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A window on history.

Although he is now minister of foreign affairs and the president of the UAE's football association, SHEIKH, ABDULLAH BIN ZAYED AL NAHYAN, former minister of culture, maintains a strong presence in the promotion of his country's heritage despite the change in ministerial portfolio. And it is under his patronage that an exhibition of orientalist art will be staged at the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage this month.

DURING THE 19TH century, as travel became more accessible, it became increasingly fashionable for painters, particularly Europeans, to travel to far flung locations and commit to canvas the exotic scenes they discovered there. Middle Eastern customs, scenes and lifestyles first sparked the imagination and enthusiasm of such painters a century earlier but it was during the 19th century that the orientalists may be said to have enjoyed their heyday.

Two centuries ago the area we now know as the United Arab Emirates was divided into seven disparate sheikhdoms, where the populations were largely nomadic. Although there is little, if any evidence of painters being drawn to this particular region--cities such as Cairo, Damascus and Algiers being among the more popular destinations--there is strong evidence that close to today's Abu Dhabi, the so-called Umm An Nar culture thrived as long ago as the third millenium BC. Meanwhile, while painters of old may have failed to capture the essence of the former trucial states, as the UAE was known in the mid-1800s, modern day Abu Dhabi has been the inspiration for many of the 'contemporary orientalists', such as Peter Upton and June Bartlett, both of whom have work on show at the exhibition.

Organised by London-based Mathaf Gallery, which has specialised in orientalist art for 30 years, the exhibition brings together some remarkable examples of part of Arab history and represents an artist's view of past traditions, some of which have long since ceased to exist--windows on life in the Middle East more than 100 years ago.

The Mathaf Gallery exhibition runs at the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage, Airport Road, Abu Dhabi until 6 April 2007 (
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Title Annotation:Mathaf Gallery
Publication:The Middle East
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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