The UAE National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale is a chance for the country to showcase its artistic and architectural heritage. Now, two of the pavilion’s most recent exhibitions have come to Abu Dhabi as Untold Stories Retold. Editor Rachael Perrett talks to Khulood Al Atiyat, manager of arts, culture and heritage at host venue Warehouse421, about cultural diplomacy and sharing stories
For people who aren’t familiar with the Venice Biennale, tell us what it’s all about…
I think the best way to describe it is as the Olympics of arts and architecture. The Biennale is an international art or architectural exhibition that takes place every year; on even years, it’s architecture and on odd years, it’s art. The UAE first participated in 2009 with an art exhibition. Its first architectural exhibition was in 2014. Currently the UAE is the only Arabian Gulf country that holds a permanent space at the Biennale.
Why is the UAE’s participation significant?
It allows the UAE to be part of a very important dialogue and engage in cultural diplomacy.
It’s important for us to share the UAE’s untold stories, to share the depth of our history, the richness of our contemporary culture and the infinite talent of the people of the UAE, both nationals and long-term residents.
The National Pavilion also provides a platform for people who are interested in exploring a career in that field because we provide an intensive internship programme. Every year we select 21 UAE-based interns and send them to Venice for a month. They partner up with an Italian intern to allow them to manage the exhibition completely – opening and closing, cleaning, maintaining, welcoming guests, giving tours…
Tell us about Untold Stories Retold…
Two exhibitions have been brought to the UAE for the first time, presenting our participation in the Venice Biennale 2016 architecture and 2017 art exhibitions.
The architecture exhibition, Transformations: The Emirati National House, showcases the national housing project, a topic that was curated and researched by Dr Yasser Elsheshtawy, who was exploring the national housing project, its history and how the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan initiated this project as a gift to the people. Most importantly, it explores how they can transform over time and adapt to the needs of their inhabitants and families who live in them.
The art exhibition, Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play, was curated by Hammad Nasar, who through his early encounters with the UAE’s art scene discovered that many artists have a playful sense in their work. He wanted to explore that further, but also see how we make a place a home through play.
What inspired Warehouse421 to share these exhibitions with the local community?
Warehouse421 always looks for opportunities to present exhibitions of significance to the UAE and the National Pavilion is one of the most important ways in which the UAE’s culture is communicated to an international community.
It’s important to share that with the people who the stories are being told about. We have visitors who come to the exhibition who used to live in one of these national houses, or saw the exhibition in Venice and are now seeing it in a different context.
You’re very passionate about this project. What is your favourite part?
People’s reactions – being able to see people connect with the stories and share their personal stories and the feelings they experienced while going through the exhibition. The other nice thing has been seeing some of the alumni who were interns when these exhibitions were showcased in Venice coming back and wanting to share this with guests in the UAE.
What’s next for the UAE National Pavilion?
Our next participation is going to be at this year’s architecture exhibition in which the curator Dr Khaled Alawadi will be exploring Lifescapes Beyond Bigness – it will open on 24th May and the exhibition will run until November 2018.
Untold Stories Retold is open until 24th June. Free. Mina Zayed. Tue-Sun 10am-8pm. Contact: 02 676 8803, warehouse421.ae