November 12, 2017

Louvre Abu Dhabi reflects UAE’s commitment to intercultural dialogue

Exceptional treasures. A statue of Roman general and statesman Julius Caesar (101-44BC), part of the collection of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. (AFP)

The much-awaited inauguration of the Louvre Abu Dhabi was met with widespread media claim, with Brit­ain’s Guardian news­paper describing it as a “spectacular palace of culture” and the New York Times calling it “a cultural cornerstone where East meets West.”

The praise is well-earned. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is both a mag­nificent architectural feat and a wondrous display of the world’s artistic heritage. Even more criti­cally, the museum, which opened to the public November 11, serves as a powerful statement of creativity and innovation in a Middle East region long plagued by fundamentalism and intolerance.

In light of despicable attacks on the world’s cultural and heritage sites by extremist groups, a pro­ject of this magnitude is especially welcome.

Such attacks included the Tali­ban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, the Islamic State’s looting and demolition of ancient artefacts in Iraq’s Mosul Museum, a 2015 attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunisia and the Islamic State’s demolition of the Assyrian city of Nimrud south of Mosul and plundering of heritage sites in the historical city of Palmyra in Syria.

The United Arab Emirates’ com­mitment to constructing a first-class art museum has helped provide a counter-narrative to such destruc­tion. By highlighting artistic con­tributions from around the world and from different eras of human history, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a much-needed ray of light in a time of darkness.

The newly opened museum is only the latest of the UAE’s cultural contributions. The country boasts more than 45 museums dedicated to art, history, nature and science. Among the country’s top museums are the Pearl Museum in Deira, the Dubai Museum, the Sharjah Science Museum, the Sharjah Natural His­tory Museum and Desert Park, the Al Manama Fort and Museum in Aj­man, the Umm al-Quwain Fort and Museum, the Fujairah Muse­um, the National Museum of Ras al-Khaimah and the Maritime Museum in Manarat Al Saadiyat.

Two new state-of-the-art museums are to open on Saadiyat Island, where the UAE plans to launch the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, de­signed by Frank Gehry, and Zayed National Museum, designed by Norman Fos­ter’s architectural firm.

In addition to host­ing diversified mu­seums, the country organises hundreds of annual festivals to celebrate various art forms, including cinema, music, photogra­phy, theatre, paint­ing, sculpture and heritage. Some of the major festivals are Al Dhafra Festival in Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, the Dubai Interna­tional Film Festival, the Dubai Inter­national Jazz Festival, the Fujairah International Monodrama Festival, the Fujairah International Arts Fes­tival, the Sharjah Water Festival and the Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival.

With a thriving artistic and crea­tive landscape, the UAE has made cultural preservation one of its fore­most priorities. The UAE views its cultural sector as a principal compo­nent of its long-term strategy, which it is using its abundant oil revenue to develop. It envisions cultural tourism as serving as a powerful magnet in the post-oil era.

Thus far, the UAE’s cultural preservation efforts have afforded it a prestigious position on the international scene. Such efforts have also helped it promote a more positive image of Islam. It is no wonder, then, that analysts and experts have frequently described the UAE’s cultural achievements as a key element of its soft power, a mechanism through which it can foster exchange, promote knowl­edge and build bridges between communities.

The inauguration of the Louvre Abu Dhabi on November 8, which was attended by political, religious and cultural leaders from around the world, confirmed the country’s vision for a more tolerant and open future. The attendance of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, whose country has experienced its share of cultural destruction, was particu­larly symbolic.

The inauguration and its strong international support sent the criti­cal statement that those who seek to destroy human heritage do not do so in the name of religion or in the name of Arab society.

While the Louvre Abu Dhabi represents a step forward, will Emirati efforts to spearhead comprehensive change have a positive effect on all countries in the Arab region?

Almost certainly.

Cultural projects such as this are among the best ways to create spaces where all cultures can come together, engage in pro­ductive dialogue and pursue transformation. By taking the first step, the UAE is likely to inspire other countries to place similar value on shared heritage and culture.

The latest museum will prove especially useful towards this end given that it incorporates not only Emirati heritage into its design but contri­butions from the entire world.

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