Anna Seaman | May 20, 2013
This year, for the first time, the Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation is supporting the UAE National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Here we have an exclusive interview with Sheikha Salama about the forthcoming exhibition.
Q: The Sheikha Salama Foundation has always been a keen supporter of the arts. Can you please explain why you think it is important to get behind the creative industry?
A: I am passionate about the arts and believe strongly in the transformative power of the arts in the lives of individuals and communities. They challenge us in the most engaging ways to see things differently and in fact to see ourselves differently.
Beyond my personal passion though there is no denying that the arts are booming in our country. Though we are a young nation we have made enormous strides in the creative industries in their many dimensions. At the risk of being too self-congratulatory we as Emiratis should take enormous pride that we have artists who are gaining in stature internationally, very dynamic art fairs in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, a world-renowned Biennale in Sharjah, and now of course a permanent pavilion at the Venice Biennale – the first country from the Gulf to have received such an honour.
Whatever efforts I can lend to support these great developments are to me a joy.
Q: Does your support focus only on Emiratis or have you extended your focus to all UAE residents?
A: In the programmes of support that we are developing at the Foundation – be it our fellowship programme for emerging artists, the internship programme at the Venice Biennale, or others, we seek to support residents of all nationalities in the UAE. And in fact we try, where appropriate, to link the beneficiaries of our arts programmes not only across groups within the UAE but internationally. One of the most magical dimensions of artistic expression is how the arts fertilise across lines of national boundary.
Q: This will be our third participation in the prestigious Venice Biennale and the first time the Foundation has been involved. Why did you decide to support the UAE National Pavilion for 2013?
A: Over the past year we have invested significant time and energy into deepening the Foundation’s strategies. It has been a fascinating and deeply enriching process whereby we have sought to determine where we can truly add value as a Foundation. We have articulated four strategic goals in our arts, culture and heritage programme: First, to support emerging Emirati artists at each stage of their development. Second, to create enriching opportunities in which the community – families, children – can engage with the arts. Third, to support the great efforts of government in bringing the arts to the UAE (not least through the extraordinary museums we will host here) and the artists of the UAE to the world (and here of course is we are delighted to be supporting The National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates at the Venice Biennale). And fourth, to support innovative ways to capture and teach our rich cultural heritage and language to the next generation.
Q: It is also the first time we will be exhibiting a solo show by just one artist. Did you personally have an involvement in that selection and/or was the Foundation involved in any way in choosing Mohammed Kazem?
A: No. Though I am simply delighted with the choice of Mohammed Kazem as the featured artist that decision was made by the Commission – a decision I fully support.
Q: Can you please make a comment on Mohammed Kazem’s art? Kindly include how influential you think he is as an artist and his experience. Also, do you personally like his work?
A: Mohammed Kazem is one of the pioneers in contemporary art practices in the UAE. He comes from a generation that has prospered since the mid-70’s, and his work is a testament of his individuality, his incorporation of new technologies, and his influence on the local artistic scene. I am a fan of his work yes, and I believe that his career and development as an artist sheds a very positive light on the thriving art and culture scene in the UAE.
Q: Under the Foundation’s support, 18 Emiratis will be given the chance to go to Venice and complete an internship. How important is an experience like this for a young Emirati?
A: One of the most gratifying aspects of The National Pavilion of the UAE Venice Biennale programme is the internship programme where we will support 18 extraordinary young people from across the UAE to serve as interns in Venice. So much of the work of the Foundation focuses on building human capacity – identifying, nurturing and supporting talented individuals. In fact, the tag line of our Foundation is: Investing in the future of the UAE by investing in its people.
This approach sits at the heart of our work because we know that when talented young people are given opportunities to grow, to expand their horizons and to stretch that investment in them creates an enormous return benefit to society. What they learn and what they experience they will carry with them throughout their lives and they will give back to society. I can think of few things more gratifying.
Q: Despite leaps and bounds in terms of the advancement of the arts scene in the UAE, it is still really young compared to other art centres in the world. What do you think is the most important element to focus on in order to ensure the future of our arts industry?
A: Truly, in thinking about the Emirati arts industry we are best placed to think not about one element but in fact about an ecosystem – a rich combination of mutually reinforcing elements whose sum is greater than its parts. We need a continual flow of talented, new artists; to support the nurturance of that talent we need a world class art institute; audiences that will appreciate their work and engage with the arts in general (hence, government’s visionary investment in the museums); galleries that will sell their work, alongside nonprofit exhibition spaces for young emerging talent that may not yet be ready for representation by galleries; a new generation not only of artists by cultural industry leaders such as curators and art historians, art critics and conservationists. Fortunately many of the parts of that ecosystem are already in place with others on the way. Truly extraordinary.
Q: Finally, how long do you think it will take until we see an Emirati artist among the top artists in the world?
A: I cannot say with any specificity of course but it will be soon inshallah. Our journey with the arts in the UAE is new. But look how far we have come already.