Dr. Hamed Bin Mohamed Khalifa Al Suwaidi is a young influential Emirati leader who is contributing to the development of the economic and cultural international relations for the United Arab Emirates. Dr Al Suwaidi has cemented his mark in the cultural and arts world internationally and is focused on cultivating his local heritage and helping young Emirati talents develop and prosper. He is also a philanthropist with exceptional contributions to education, arts, and cultural exchange mainlybetween Abu Dhabi and London. We had an opportunity to ask Dr. Hamed a few questions on the art and culture scene in the United Arab Emirates as well as the contribution of Abu Dhabi Arts Society to promoting Emirati heritage as well as strengthening international relations through art and culture.
How have your upbringing and background influenced your relationship with art and culture?
I was blessed to be born into a family that is very interested in Arts & Culture so my early years witnessed an environment of thought leadership, poetry, art and immense cultural values.
My parents respected & admired the arts in its various forms. My father has the deepest appreciation for collecting antiques, while my mom always had a passion for outdoor activities including gardening, goat breeding & animal husbandry.
Also, having the privilege to travel often opened my eyes to many cultures & people of different backgrounds that share the same interests.
Growing up in such an environment, I further developed this passion into art collection, poetry recitation and archiving family heritage. Overall, this developed my interest in exploring and understanding global cultures & world history.
What is the brand identity of Abu Dhabi as a city and how important are art and culture?
I believe Abu Dhabi has positioned itself as a city of Arts and Culture not only of its own but also of the world as a whole.
Abu Dhabi is defined by its rich cultural values and traditions that the young and old still respect and practice on daily basis. Over the years, and with all the advancement of our city and country, each one of us still enjoy the traditional poetry and customs we were raised by, and are practiced by the leaders of our country. Mother of the Nation Festival which celebrates this is attended by thousands of people that gather to experience those traditions. There are many other initiatives that the government initiated to preserve traditions, such as Zayed Heritage festival & the “millions poet” that is dedicated for Arabic poetry.
On the other hand, Abu Dhabi has highlighted its love and support to all types of arts from around the world by bringing renowned International museums and arts exhibition such as the Louvre into its grounds to be the home of global arts. This has attracted many tourists and have positioned us as a destination for Arts and Culture.
How can you describe the art and culture scene in Abu Dhabi? What are the major events and projects?
The art and culture scene can be best described as a “cultural boom” of great events, unique creative projects & remarkably talented individuals. This is seen through the local and international festivals that became major awaited events by people around the world such Mother of the Nation Festival, Food festival, Zayed Heritage & Al Dhafra Festivals. Other events include Abu Dhabi Art fair, and other small home grown events promoting art, culture & food in unique ways.
How is the government supporting art and culture?
The government of Abu Dhabi continues to do a remarkable job in supporting the arts and culture here in the UAE. Over the years, they have invested an incredible amount of resources to promote local artists, and create a culturally diverse environment for people of all nationalities.
The Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development works hard to enrich the cultural ecosystem in the UAE. They invested huge amounts of money to support artists produce work & exhibit locally and internationally.
The Department of Culture & Tourism (DCT) has produced several cultural festivals, exhibitions, and built a few significant sites, galleries & museums that have shaped Abu Dhabi into an international platform for artistic growth. To name a few, Sheikh Zayed National Museum, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Louvre, Guggenheim and Qasr Al Hosn. Recently, DCT has launched its newest project, in partnership with Berklee College of Music – Boston, opening its doors on Saadiyat island, bringing its unique take on fostering talent and teaching music to the region.
Art institutes like Salama Bint Hamdan foundation created high-end, tailored art programs that supports emerging artists in the UAE. Their program consists of a yearlong fellowship in collaboration with one of the top international design schools; The Rhode Island School of Design. After the students complete the fellowship, they are given the opportunity to pursue their post-graduate studies while being fully funded by the foundation.
On the other hand, Emirates Foundation funded hundreds of art & music related projects over the years, supporting emerging and established artists within the field.
Who are the cultural figures from the house of al Suwaidi & how did they inspire you?
The house of Al Suwaidi consists of family members belonging to the same tribe who have excelled in various areas of the arts including politics, poetry, education, business and much more.
Given that my grandfather, HE Ahmed Bin Khalifa Al Suwaidi was the founder of the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation with the support of HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, It was only natural that I would dive into this world with great passion.
His son, H.E Mohammed Ahmed Khalifa Al Suwaidi (my uncle), a UAE poet, is considered one of the innovators in the vernacular gulf Arab dialect & has managed one of the most prominent sites in Abu Dhabi “The Cultural Foundation” for over 20 years. It was the home of the first national library, and the theatre and community arts centre in the UAE.
Growing up in such a rich environment, and around such prominent figures had a huge positive impact on enhancing my interests & encouraging me to pursue this field in depth. Therefore, I founded the Abu Dhabi Arts Society last year with a mission to build bridges from the UAE to the world, and to support young emerging artists.
