National Pavilion UAE - Lest We Forget: more than five centuries of history  from the past glory of the arsenal to the modern glory of the United Arab Emirates/ By Widad Menjra
  • Lest We Forget: more than five centuries of history from the past glory of the arsenal to the modern glory of the United Arab Emirates/ By Widad Menjra

    The arsenal of Venice is a very large part of the city of Venice and was the heart of the Venetian naval industry from the twelfth century. It is linked to the most flourishing period of the life of the Serenissima: thanks to the impressive ships built here, Venice was able to counteract the Turks in the Aegean Sea and conquer the northern European routes. The term arsenal, used modern Italian, derives from dar-as-sina’ah, meaning “house of industry”. Thus was born the first link between Venice and the Middle East, between the Arsenale and the Arab world.

    Just inside the large local Corderie of the Arsenale are some of the venues of the Biennale di Venezia. The United Arab Emirates Pavilion has the pleasure of being in this place, recreating a bond that existed centuries ago. As Rem Koolhas –director and curator of 14th International Architecture Exhibition- has suggested, the Biennale is an opportunity for the participating countries to reflect and examine the architecture of past centuries. The United Arab Emirates has replied to this call, building a place of memory for the past, called “Last we Forget: structures of memory in the UAE.”

    So here we are: after traveling down the long corridor that separates the entrance of the arsenal exhibition halls, we find ourselves faced with Sale d’armi (literally weapons’ locations). The last one on the left houses the UAE Pavilion. We make three small steps and to our right we have a welcoming reception. Not only is it one of the few pavilions to have a reception, but it has also dozens of books, press releases and free catalogs for the interested public.The book that attracts the most attention of all is of “Last we forget”, a book that first was a simple project by  Zayed University students under the direction of Michele Bambling and Susan Meiselas.  The project was then published for the Biennale occasion, and it turned to be practical and extremely useful, thanks to personal photos contained in this. It reports and summarizes indeed decades of history of the United Arab Emirates.

    In front of the reception there is a bench, where I have seen people getting relaxed, lying  down, or standing to take pictures.The bench is black, the reception white: here begins the contrast between black and white that will characterize the whole exhibition.

    Lest We Forget

    On the top of our heads lies a pergola woven in Arish style (the thread of hemp once used by Bedouins for their curtains in the desert). It has been an extraordinary surprise to see that those big panels could move and create a unique visual effect, like if the wind is moving the Arish material.

    The drawers are black, the lights are neon-white: if you want more light just open a drawer. An intellectual light, because every drawer tells a story, shows something different, and maybe something you have never seen in your life.This is a multimedia exhibition that involves three out of five senses:Sight, touch, hearing: we can touch and flip through album, see pictures inside, observe the timeline,  wear headphones and watch the video footage of the mini-player, we can sit and attend two lectures on the UAE architecture held by Professors of architecture, touch real models of architectural projects, and much more.

    Ancient pictures remind us of a hard past, the passage of the Emirate economy from pearls to oil, the first buildings in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, the first activities in the country,a past that was characterized by the British colonization, and then  by the efforts of all Sheikhs united to create an important commercial center, that now is one of the most stable and secure countries in the Arab world.

    Last I forget: an unbelievable month

    The pavilion has the feature to be accessible to everyone, adults and children, architects, starters and other professionals.There is no limit for those who want to know the history of the UAE architecture, and no limits for  those who want to remember this history itself. Lots of visitors came to tell us that it is a very nice pavilion, they enjoyed everything in it and I have been always glad to thank them for the compliment and for coming too.

    As my internship is almost finished, I wanted to say few words: Saying that this month’s work for me has flown, it is perhaps not enough; saying that I had one of the most beautiful cultural exchanges in my life, probably is not enough; saying that I am deeply proud of this experience could make you the idea. But not all. Everybody should try a month of this kind, in a pavilion that will steal your heart and with some co-workers that you love already after a few days. You would not have the words to describe it.

    A journey that has enriched me not only of architectural knowledge, but that has tested my Arabic, expanded my open mindedness, the desire to investigate the Arab culture and definitely increased my desire to go the UAE someday, to see with my own eyes the buildings with which I come into contact every day in the form of paper documents or video.

    I am extremely grateful to Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Culture, Youth & Community Development, to Musbah, to Mouna, to the whole team of The National and who was behind this great work, without forgetting my teacher of Arabic language Massimo Khairallah, for allowing me to live this wonderful experience.

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