National Pavilion Uae at the Biennale Arte 2024 Opens With the solo Exhibition “Abdullah Al Saadi: Sites of Memory, Sites Of Amnesia”

calendar-iconWednesday, 17 April, 2024
  • The Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates at the 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia stages Abdullah Al Saadi: Sites of Memory, Sites of Amnesia, an exhibition of work by the prolific, multidisciplinary Emirati artist Abdullah Al Saadi curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh.
  • Opening on 20 April 2024, the exhibition unfolds like a narrative with many chapters and conjures the atmosphere of Abdullah Al Saadi’s studio.
  • The exhibition invites audiences to encounter Al Saadi’s singular world through a performed reader of his four-decade-long practice.
  • The exhibition presents Al Saadi’s chronicles of eight journeys in the wilderness, the beings and objects that accompanied him, and the sensory record of these journeys.
  • A publication, titled Sites of Memory, Sites of Amnesia and edited by Tarek Abou El Fetouh and Rasha Salti, accompanies the exhibition.


The pavilion of the United Arab Emirates at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia opens with Abdullah Al Saadi: Sites of Memory, Sites of Amnesia , curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh. The exhibition features eight works by Al Saadi and offers a reflection on his decades-long artistic practice. Working from his studio in Khor Fakkan, United Arab Emirates, the artist immerses himself in nature to create vivid, subjective readings of the world and his place within it. Rather than simply drawing inspiration from nature, Al Saadi forms an intimate dialogue with his environment and embraces a close, multifaceted connection with the natural landscape. This process recalls techniques of composition in classical poetry from the Arabian Peninsula, in which poets journeyed into natural settings to write their poems. Sharjah-based curator Tarek Abou El Fetouh worked closely with the artist on a new reading of his practice for the Venice exhibition, examining the shifting dynamics of collective memory.

Abdullah Al Saadi: Sites of Memory, Sites of Amnesia conjures the atmosphere of the artist’s studio and the rituals he practices with a set of reflections and associations that have formed over many years. The exhibition brings into focus the relationship between memory and forgetting, and between manifestation and disappearance. Visitors are invited on a journey of exploration of the works that are on display and others that are concealed in boxes and chests, awaiting discovery. Performers are present throughout the Biennale’s run to engage with visitors and offer them an interactive, performed reader of the exhibition. These performers are professional actors as well as students from the Sharjah Performing Arts Academy who are also participating in the pavilion’s flagship Venice internship program. They share stories and respond to the audience’s interests to create individual trajectories through a web of narratives, concepts, texts poems, and the artist’s diaries. Each story contains several chapters and leads to another, contributing to an immersive, evolving experience of Al Saadi’s artistic practice.

The relationship between poetry and traveling has long been vital in Arab culture. The exhibition foregrounds Al Saadi’s sensory and aesthetic interpretations of the natural environment of the UAE and draws connections with the tradition of classical poetry from the Arabian Peninsula, in which poets immersed themselves in nature before beginning their compositions.

His Excellency Sheikh Salem bin Khalid Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture of the United Arab Emirates: “A presence at the Biennale Arte is an important part of the UAE’s international cultural activities. It is simultaneously a way of bringing artistic practices from the UAE to the world, and of bringing an international audience to some of the most exciting and important creative work taking place here. Abdullah Al Saadi has been a crucial voice in the art scene in the UAE for more than forty years, and I am pleased that audiences in Venice will have a chance to encounter his work in this elegantly curated presentation. My profound thanks go to the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and Tarek Abou El Fetouh for bringing this project to light, and to Abdullah Al Saadi for inviting us to join him on his journeys.”

Laila Binbrek, Director, National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates: “Throughout his long and multifaceted career, Abdullah Al Saadi has carried out an extended dialogue with the landscape of the UAE, and in particular with his home of Khor Fakkan. He is one of the most distinctive and influential voices in Emirati art, and his body of work, which is both meditative and actively engaged with its content, continues to offer new insights and invite new readings. Tarek Abou El Fetouh’s innovative restaging of Al Saadi’s studio in Venice, with a vital performative component, is a testament to the enduring relevance of this remarkable artistic practice. I am thrilled that UAE and international audiences alike have this opportunity to encounter Al Saadi’s work in a new way. It is an example of the pavilion’s ongoing work to tell untold stories about the arts in the UAE.”

Tarek Abou El Fetouh: “I am delighted to be working with Abdullah on this exhibition. To represent the UAE in Venice is a great honor, and Abdullah’s work over more than four decades offers an eloquent statement on the multilayered history of Emirati contemporary art on the world stage. In this exhibition, Abdullah invites us into his creative world, uncovering connections with the landscape and articulating a historical connection with the tradition of classical poets from the Arabian Peninsula. The performance brings a sense of immediacy and intimacy and constitutes a performed reader* that underscores the inherent subjectivity of personal experience and memory. My hope is that it will lead to many new stories and multiple new directions for interpretation.”

Abdullah Al Saadi: “Traveling and getting to know the environment that surrounds me has always been an important guiding force in my work. I have been making art every day for the past forty years, and I am glad to have this opportunity to share my artistic journey with audiences from around the world. In this presentation in Venice, I hope visitors will enjoy retracing some of the travels I have made in years past. I also hope this exhibition will lead to thinking about the world around us, and our place within it.”

The opening ceremony was attended by Sheikh Salem bin Khalid Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture of the UAE; Her Highness Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director of the Sharjah Art Foundation;; His Excellency Abdulla Ali Al Saboosi, UAE Ambassador to Italy; and His Excellency Saeed Kherbash, Chief Executive Officer of the Arts & Literature Sector at the Dubai Culture Authority.

A publication, titled Sites of Memory, Sites of Amnesia, edited by Tarek Abou El Fetouh and Rasha Salti, and published by Kaph Books, accompanies the exhibition. It is richly illustrated and structured around a chronicle of Al Saadi’s journeys in his own words. In addition to documenting the artworks, the publication expands on the exhibition’s curatorial approach and invites writers to engage with Al Saadi’s work. Contributors include Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, Dr. Aisha Bilkhair, and Younes Mashish (pseudonym), who offer their readings of Al Saadi’s practice. The book is available for purchase at La Biennale di Venezia bookstores and online here.

The National Pavilion UAE expresses special thanks to the Sharjah Performing Arts Academy for their collaboration, which reflects the pavilion’s ongoing commitment to supporting artists, curators, and scholars who present untold stories of the UAE on a global stage.

This exhibition marks the National Pavilion UAE’s eighth participation at the Biennale Arte. The 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is now open until 24 November 2024. A virtual tour of the exhibition is available on the National Pavilion UAE website: https://nationalpavilionuae.org/art/2024/abdullah-alsaadi-sites-of-memory-sites-of-amnesia/

The National Pavilion UAE is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Culture, with a permanent pavilion at the Venice Biennale’s Arsenale – Sale d’Armi.

For more information on the participation of the UAE at the Biennale Arte 2024, please visit nationalpavilionuae.org or follow the National Pavilion UAE on FacebookInstagramTwitter.