UAE to make history at Venice Biennale

The UAE is to be the first Gulf country to exhibit at the world's most prestigious art festival, the Venice Biennale.

In its latest move to position itself as the Middle East's cultural centre, the UAE is to be the first Gulf country to exhibit at the world's most prestigious art festival, the Venice Biennale. Exhibitions at Venice fall into three categories: shows curated by the director of the Biennale, national pavilions mounted by individual countries and "collateral" exhibitions which focus on particular themes.

The UAE will be represented in both categories available to exhibitors. Both a national pavilion and the Adach Platform for Venice, an exhibit that will focus specifically on Abu Dhabi, will be shown at the Biennale, from June 22 to Nov 22 next year. The Platform for Venice, mounted by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach), will be developed by the curator Catherine David. Ms David, a Paris-based art historian, has been curating for almost 30 years and in 2007 presented Di/Visions: Culture and Politics of the Middle East at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. She is also the recipient of the Bard prize for curatorial excellence. Her Biennale show will explore possible scenarios that define the future of art in Abu Dhabi. The exhibition will showcase photographers, artists and film-makers from the region and abroad, through works commissioned for the project.

The Biennale's first national pavilion was established in 1907 by Belgium. The UAE will be one of 92 countries exhibiting artistic talent and competing for prizes next year. Other countries with pavilions for the first time at the 53rd Biennale will be Andorra, Gabon, Montenegro, Pakistan, Monaco and South Africa. The UAE pavilion will be curated by the art critic Tirdad Zolghadr. The Berlin-based writer has curated a number of events, including the 7th Sharjah Biennial in 2005.

Pavilions are not restricted to exhibiting art from their own countries. Many choose to exhibit foreign works. However, organisers said the UAE's space will be used primarily to showcase contemporary Emirati artists. Mr Zolghadr has yet to confirm details of the artists or themes to be included. Rosi Farook, director and founder of Dubai-based design gallery Traffic - who is involved in the design of the interior of the pavilion and has been working closely with the curator - said: "What's so great is that he is trying to include the past, the present and even discuss the future - so that will be in the theme."

Mr Farook said the project is particularly important to him as an Emirati. "I am part of this cultural movement that we are going through and this is a chance for us to do something massive for the UAE. We are making history as a country."