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Emirati Cultural Capital Sharjah Uplifts Arab Artists Worldwide

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The Cultural Capital of the Arab World

Often overlooked by visitors in favour of its neighbours Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sharjah was nevertheless named the cultural capital of the Arab world in 1998 by UNESCO — and is also a safe space for artistic expression.

Moza Almatrooshi, an Emirati sculptor, shares her experience as an artist in the city, “I love the art scene in Sharjah, I love the existing art institutions and museums and I feel that I can work in this environment more comfortably than I would in other places in the United Arab Emirates.”

She continued truthfully, “The artistic audacity comes from Western artists. They can freely show ideas we cannot, not because we are against them but because we are a little fearful. We cannot say everything we want to say.”

Global Visibility for Arab Artists

Declared by UNESCO a World Book Capital city for promoting literacy, the emirate welcomes exhibitions from artists from all over the world while also combatting the under-representation of Arab artists on a global scale.

Manal Ataya, General Director of Sharjah Museums Authority, explains the establishment’s position, “It would not make sense for us to be a platform and to not showcase Arab artists. They are important to us, it’s part of our mandate that we do that. It’s very easy to continue to support artists from Europe for example, but it does not make sense, why would we do that? It’s our artists here that need our support.”

On a Mission

In the Sharjah Art Museum, more than a thousand works of art depict the beauty and tragedy of the region, as well as the daily life of yesteryear.

Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi, an Emirati academic and founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, is impassioned, “Building a solid house or structure needs time and an understanding of society. We are not here to fight society. We are providing society with an artistic service about the Arab world. We should showcase our art and be proud of it. We have to know local art before we learn about Picasso and Dali. We must get to know them (Arab artists) before learning about Western and Eastern artists.”

Continuing to shine culturally is Sharja’s goal and the Emirate has decided to do so in a highly authentic way.