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Ras Al-Khaimah Fine Arts Festival celebrates 10 years with a journey through the past and future of the United Arab Emirates

DUBAI: Ten years ago, some 20 artists and curators from Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates conceived the Ras Al-Khaimah Fine Arts Festival, relying solely on contributions and support from volunteers to showcase the emirate’s burgeoning arts and culture scene. A decade later, the festival, nestled in and around the preserved coral stone and mud houses, market and fort of the historic pearling village of Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra, has evolved into a collaborative space for two months with an exhibition of over 150 works of art from over 45 countries, walking tours, workshops and activities.

Entitled “The Journey”, the 10th edition of the festival, which runs until March 31, pays tribute to the sustained efforts of the country’s creatives to develop a platform for cultural exchange and artistic development while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates.

Along the venue’s sandy walkways and structures, large-scale photographs and artworks printed on weather-resistant materials and interactive installations and sculptures delve into their creators’ interpretations of ancestry, migration , national identity and personal growth. They also recount the transformation of the Emirates from Bedouin tribes and the founding of the Trucial States into the melting pot of cultures and technologies that it is today.

The festival celebrates the 50th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates. Provided

“As one of the founding members of the festival, I remember a time when we had to rely on donations and volunteers for the event. When we created a website for the festival, no one knew where Ras Al-Khaimah was. Ten years later, with the rapid development of the emirate, we now have artists from all over the world exhibiting at the festival. The destination we find ourselves in today, both as a country that constantly seeks to preserve its culture and heritage and as a festival that has made its mark on the international art scene, is suitable for travel,” Suqrat bin Bisher, director of the festival, told Arab News.

Visitors to this year’s festival will, for the first time, be able to access an additional 1 km stretch of the oldest part of the village to experience curated exhibitions featuring artwork by citizens, residents and artists regional and international. There are also exhibits from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the US Mission to the United Arab Emirates, and the NYUAD Art Gallery. The festival also partnered for the first time with Cinema Akil, Gulf Photo Plus and Warehouse421 for a diverse program.

Striking images depicting the people, heritage and landscape of the United Arab Emirates by the festival’s featured artist, Yousef Al-Zaabi, greet festival-goers as they enter the fort. The self-taught Emirati photographer from Ras Al-Khaimah says this exhibition is an opportunity for him to share his identity journey with the world.

“My photos are a window on the past and the future. I have photographed all over the United Arab Emirates, in Ras Al-Khaimah, Liwa, Dubai and Hatta, aiming to capture moments that authentically illustrate the country and its people. Each photo tells a different story of the United Arab Emirates and I want visitors to discover these stories with me,” said the Founder and President of the Emirates Falcons Photography Society and Vice President of the Union of Arab Photographers.

The award-winning photographer, whose work has also graced the cover of National Geographic Arabia, believes the festival plays a vital role in promoting intercultural dialogue.

“There is a lot to learn from the experiences of artists attending and presenting at the festival. It is a knowledge-sharing platform that nurtures and strengthens the arts and culture scene in the UAE. »

Striking black and white composite portrait of several generations of Emiratis in the “Emirates Legacy” series by Filipino photographer Mario Cardenas. Provided

Other Emirati artists at this year’s festival include Abdullah Lutfi, depicting the skyline and landscapes of the United Arab Emirates in his distinct black and white drawings; Medyyah Al-Tamimi, who captures the daily bustle of the city in photographs and writing; and filmmaker Sara Al-Hashimi with her thought-provoking documentaries about the region.

Equally revealing photographs of the Emirates taken by residents, such as the striking black-and-white composite portrait of several generations of Emiratis in Filipino photographer Mario Cardenas’ “Emirates Legacy” series, offer a rare perspective of self-discovery within of the national population.

The Al-Qasimi Foundation’s special exhibition “Travel in COVID”, curated by Azza Al-Nuaimi – the director of the festival – and Ji Young Kim and presented in three houses in the village, is a commentary on the shared experience of the humanity in difficult times. The exhibit features images of canceled visas, postcards exchanged during global lockdowns, and drawings of lonely moments that led to heightened creativity during the pandemic. “Longing Be-longing,” curated by independent art curator Sharon Total from Tel Aviv, explores the influences of post-Orientalism in contemporary Israeli art.

The festival extends beyond the Heritage Village with two satellite exhibition sites at the highest peak in the United Arab Emirates, Jebal Jais, and the open park of Al-Marjan Island. The program also includes workshops, visits, animations and activities that will take place every weekend until the end of the festival.

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