Abu Dhabi: A group of 80 UAE-based artists are highlighting the UAE’s achievements and inclusiveness at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C, which began on Wednesday.
The creatives, both Emirati and expatriate, are celebrating the UAE’s 50th Jubilee at the festival — an annual exposition of living cultural heritage from across the globe. The festival this year is honouring the UAE as the ‘Country of Focus’. Attendance is free for all.
The Ministry of Culture and Youth is leading the participation in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the UAE Embassy in Washington D.C. The festival is running from June 22 to 27, and from June 30 to July 4.
'Exciting experience for UAE'
“The Ministry of Culture and Youth is proud to support the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to showcase Emirati culture and folklore to the world from the heart of Washington, D.C.. The Festival has been celebrating cultures of the world for more than 55 years and it is really an exciting experience for the UAE to be featured in its current edition. The festival comes at a very opportune time for the UAE, close on the heels of our nation’s golden jubilee celebrations,” said Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister for Culture and Youth, in a video address to festival attendees.
“The UAE is a nation founded on the principles of equality and peaceful coexistence, we believe in a culture of inclusion and acceptance and most importantly we celebrate diversity as we actively engage with our larger human fraternity,” she added. The minister said UAE’s participation will allow visitors to learn about the UAE’s art and heritage, and this will, in turn, shatter stereotypes about the region.
Traditions and diversity
The UAE’s participation is organised under the theme, ‘Living Landscape’, ‘Living Memory’. The UAE will highlight its traditions, cultural exchanges and intellectual and linguistic richness and showcase the country’s diversity of nationalities and cultures. The UAE’s sustainable vision and plans for the future will also be in focus.
“The Folklife Festival invites visitors to come to the National Mall in Washington D.C. to enter a majlis — an important convening space dedicated to community discussion and hospitality. We hope visitors will join us to explore UAE living traditions as resources for connecting communities and envisioning a shared sustainable future,” said Michele Bambling, programme curator for the UAE.
Visitors can participate in a workshop to create perfumes and incense, and at the same time learn the importance of aroma in Emirati culture. Master falconers will demonstrate the ancient skill of falconry and describe its important historical role and its role in sustainability today. The traditional, plaintive songs of pearl divers will also be performed, while the flavours and techniques of Emirati home cooking will be demonstrated. NOON, a Middle Eastern global fusion music group, will bring together traditional and contemporary music featuring the oud, an ancient stringed musical instrument.
The festival is accompanied by an exhibition titled ‘Falcons: The Art of the Hunt’ at the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art, featuring a selection of paintings and objects from ancient Egypt to China that offer a glimpse into the fascinating world of falcons. It also includes a marketplace that offers exclusive artisan-made crafts from the UAE, along with other locally sourced products. Food concessions, featuring UAE traditional flavours and sustainably produced products made of local ingredients are available for purchase.
Artists of determination
Abdullah Lutfi, 29, an Emirati artist with autism, is displaying his works at the festival. “I have been drawing since I was seven years old and I seek to make people laugh and reflect with my works. At the Smithsonian Festival, I hope to show the UAE’s inclusion for people of determination and also teach people about my craft,” he told Gulf News.
Accompanying him to Washington is Asma Baker, 33, an Emirati poet with autism, and Victor Sitali, a Zambian artist with a hearing impairment who is based in Dubai.
Welcoming of others
Zainab Al Blooki, 25, an Emirati interior designer, is another artist who has travelled to Washington D.C. for the festival. “I am discussing the importance of courtyard-centred houses for Emirati living, with a focus on a pre-oil era house in Al Ain. And I hope my participation will show how we are an open people, happy to meet and welcome other cultures,” she said.
Honouring living tradition
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, inaugurated in 1967, honours contemporary living cultural traditions and celebrates those who practice and sustain them. Produced annually by the Smithsonian’s Centre for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in partnership with the National Park Service, the festival features the UAE as the sole guest this edition.