His Excellency Sheikh Salem Al Qassimi inaugurates Aridly Abundant, National Pavilion UAE’s fifth exhibition at the Biennale Architettura 2023
19 May 2023, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: His Excellency Sheikh Salem Al Qassimi, the UAE’s Minister of Culture and Youth, inaugurated Aridly Abundant, celebrating the National Pavilion UAE’s fifth participation at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. The exhibition will be on view until 26 November 2023 at the National Pavilion UAE’s permanent pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia’s Arsenale – Sale d’Armi.
Curated by Faysal Tabbarah, Aridly Abundant investigates what architectural possibilities can become possible when we reimagine arid landscapes as spaces of abundance. This is explored through the integration of land-based knowledge and contemporary technology within the arid landscapes of the UAE, with a specific focus on the desert plateau, wadis, and coastal plains in and around Al Hajar Mountains.
H.E. Sheikh Salem Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture and Youth, said: “Our participation in this prestigious global platform is a reflection of our country’s cultural and social status and its rich artistic heritage. The works of UAE’s homegrown talent exhibited at the National Pavilion have contributed to the growth of the National Pavilion in the biennales over the past 12 years. The UAE’s talent has been adding much value to the Pavilion in recent years.”
H.E. added “It gives us pride that the National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates has evolved to be regarded as a significant creative platform which has gained global recognition. We are delighted by the achievements of the National Pavilion, which reflect the creative scene in our country and demonstrate how art from the UAE is being noticed and appreciated by artists and culture bearers from around the world, acting as a bridge from the UAE to other cultures worldwide.”
The inauguration was attended by His Excellency Sheikh Salem Al Qassimi, UAE Minister of Culture and Youth; His Excellency Sheikh Khalifa Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, President of Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities; Her Excellency Sheikha Bibi AlSabah; Chairperson of Kuwait Sadu Society; Her Excellency Shatha Al Mulla, Assistant Undersecretary for the Arts and Heritage Sector, Ministry of Culture and Youth; His Excellency Saeed Kharbash, Chief Executive Officer of Arts & Literature Sector at Dubai Culture Authority; Dr. Mohammad Aljassar, Acting Secretary-General of Kuwait National Council for Culture, Arts, & Literature (NCCAL); Nasser Al Khaja, Head of Media and Public Diplomacy Section, at the UAE Embassy in Italy; and Dr. Varrki Pallathucheril, Dean, College of Architecture, Art and Design, American University of Sharjah.
Faysal Tabbarah, curator of the National Pavilion UAE’s 2023 exhibition, said: “Through Aridly Abundant, our aim is to change perspectives of arid landscapes as devoid of value, and reimagine them as an abundant source of knowledge and resources, by investigating an alternative and contemporary building system rooted in the UAE’s cultural and material environment. Our research integrates land-based practices with contemporary technology such as 3D scanning and 3D printing to present the potential of stone construction as an adaptable and sustainable form of architecture for countries affected by climate change to explore and adapt to their own environments.”
For the 2023 exhibition, the National Pavilion UAE addresses the misconception that arid spaces are spaces of scarcity to highlight the thriving ecosystems that have always been present in the UAE and its surrounding areas, supported by land-based practices developed by inhabitants who understood and cherished the particularities of the land. The exhibition aims to bring back these practices to the forefront as climatic conditions exacerbate the challenges associated with aridity around the globe. These practices have successfully supported life in water-scarce environments and can be adapted to other contexts, relieving the strain on natural resources and slowing the degradation of land.
Aridly Abundant focuses on these land-based practices to highlight these techniques respond to the environmental conditions of aridity, proving to be a sustainable architectural condition. By examining the materials inherent to the region and the tactics (architectural methods inspired by land-based practices), Tabbarah provokes a discussion on a future built in (uncovering arid lands-based practices), with (rethinking extractive material practices), and for (recognizing aridity as a future global condition) aridity by maximizing the potential of natural resources.
Aridly Abundant transforms the pavilion into an environment that exhibits the ongoing spatial, material, and tactile qualities of aridly abundant landscapes. A series of stone assemblies are inserted into the space, acting as devices that exhibit the multitude of tactics of assembly that have been identified in Al Hajar such as dry-stacking, tethering, and blurring. Audio/visual vignettes by commissioned artist Reem Falaknaz allow one to experience the environment of Al Hajar. For this particular project, she traveled through the mountains sometimes with editors or other contributors to the publication and at other times on her own. Her photographs narrate her own experiences of her exploration. The exhibition includes a large-scale drawing of the landscape and material culture of Al Hajar, telling eight stories about the tactics observed in our fieldwork to ground the exhibition in the context of the UAE. The drawing acts as the device that highlights the relationship between the stone assemblies in the exhibition space with Falaknaz’s audio/visual vignettes. In order to demonstrate that the tactics found in the UAE can be translated and employed in other contexts, the assembly methods have been applied to discarded stone fragments from quarries within the Veneto region. Infused with technologies such as 3D scanning and 3D printing that facilitate design and assembly, the stone devices suggest contemporary and alternative building systems that are rooted in their cultural and material environments.
Angela Migally, Executive Director, Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, said; “We are pleased to see the National Pavilion UAE sharing local knowledge and research to collectively co-create sustainable solutions for the future. The National Pavilion UAE has been a longstanding platform for the UAE to effectively showcase our knowledge and creativity to the world for the past 12 years, allowing us to impactfully participate in ongoing global discourse.”
Laila Binbrek, Director of the National Pavilion UAE, said: “This year marks our twelfth exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia as we continue to explore and highlight the cultural evolution of the UAE. Adapting to climate change has been a growing source of concern around the world and Faysal’s research not only allows us to provide a locally-informed perspective but also possible provocations to this problem as aridity becomes a new reality for many.”
The 2023 exhibition’s accompanying publication “In Plain Sight: Scenes from Aridly Abundant Landscapes”, co-edited by Faysal Tabbarah and Meitha Almazrooei, advocates for arid practices that propose a new vantage point of looking at aridity as a dynamic condition which can be a state of mind, a practice, or a shared identity. Conceived as a travelogue, the publication is a reference to travel and expedition literature which has historically portrayed arid environments in a homogenous manner as spaces devoid of life. The contributors challenge this narrative by introducing nuance and concepts of abundance to construct multiple lenses to view, sense, and capture the multitudes contained within aridity. In addition to research by the curatorial team, the publication also includes photographs taken by Reem Falaknaz during her exploration as well as scientific essays, travel stories, fiction, and poetry contributed by academics, architects, artists, geographers and researchers based in the region. Published by Kaph Books, the book will be available for purchase at a later date to be announced.
Faysal Tabbarah, who was chosen as this year’s curator through an open call issued by the National Pavilion UAE, worked on this project with his curatorial research team consisting of American University of Sharjah (AUS) alumni. The curator’s team also includes three interns from National Pavilion UAE’s Venice Internship Program. The National Pavilion UAE continues to collaborate with local universities, such as AUS, in an ongoing commitment to support the next generation of cultural practitioners, curators and scholars, and sustain studies and research from the UAE.
Aridly Abundant is now open to the public at the Biennale Architettura 2023 until 26 November 2023. A virtual tour of the exhibition is also available on the National Pavilion UAE website.
This exhibition marks the National pavilion UAE’s fifth participation at the International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.
The National Pavilion UAE is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Youth, with a permanent pavilion at the Venice Biennale’s Arsenale – Sale d’Armi.
Special thanks to the American University of Sharjah and the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture for their support on the exhibition.