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Manar Abu Dhabi set to cast the capital in a new light through public art

Maan Jalal

Manar Abu Dhabi, a new outdoor exhibition of light art, is inviting the public to experience the capital in a new way.

Starting on Wednesday, more than 35 new commissions and site-specific light sculptures, projections and immersive artworks by local, regional and international artists will illuminate the archipelagos and mangroves of Abu Dhabi under the theme of Grounding Light.

“Abu Dhabi is magical outside, especially this time of the year,” co-curator Reem Fadda tells The National. “Manar Abu Dhabi is going to be a cohesive combination of art and nature and light art that’s already quite superb.”

The works include light pieces by Emirati artist Mohammed Kazem, renowned Palestinian artist Samia Halaby, Emirati poet and artist Nujoom Al-Ghanem, Tunisian visual artist Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Mexican-Canadian electronic artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Japanese international art collective teamLab and many more.

Part of the Public Art Abu Dhabi initiative announced by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi earlier this year, Manar Abu Dhabi will be running for three months with art works extending across locations such as Corniche Road, Lulu Island, Samaliayah Island, Fahid Island, Jubail mangroves, Saadiyat Island and the Eastern mangroves.

The Dawaran series by Emirati artists Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi and Shaikha Al Ketbi (2023). Photo: DCT Abu Dhabi
The Dawaran series by Emirati artists Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi and Shaikha Al Ketbi (2023). Photo: DCT Abu Dhabi

“Starting with Manar Abu Dhabi as the first exhibition for public art, it was really very exciting to explore locations to see this process through,” says Alia Zaal Lootah, co-curator of Manar Abu Dhabi

“It’s an outdoor exhibition but having it in Abu Dhabi with the very special kind of geography in Abu Dhabi, with all its challenges and beauty and seeing how things finally ended up looking, it’s very exciting.”

Light art is a very specific medium, Fadda says, and one that not a lot of artists can manipulate effectively in the outdoors. When done successfully however, it can captivate as well as reframe how people interact and think about their surroundings.

Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi and Shaikha Al Ketbi's Dawaran (2023). Photo: DCT Abu Dhabi
Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi and Shaikha Al Ketbi’s Dawaran (2023). Photo: DCT Abu Dhabi

Aside from finding artists that speak through the medium, it was also imperative to find artists who could speak to the theme of Grounding Light, she says.

“Manar Abu Dhabi, as a concept was always about nature, it was always about letting the earth speak to us, allowing that to be the thing that enlightens our experience,” Fadda, who is also the artistic director of Public Art Abu Dhabi, says.

“The theme came from the idea of the earth around us in Abu Dhabi, that natural beauty, that ecology specifically speaking to us.”

The light exhibition is also held together by the idea of rootedness. This is an important concept both curators emphasise – the idea of dealing with the heritage and ecology of the city simultaneously through contemporary art.

These ideas were woven into how the works speak to a grounding in nature, land and the environment that surrounds people.

Pillars that Dance with the Wind by Japanese art collection teamLab. Photo: DCT Abu Dhabi
Pillars that Dance with the Wind by Japanese art collection teamLab. Photo: DCT Abu Dhabi

“In Abu Dhabi you have a lot of people throughout the seasons on their boats, this is a very common activity,” Lootah says.

“What we did is to bring a lot of the works closer to the water so that if you’re on your boat, if you’re moving around the waters of Abu Dhabi, you can see and appreciate the works also.”

Manar is the Arabic word for lighthouse. The universally recognisable structure has long been a metaphor for guidance and safety, but also a symbol of awareness and illuminating the unconscious to provide clarity of thought and feeling. In many ways, Manar Abu Dhabi is shining a light, reigniting and realigning the public’s awareness of the unique natural assets of the capital through immersive, multisensory works of art.

“Ultimately, this is about rechannelling how we see Abu Dhabi at large. We don’t think about Abu Dhabi in terms of the mangroves,” Fadda says.

“The cultural value of Manar Abu Dhabi is to try to say, ‘let’s realign and think about these natural assets of Abu Dhabi’. Wouldn’t it be so welcome if all our cultural experiences are always articulated around this ecosystem that we have? Wouldn’t it be better if we had eco-tourism in that kind of way?”

Manar Abu Dhabi will cast the capital in a new light, says Lootah.

“People who come to Abu Dhabi from Dubai and Sharjah all the time usually see it from the same side. But now it’s a boat ride, it’s a new island, even looking at Abu Dhabi’s skyline is something different. There are a lot of new things to experience now in Abu Dhabi in this new light.”

Courtesy: thenationalnews