I have also founded several other organizations such as the Al Suwaidi and Ousha bint Khalifa Foundations to build an archival of history records & ensure they are preserved for research purposes. My vision for those two foundations is to showcase and preserve outstanding works and projects of the UAE culture for generations to come.
How were you inspired by your aunt, H.H. Sheikha Khawla Bint Ahmed Khalifa Al Sowaidi the wife of H.H. Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahayan, UAE National Security Advisor given that she is a leader in the art scene too?
I have witness from early childhood her immense interest in the education of arts and culture, including painting, Arabic calligraphy and poetry. She has taught me so much as she spoke passionately about art & literature, not to mention being a great artist herself.
She is considered the successor of our great Aunt, Ousha bint Khalifa Al Suwaidi, one of the significant Nabati poets of the 20th century, who changed history for women in the poetry scene.
H.H Sheikha Khawla continues to set a great example, for women in specific, to not shy away from pursuing their hobbies, and putting their work out there. Her persistence has enabled her to push boundaries & set high standards to reach platforms internationally (exhibiting her artwork in Saatchi Gallery London, 2017) which has inspired so many including myself.
What is the mission of the Abu Dhabi Arts Society?
The Abu Dhabi Arts Society, ADAS, focuses on inclusivity in the local arts community and builds bridges between cultural organisations from Abu Dhabi to the world. Encompassing visual arts, poetry and music, ADAS aims to shine a light on traditional and emerging artists from the region and bring together a community of artists, collectors, scholars and enthusiasts for private events, social gatherings and openings. It strives to broaden the reach of these events to encourage a warm atmosphere based on mutual appreciation and engage arts enthusiasts from one generation to the next.
What projects are you working on in 2020?
We have a range of projects that will be announced soon. They will include promoting work by prominent UAE resident artists & providing them a platform to showcase their work.
We are planning to support the government as much as possible through those challenging times by investing in art & culture related relief funds. We are hoping this will lessen the burden on them while they focus their funds on the health care systems, and saving lives.
We will also be announcing a few collaborations that will further strengthen our network internationally.
Do you see art as a tool to celebrate and preserve Emirati culture?
Most definitely. We have a rich cultural heritage our ancestors passed on to us. They have paved the way to new and upcoming artists that take great pride in the nation’s artistic work.
For example, poetry is a superb art loved, practiced and recited by many Emiratis. My great aunt, Ousha Bint Khalifa Al Suwaidi, mentioned earlier, is regarded as one of the finest Arabic Nabati poets with a large number of her poems continue to be sung by popular Emirati and Arab artists. Her work has been influential in the development of Nabati poetry in the UAE, particularly among young female poets. Thanks to Ousha’s encouragement, the poetic voice of women became strong and essential to the cultural scene across the UAE.
You’re known as an art patron in the UAE, how can you describe your role and responsibilities?
Through our foundations, I try to dedicate as much time as possible to do philanthropy & volunteer work. We direct our projects and funds to support schools, young leaders, and local artists through collaborating with community organisations and educational institutes to promote UAE abroad. We worked closely with The British School of Khubeirat, supporting students showcase their art work. We also worked closely with the team from Qasr Al Husn on several exhibition projects, and outreach programs to educate high profile international visitors & decision makers on our unique history.
As someone who works with upcoming Emirati artists, how can you describe the difference between the old school artists and the new generation?
Each artist portrays their work & tell their story in their own individual style, within their creation regardless of the generation they come from. As technology and new advancements have progressed significantly over the years, so has the style of art. Nowadays, as more opportunities present themselves for artists to venture overseas, they bring back different tools to their artwork. We have seen something very exciting in the past few years, and that is how old and new generations artists collaborated to bring their mediums together & successfully exhibit in harmony.
Do you see art as a bridge between cultures?
Art always creates unity and diversity between cultures around the globe. It is an unspoken universal language. One need not be of a certain culture, religion or background to produce or to appreciate a piece of art.
As mentioned previously, we have worked on multiple projects that promoted the bridging between cultures, and we plan to continue doing so in the near future.
Last year for example, I was honoured to receive, on behalf of the UAE, the Mary Magdalene painting as a gift from the UK in the occasion of Year of Tolerance. It was a wonderful gesture that we highly appreciated and shows how through this unique piece of art, we brought two cultures together.
This year, we announced that we will Patron unique pieces of Arts in the cultural city of Hannover in collaboration with the German Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
How does art contribute to cultural tourism and economy?
Art is a point of attraction for many people around the world which in turn has direct influence on tourism flow and accordingly the economy. Abu Dhabi has identified itself as main destination for travellers in recent years where tourists get the chance to immerse themselves in local rituals, international events and experiences while still experiencing the futuristic vision of the country. According to the most recent report by Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi welcomed 11.35 international visitors in 2019, a growth of over 10% from 2018. Large percentage was strongly attributed to the outstanding events taking place in the Emirate that include a mix of Arts, Music, Culture and many others.
What is the advice you can give to someone who decides to have a professional career in culture or art?
The best advice I could give someone is to keep going forward despite any challenges that you might come across, and try to present and promote your culture in the best ways throughout your art work to the world.