Christie’s in London was host to the largest exhibition on modern and contemporary Arab art including Mohammed Melehi (1936, Asilah- 2020, Boulogne-Billancourt) Image Credit: Christie's

Arab diasporas have always gone the extra mile to recapture the beauty of their home cultures. Staying true to their linguistic, religious, and cultural roots, these diasporas — scattered across the globe like diamonds in a starry sky — have very much enthralled host societies with their vibrant artistic expressions.

Whether it’s in the realms of art, literature, and culinary artistry to the captivating domains of performing arts, music, and the craft of jewellery-making, the precious cultural contributions of Arab diasporas are marvellous renderings of Arab society, heritage, and culture.

Many prominent Arab creatives have left an indelible mark on the global cultural landscape. Lebanese-born artist Labibé Zogbé, also known as Bibi Zogbé, emigrated to Argentina in 1906 and her works are currently being rediscovered and positioned as some of the foremost modern artworks during the first half of the 20th century, both in South America and the Arab world.

Famed for her intricate renderings of blossoms and foliage, with masterful and vibrant brushstrokes inspired by her cherished memories of Lebanon, Bibi Zogbé has showcased her works during the 1930s in notable cities, such as Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Chile, Uruguay, and Paris. Her mesmerising artworks are a sweet reminder of the many gardens, flowers, and botanical treasures of her hometown of Lebanon.

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Khalil Gibran is another distinguished Arab immigrant who has captured the hearts of many literary lovers worldwide. His masterpiece “The Prophet,” released in 1923, ranks among the ten most translated books in recorded history. Gibran settled in the United States in 1895 with his family, where he assimilated with the many creative communities in the country and had opportunities to advance his writings and artistic skills.

In New York City, he was a regular attendee of many literary salons hosted by prominent society figures of the day who admired his imaginative writings. Between 1908 and 1910, Gibran also had a short spell in Paris, where he pursued an arts education at the Académie Julian, resulting in an impressive exhibition of his paintings at the esteemed Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. In tribute to his cultural legacy, the “Gibran Khalil Gibran Promenade” was officially inaugurated in September 2017, gracing the enchanting setting of 26 Quai André Citroën in Paris.

Cultural institutions are behind many exquisite initiatives that aim to spark curiosity about the rich tapestry of Arab culture among foreign nations. They also contribute to building connections of tolerance and appreciation among diverse global societies.

Arabian Nights tales

For instance, the Paris-based Arab World Institute is a world-class cultural institution which manages a museum, library, and a flurry of exciting cultural exhibitions revolving around various themes of Arab culture. In the past, it has hosted gorgeous exhibitions around the themes of oriental gardens, trailblazing female actresses and singers, and the Arabian Nights tales.

This summer, Christie’s in London was host to the largest exhibition on modern and contemporary Arab art, orchestrated by the UAE’s Ministry of Culture and Youth and the UAE-based Barjeel Art Foundation. Everything about the exhibition was seemingly curated to illuminate and impress audiences, piquing interest about the diverse historical, political, and artistic catalysts driving the creation of these exceptional works.

Visitors were offered an unrivalled exclusive glimpse into the spellbinding collection of masterpieces by Emirati and Arab artists, spanning 84 years from 1939 to 2023.

By tapping onto the vast opportunities offered by globalisation, regional governments can partner with global cultural organisations and avant-garde creative talents to raise awareness about Arab culture. Crucially, establishing platforms that enable learning, involvement, and meaningful exchanges related to the diverse and captivating facets of Arab culture can foster a richer comprehension and heightened admiration for it.

Nuances of Arab culture

It is vital that regional experts and creative individuals are offered avenues for sharing their knowledge and artistic skills in order to enrich the content of cross-cultural initiatives.

Regional governments can partner with global cultural institutions to map out an outstanding menu of cultural experiences that capture the beauty and vibrancy of Arab culture and heritage. One of the foremost activities is organising themed exhibitions that portray the many fascinating nuances of Arab culture, such as perfumes, paintings, classic literary works, or historical artefacts.

A variety of experiential cultural activities can invite audiences to immerse with the vibrancy of Arab culture, such as book clubs, film screenings, cultural performances, and culinary classes.

Similarly, renowned creative talents can create interest and transmit knowledge to communities by delivering talks and workshops revolving around Arab heritage, Arabic language courses, or contemporary issues. In the age of rapid digital transformation, digital platforms can be an easily accessible source of knowledge for inquisitive scholars and researchers.

That said, digital and physical libraries belonging to cultural institutions should be actively stocked up with unique and important resources in order to promote a better understanding of Arab culture. At the same time, curious audiences can access fascinating materials that give them glimpses of the cultural treasures of the region.

Grants targeting artists and writers can promote the exchange of artistic expressions via residency programs, funding of projects, or translation projects. This will enable talents to better connect with global audiences and find interweaving connections within culture.

Throughout the ages, the Arab diaspora has certainly captivated communities worldwide with a flavour of their beautiful cultural expressions. Their efforts should be celebrated and continued for many generations to come.

Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and literature