic programming remains centred on promoting and empowering our local Emirati talent at the highest level possible, through our ongoing participation in the offerings of La Biennale de Venezia," said Dr Lamees Hamdan, the commissioner of the National Pavilion.

The international art exhibition, which began in 1895, is one of the biggest in the world and draws visitors from every major art institution, as well as many collectors and artists.

In recent years, the exhibition site has expanded to include installations throughout the ancient structures of Venice, such as the palaces along the Grand Canal and the dockside salt depots.

It is held between June and November on every odd-numbered year. Since 1980, the city has hosted an architecture exhibition in the even years.

Dr Hamdan said one of the main objectives of the UAE pavilion would be to communicate the depth of the country's contemporary art and "support the nation's diverse and developing art scene".

The Biennale opens on June 1, when the UAE pavilion will present Walking on Water, a solo show by the Emirati artist, Mohammed Kazem.

It will be curated by Reem Fadda, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi's associate curator for Middle East art.

The pavilion has appointed the Emirati Fikra Design Studio to produce the design elements of the exhibition, which will run until November 24.