The Founder’s Memorial will open to the public on April 22.
It features an visitors centre and art installation by public artist Ralph Helmick set in a garden of indigenous plants.
At the memorial’s centre is The Constellation, an installation of 1,327 suspended geometric shapes suspended from 1,110 cables that form a three-dimension profile of the late Sheikh Zayed, the country’s Founding Father. At night each shape glows like a star. The artwork has a total of 2,000 lights.
The distinct profile of the late Sheikh, his arched eyebrows and flowing ghutra are apparent at any angle.
The installation has taken six years to create.
Helmick researched Sheikh Zayed extensively before he conceptualised the piece. A challenge was to find an original to portrait the sheikh, whose portrait he found at every restaurant, hotel and corner store.
Asking himself how the sheikh became a great leader, he imagined as boy in the desert of Al Ain the 1920s.
“I ask myself how did he translate into a great leader as a young man in Al Ain, before oil?” said Helmick.
“A constellation is how we humans from all over the world is how we humans translate an abstract bunch of stars into a significant form.”
A second challenge was to create a sculpture large enough for the space without too much mass.
“I thought, ‘how can I make a large artwork that isn’t going to be bombastic, that isn’t going to be a giant piece of propaganda, that would have a large size with very little mass?”
The design took two years. Helmick built a three-metre mock-up at this studio outside Boston.
“I think one danger in making a memorial is to make someone who is larger than life, who does things that we could never do,” he said. “The best memorial would be one that showed how he, as a man, lived his life. Not as a saint. I think it’s a mistake when we exalt someone too much.”
There are 15 Emirati guides providing free half-hour tours that provide a broad overview of the UAE’s pre-oil economy, Sheikh Zayed’s values and the monument.
The memorial’s objective is to pass the values of tolerance and generosity onto the younger generation, said its general manager Yousef Al Obaidli.
“Advanced nations are those who take pride in their symbols, commemorate their values and raise the next generation on their principals,” he said.
The memorial is at the edge of the Emirates Palace before the Corniche breakwater road. It will be open daily from 9am to 10pm.
Public parking is available along 18th street. For more information, visit www.thefoundersmemorial.ae and @FounderMemorial on Facebook and Instagram.