13 Nov “Our Father Zayed” – A Bold Vision of Cultural Progression
The story of the UAE is one often spoken about in the present, looking forward. Of dreams and ambition realised through superlative structures, artificial archipelagos and luxury living. Rarely do we, as expats, get a chance to hear about the almost miraculous beginnings.
Residents of the UAE will know the name Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan. I remember when I first visited Dubai, from the airport taking the eponymous highway that connects the Emirates along the coast and seeing his portrait. Later in Abu Dhabi, a large billboard with the same figure pensively staring off canvas, emblazoned with the words “Our Father Zayed”, my curiosity was sufficiently piqued and I did some reading.
I discovered the story of a man who stood resolute on the sovereignty of his Emirate during a boarder dispute, an impressive feat, though even more so considering it was before the vast oil reserves were discovered under Abu Dhabi.
Even when the oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi, he had the foresight to use it as a tool. His focus was never on the short-term exploitation; he always championed using the profits to move into more sustainable markets and developing the nation’s soft power. Sheikh Zayed knew that the key to the future is collaboration and friendship.
A man who tirelessly devoted himself to bettering the lives of the citizens under his charge, either through the creation of the Federation that became the UAE, to precocious insights on education, interfaith tolerance and openness with the world.
I was lucky enough to have private access to the galleries of the Louvre Abu Dhabi ahead of its opening on 11 November 2017. The Louvre Abu Dhabi invites visitors to discover humanity’s deepest and most surprising connections. This is not a collection of curiosities. The curation and display is deliberate, thoughtful, exquisitely directed, guiding visitors from antiquity to modernity, telling the tale of incremental progress.
The museum is a collection of artifacts and artworks laid out as a timeline of events, illustrating our interconnectedness and the true essence of humanity that unites all of us, regardless of culture, language or background.
It starts with various cultures’ representation of motherhood, and death, and water. These ubiquitous narratives are told though artifacts separated by vast distances and time, yet uniform in their depiction of the human condition. In the current climate of rising national isolationism, the Louvre Abu Dhabi holds up a mirror and invites visitors to look inside themselves and gaze upon the repletion of humanity within. If the differences between cultures and people can give some cause for fear, I put forward that our slavish similarity in the expression of the human condition is far more alarming.
It is fitting then, that the exhibition halls open up to a concourse area beneath the iconic dome, and visitors are faced with a wall-mounted installation of concentric circles – and at the center is a tiny thumb print. A thumb print of Sheikh Zayed himself. Figuratively, his finger prints are all over the entirety of the Louvre Abu Dhabi project – his unique mark reaching through the ages, a gift to the region.
For all of the diversification, progress, and contribution the UAE has offered, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is nothing less than the capstone to Sheikh Zayed’s vision for a country of openness, interfaith tolerance and unity. These artifacts are what the past have left behind, their interpretation of the world as they saw it, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi pays homage to our ancestors by telling their shared story.
Get the most out of your tour around the UAE with essential Arabic skills. Get started here.