Where is the Sharjah Art Museum heading? – Manal Ataya, Sharjah Museums director

MIDDLE EAST MUSEUMS

The Art Newspaper has published a fascinating video interview with the Director of the Sharjah Museum, Manal Ataya. Because the video is in a frame rather than its own separate page, it is not possible to link to it directly so we have paraphrased some of the most interesting snippets of information.

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Sharjah – the cultural emirate

Sharjah is just one of seven of the emirates which make up the United Arab Emirates and is often called the ‘cultural emirate’ because its leading position in arts infrastructure. It has a well-respected biennial and three museums devoted to art:

  • Museum of Islamic Civilisation
  • Sharjah Art Museum and Contemporary Arab Art
  • Sharjah Calligraphy Museum

His Highness the Emir’s passion and vision

Sharjah’s pre-eminent position in the Middle Eastern art scene is largely due to the energy and vision of His Highness the Emir of Sharjah and in this video Manal Ataya gives us an intriguing insight into the progressive and enlightened principles which he communicates to his museum staff.

For example, she explains that His Highness encourages staff to thirst after knowledge and he encourages extensive and continual reading.

He believes that culture and museums encourage flexibility of thinking which can help to promote openness and understanding between people and, ultimately, bring peace. He also believes that a developed sensitivity to aesthetics spills over into other facets of human endeavour, for example an appreciation of the arts can help a teacher teach and a politician polemicise and a doctor practise.

Islam prohibits the figurative in art? Not true

Manal Ataya also points out and clears up some misconceptions about the Islamic prohibition of the figure in art. She explains that there is a tradition of portraiture in the Middle East and Islamic rules are more nuanced than is commonly understood.

Islam does allow human representation and it is only forbidden in a religious context or space. She explains that there are some sects which do not allow representation of the human figure in any context but these are not Islamic rules per se.

Youthful demographics – 70% under 30 years –  shaping museum plans

 The Emir has a young population (perhaps 70% are under the age of 30, says Ataya) and this age group is showing a strong interest in digital and graphic art. The museum plans to show more sculpture and 3D work, which is not traditional in Sharjah.

Collaboration with Abu Dhabi and its blockbuster museums

When asked about potential collaboration with Abu Dhabi, the largest and richest of the UAE’s city-states which is planning blockbuster branded museums such as the Louvre and Guggenheim, Ataya explains that the museums in Sharjah are always ready and able to collaborate and work with others.

She describes how they have already started working with Abu Dhabi’s universities which have disciplines in the arts. She believes that Sharjah is just one of seven emirates and they can unite successfully to bring UAE a more prominent role in the international art scene.

See the video

To see The Art Newspaper videos you can subscribe online.

See Manal Ataya, Sharjah Museum director video interview 14 mins May 2009 – in a frame so may be difficult to find

Related links: Sharjah museums website, Art Newspaper subscription

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