Arts + Culture

Fowler Museum presents first major U.S. touring exhibition of Emirati contemporary art

‘Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates’ opens January 25

The Last Look
Courtesy Lamees Hamdan

Lateefa bint Maktoum’s “The Last Look” (2009) is one of more than 50 works by 25 artists from the UAE.

The Fowler Museum at UCLA presents “Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates,” the first major touring exhibition of Emirati art. The exhibition was organized by the Meridian International Center and the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates and premiered in Washington, D.C., in May 2014.

As part of its 18-month U.S. tour — which includes stops in Texas, California and Washington — the exhibition will be on view at the Fowler Museum at UCLA from Jan. 25 to March 8, 2015.

This comprehensive exhibition features more than 50 paintings, sculptures, photographs and works in other media by a group of 25 notable male and female artists who together represent all seven Emirates. The exhibition showcases the rich history and culture of the UAE, emphasizing the importance of kinship and home, nature and landscape, and the nation’s rapid development and focus on innovation. A lively contemporary art scene began in the UAE more than 40 years ago, and “Past Forward” includes works by several of the scene’s pioneering artists, including Abdul Qader Al Rais, Najat Makki and Obaid Suroor.

Today’s young Emirati artists are increasingly immersed in a fast-moving environment that is continually updated with the latest technology. Nonetheless, they remain deeply connected to their roots and traditions.

Shamma Al Amri, Mohammed Al Qassab, Alia Saeed Al Shamsi, Hamdan Buti Al Shamsi, Lamya Gargash, Alia Lootah, Lateefa bint Maktoum and Khalid Shafar approach rapid urbanization by creating works that reference earlier times.

To preserve long-standing traditions, Mattar Bin Lahej, Alaa Edris and Salama Nasib illustrate the significance of oral histories and local pastimes in the UAE, while Ammar Al Attar, Farah Al Qasimi and Afra Bin Dhaher photograph everyday life. Works by Khalid Al Banna, Shaikha Al Mazrou and Khalid Mezaina look at the psychology of contemporary existence and depict the artists’ visions for the future.

Meanwhile, Ebtisam AbdulAziz, Zeinab Al Hashemi, Maitha Al Mehairbi, Maitha Demithan and Mohammed Saeed Harib experiment with inventive techniques — including animation and other digital media — to convey traditional themes.

”Past Forward” is complemented by public programming and education outreach to encourage increased cultural understanding. Khalid Shafar and Shaikha Al Mazrou, two Emirati artists featured in the exhibition, will attend the Fowler opening and participate in workshops and lecture programs in the area. The UAE was recently chosen as the featured guest country for the 2015 LA Art Show (Jan. 15–18 at the Los Angeles Convention Center), and a selection of works from “Past Forward” will be displayed at that event before coming to the Fowler.

The exhibition was organized and circulated by Meridian International Center with support from the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington, D.C. Additional support for “Past Forward” is provided by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, the Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and Etihad Airways. The exhibition is co-curated by Curtis Sandberg, senior vice president for arts and cultural programs at the Meridian International Center, and Noor Al Suwaidi, an expert on contemporary Emirati art. The Meridian International Center is headquartered in Washington, D.C. It works with the U.S. Department of State and with government, private and NGO educational sectors globally to create lasting international partnerships through leadership programs and cultural exchange. For more information, visit

The Fowler Museum at UCLA is one of the country’s most respected institutions devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas. The Fowler is open Wednesdays through Sundays, from noon to 5 p.m.; and on Thursdays, from noon until 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The Fowler Museum, part of UCLA Arts, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $12 in Lot 4.

Public events

Sunday, Jan. 25, 3 p.m.

Fowler OutSpoken: “Past Forward”: A Conversation about Contemporary Art and Design from the Emirates

Exhibition co-curators Noor Al Suweidi and Curtis Sandberg and exhibiting artists Khalid Shafar and Shaikha Al Mazrou share their insights on Emerati contemporary life and the emerging art scene there. An Emirati coffee and tea reception follows the panel.

Sunday, Jan. 25, 1–3 p.m.

Kids in the Courtyard: Purdy Birdy

In the United Arab Emirates and many other parts of the world, the falcon is a greatly admired bird. Explore “Past Forward” to find artworks depicting falcons and other birds. Meet real feathered friends from around the world in a special live bird presentation at 1 p.m. Use recycled materials such as bottles, cardboard and popsicle sticks to make your very own birdhouse at 2 p.m. Let your imagination soar with this special activity inspired by “Past Forward” and Pascale Marthine Tayou’s collection of birdhouses, entitled “Favelas ABC.”

Thursday, Jan. 29, 12 p.m.

Culture Fix: Noor Al Suwaidi on New Art from the Emirates

The United Arab Emirates has a growing art scene that emerged in the 1950s and is flourishing today. “Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates” showcases recent works by artists engaging a variety of media. Exhibition co-curator Noor Al Suwaidi introduces the work of a selection of featured Emirati artists and discusses the environment in which they build their own traditions and thrive at home and on the international scene.

Thursday, Jan. 29, 6 p.m.

Fowler Out Loud: Takht Dirty

Bringing a contemporary twist to the traditional Middle Eastern takht ensemble and celebrating the new exhibition, “Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates,” Takht Dirty returns for a riveting performance spotlighting the musical arts of the Persian Gulf and greater Arab world.

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