It was art that brought German artist Anja Bamberg to the UAE. She used to work as an art therapist back in Germany.
“While I was working at the clinic, we had a dedicated section only for Arab patients, as many of our patients were from the UAE, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. I always asked them to paint something from their home countries and they painted beautiful pictures of the desert and skyscrapers. I was so impressed that I thought I would just have to visit these countries. And when I did, I fell in love,” she recalls.
The move has worked out well for her. This past year, she finished her two-month residency with Tashkeel at the end of which she had her first solo show.
“I had my first solo show during the Sikka Art Design Fair in March,” she says, adding that it’s changed her perspective on how art can be a conduit for change.
“I see art completely from a different side now; it changes lives. Art is a mind-opener,” she says.
Part of the reason for this is the dialogue it tends to spark; love it or hate it, few people can ignore a work of art.
German artist Petra Kaltenbach explains that art connects people, transcends barriers. “If you see something and you start to discuss it – this is like connecting people and making people talk to each other about a subject. Art is also showing common emotions to a special theme and this touches people so it connects them.”
For German artist Ortwin Kipp, whose work is currently part of a show at Baituti Home in Jumeirah, the process of creating art is exciting and joyful and so is sharing it.
“Creating my artworks and my work in general brings me a lot of joy and happiness. I would like to share this feeling with my audience. That’s why I am very excited to present my works in the Middle East and share my work and passion with people from this region,” he says.
Joy for some is sparked though conversation that their art inspires.
Emirati, Aisha Juma, who is a visual conceptual artist from Dubai, says her stint in Berlin, Germany, in 2021 meant deeper discussions on topics close to her heart such as spiritual art.
She recalls, “The Berlin show – called Beyond Belief – exclusively discussed spirituality in the arts, looking at the critical reflections on the societal implications of spirituality and discussing the new takes on questions about belief.”
Politics versus art
Art is a language in its own right, believe artists, something that links us before things like politics and economy do.
Juma explains: “I believe art is a basic organ of any cultural body, and whenever a culture makes a move to reach out for global connection, art moves with it. Nevertheless, art can easily ignite the cultural connection even before economy and politics do. This is because art is a form of power, it speaks to the heart regardless of intellectual differences.”
She adds, “The UAE is leading the world in harnessing the soft power of which it is embedding tolerance and embracing diversity not just politically but culturally as well.”
She has seen this power of connection first-hand. During the exhibition Beyond Belief, ambassadors of the UAE and Israel met for a live discussion in the gallery with the audience.
Artist Annika Geigel, whose last exhibition, Bidaya, was in Dubai at The Palm in February, says art is one of the strongest ways to connect cultures.
“Art doesn’t know borders, it is limitless, and the connection between cultures should also be like that. Art brings people together, physically – at galleries, museums for example – and even culturally, through its capacity to narrate a community’s shared story, inspire reflection, and form connections that transcend differences.”
The German artist calls the UAE a melting pot, a place where one can be exposed to the world – in a safe environment.
“You see people from different cultures like Indians, Indonesians, Americans, Germans and so many more. People here live happily and peacefully with each other, because everybody has the same goal – to build a good life and accomplish success. I’m so inspired by the Middle East and it’s cultures,” she says.
Another person who had to deep dive into what diplomatic relations mean, and where art fits into the puzzle is Kaltenbach. She was commissioned by Germany at the end of last year to create artworks regarding the 50 years of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Germany. She calls it one of her most prominent shows. “The whole exhibition was named, We: The diplomatic relationship between Germany and the UAE.”
“One of my favourite artworks there was [called] The Unity of Us. I was working on starting at the point of ‘me’. If you visualise the word ‘me’, you can easily see when you turn it 180 degrees, the outcome is ‘we’….that is what I feel about humans in partnerships – we are forced to go from the idea of me to the concept of we,” she says.
It’s this ‘we’ that was also explored in 2021, when the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre and German Embassy in the UAE undertook a project to explore the timeless tales from Germany and the Arab world.
“Titled From Cinderella to Sindbad, the exhibition explored the relationships between German and Arab tales throughout history and all the similarities they both have with one another,” writes Emirati artist Ali Kashwani on his Instagram page. This exhibition, held in partnership with Abu Dhabi’s Cultural Foundation, the Goethe-Institut Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, highlighted the mutual influences, shared ideas, and cultural exchange between the Arab world and Germany through storytelling.
“Germany has a deep cultural relationship with the UAE and the Arab world when it comes to literary works, especially children’s stories. My exhibition, From Cinderella to Sindbad, showcased the similarities these stories had with one another and the cultural connection that took place across centuries,” Kashwani says.
Art takes on many forms, and is constantly evolving and shifting perspectives. That’s the job of art. Along with, it seems, forging new connections among people who would never have expected it. It can change the way one looks at things and it can transform lives. Don’t believe us? Maybe, just ask Bamberg. ■