UAE and UK to mark historic transition with 1971 photography exhibition

Photographs in Dialogue at Dubai's Etihad Museum will highlight the country's first steps as an independent nation

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These are the faces that built the nation, remembered and revisited decades after the birth of the UAE.

A unique exhibition of photographs will recreate the historic period that led up to the foundation of the country on December 2, 1971.

The March exhibition will include portraits of Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid, the two Rulers who worked tirelessly together to make the union possible, along with scenes from the moment when the seven emirates became one country.

An unmissable insight into the importance of photographs as records of the role of Emirati and British leaders at a momentous time in the UAE's history

When it goes on display at Dubai's Etihad Museum, which houses the historic building in which the federation document was signed, Photographs in Dialogue will be a reflection of the long relationship between the UAE and the United Kingdom.

It will focus on the crucial period from the mid-1960s, as the two countries redefined a connection that stretched back more than a century.

The seven emirates were once among several Arabian Gulf states bound to Britain and its empire by a series of treaties from the 19th century.

With the status of protectorates, their relations with other countries, as well as with each other, were governed by Britain, which in turn guaranteed their sovereignty against more powerful neighbours.

This changed when Britain’s dwindling economic power led its government to announce that it was withdrawing its military from east of the Suez Canal in 1968.

The Trucial States were told they would have to go it alone at the end of 1971.

Photographs in the exhibition, along with artefacts and archival material, will tell the story of what happened.

The material brings together images from the National Portrait Gallery in London, along with those from local collections.

They include a 1968 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II – who has twice visited the UAE – taken by Cecil Beaton, a chronicler of high society and one of the most distinguished portrait photographers of the 20th century.

Also on display will be a rare series of images of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum taken in 1961 by Rex Coleman, for the official photograph studio of the British royal family.

One image in particular captures the drama of that December morning when the UAE flag was first raised.

It was taken in Union House in Dubai and shows Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, watching calmly as Sir Geoffrey Archer, Britain’s official representative in the Gulf, signs a new Treaty of Friendship with the UAE that recognised the Emirates as "a sovereign and independent state".

They are watched by members of the new Emirati government, including Ahmed Al Suwaidi, the first foreign minister. Moments later he would read an official statement, announcing to the world the founding of the United Arab Emirates.

The exhibition, which is supported by the British Council, is the first collaboration by the National Portrait Gallery in the Middle East, and is the first international collaboration on an exhibition by the Etihad Museum.

Hala Badri, director general of Dubai Culture, said the exhibition would reflect "the strong cultural relations that already exist between the UAE and the UK".

Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, described the exhibition as "an unmissable insight into the importance of photographs as records of the role of Emirati and British leaders at a momentous time in the UAE’s history".

Photographs in Dialogue will be on display at the Etihad Museum, Dubai, from March 17 to December 12, 2020.