Abu Dhabi: Bouthaina Baltaji had always dreamed of becoming a curator who could act as the bridge between the artist and people who experience their creations.
So when it became time to decide on a final-year project, the 20-year-old student at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) decided to try to build an audience for Abu Dhabi’s upcoming museums.
“My mother has always encouraged me and my siblings to appreciate and understand art, and this has helped us to think critically,” Baltaji told Gulf News. “So I decided to reach out to children in a bid to create a museum-going society in the capital.”
In the next few years, Abu Dhabi will welcome a number of fine-art museums featuring collections from around the world, including The Louvre, The Guggenheim and the Zayed National Museum.
Saddiyat Island will play host to the newly constructed arts and culture centres.
For her project, Baltaji designed a series of one-hour workshops to be delivered to 150 pupils enrolled in Grade 5 at two private schools in the capital.
“The aim was not to create artists, but to engage children in art by getting them to create something of their own,” Baltaji said. “I chose Islamic art as the theme, created stencils and pasted them on canvases. The pupils were then asked to fill them in, and when the stencils were removed, they had created artwork ready for display.”
She then placed nine works each on a canvas and put them up in the Manaarat Al Saadiyat gallery’s cafe. The exhibition has been on display since the beginning of the month.
Balataji said that the response from the school children has been extremely encouraging.
“The young artists and their parents were invited to come see their work,” she said. “So many children were surprised to see how wonderful their pieces looked. One young boy told me that he had thought art was a waste of time but after seeing the exhibition and his own piece, he realised that if his own amateur work could look nice, other people’s could be just as beautiful to experience.”
The aspiring curator is graduating with a double major in Visual Arts and Social Research and Public Policy as part of NYUAD’s first batch on May 25, and she hopes to then pursue a master’s degree abroad in Museum and Gallery Practice.
“But I want to continue this project, and am discussing with the NYUAD how it is possible,” Baltaji said. “Perhaps I can choose the theme and contact the schools, and someone else can conduct the workshops. Of course, in order to create awareness of other cultures, next year’s edition would incorporate a different culture, perhaps Japanese prints or Ghanaian symbols.”
The student, who is of Jordanian-American heritage but was born and raised in the capital, also recounts how excited she was when she first heard about the Saadiyat Island museums.
“It would mean that residents would not have to travel to experience art, and the museums would be a fitting place for the UAE to display its own heritage,” she said.