Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi’s historic space mission, traditional jewellery, local environment - these were some of the major themes features at the National Identity Programme for Visual Arts exhibition.

Organised by the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK), the event took place at Manarat Al Saadiyat and featured over 500 artworks by Emirati students, in their own diverse styles.

The pieces incorporated local inspiration, such as Emirati fashion, jewellery, sand, Al Sadu, Talli, palm fronds, seashells, coins, and pearls.

The programme aims to equip UAE national students in the emirate’s private and express their reflections on the country’s national identity, heritage, culture, and values.

In an interview to Khaleej Times, Linda Wannous, Project Manager, Enrichment Division, ADEK explained how the programme has developed students’ understanding, perspective and appreciation of the UAE’s traditions, culture and heritage.

“National Identity programmes and initiatives have been constructed to foster a greater sense and acknowledgement of Emirati identity within our young UAE nationals," she said.

“The programmes cover four main streams: Arts and Culture, Sports and Excursions, AlMajalis, and Curriculum Integration towards Identity. In-line with ADEK’s ongoing objective to create a diverse pool of human capital that can contribute to realizing the goals of the Abu Dhabi Culture and Creative Industries Strategy, the programme empowers Emirati students to become lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and active global citizens who are deeply connected to their cultural heritage.”

It also recognises gifted students and prepares them to represent the UAE in local and international events through enhancing their art capabilities and skills.

Additionally, it provides a platform for exchanging knowledge, experiences, and artistic skills between visiting professors, trainers, artists, and students.

“Part of the Arts and Culture stream, it equips students with the artistic tools to express their sense of national pride, build a unique leadership personality, and develop their personal identity. Art is an expression of life, and the programme seeks to foster the students’ understanding of intrinsic and deeply rooted UAE values through art,” adds Wannous.

She says, “The photography section was particularly inspiring, with dozens of striking images expressing the vibrant culture of the UAE. The captured moments in these creative expressions were not simply striking for their composition and beauty, or in relaying how our young people see the world around them through a patriotic lens, they also reflected many aspects of Emirati life, history, and culture that we - as a young and ambitious nation - must do our utmost to preserve and protect for future generations."

Students as young as six years old produced works that repurposed traditional elements such as textiles and jewellery to create truly inspiring works that depict the Sadu and the Louvre Museum's dome using colourful wooden sticks.

“With an assortment of impressive paintings on show, including one that depicted the historic mission of Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi to space, the exhibition also featured a stunning collection of collage works. Inspired by the paintings of Najta Makki, many artworks addressed Emirati women and expressed their distinction in the UAE society,” Wannous added.

In the programme’s first edition, 32 art teachers participated in ‘Teach the Teacher' - a detailed training course that fused Emirati cultural elements and values into classes.

To increase impact, ADEK shared various teaching materials, art workshop ideas, and teaching techniques with trainees to ensure the successful implementation of the program in classrooms.

“The programme reinforces Emirati heritage and artistic elements in student artwork, deepening their understanding and appreciation of history, culture, traditions, and values. This is achieved based on three core themes, which are fundamental to the UAE’s rich cultural heritage, including 'History and Heritage’, ‘Local Environment and Nature’, as well as ‘Local Fashion’. It seeks to instil national identity through presenting students with an opportunity to express and celebrate their cultural roots and national pride.

Some of the UAE’s leading artists, including Mohamed Al Astad, Najat Maki, and Wafa Al Hosani, helped promote the Program’s invaluable role in building a thriving local art scene and artist ecosystem. “Our homegrown artist talent helped train teachers and introduced them to a variety of artistic techniques, including painting, colouring, engraving, sculpting, collage and Decoupage. The training sessions helped stimulate the artistic abilities of teachers and students to express heritage elements and the local environment in a diverse artistic style."

The programme focused on core themes that are integral to the UAE’s rich cultural heritage, as well our people’s history as coastal, in-land, and mountainous communities, exploring the significance of the desert, agriculture, and sea in the daily life of Emiratis.

“The students created individual and group projects focused on three themes: History and Heritage, Nature, and Fashion. Works in the History and Heritage' category delved into the country's backstory and cultural identity, from archaeology and architecture to crafts and cityscapes, while works in the Nature category highlighted the country's natural beauty and resources. To fuel appreciation for the role culture plays in shaping contemporary society, the Fashion theme saw students incorporate traditional fabrics, colours, jewellery, and accessories into creative works in modern and innovative ways,” she adds.

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