Thursday, September 17, 2020


Many of the craft arts enjoyed in the United Arab Emirates have been around since the bedouin times and have been passed down from generation to generation. Some of these, like pottery, have been around since the Paleolithic times and evidence can be seen in local museums. Weaving and embroidery also comes from this time as well. A type of traditional weaving called Sadu. Using the fibers from sheared sheep, goats, and camels, it’s cleaned and spun into soft threads. Typically in colors of beiges, tans, browns, creams, and blacks, designs are mainly either stripes or geometric shapes and girls start at an early age learning the trade. Sadu has been listed on UNESCO’s “Tangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding” list.

Much of their traditional architecture is based on Arabian and Islamic styles. One of the most identifying aspects to buildings in the UAE are the keen use of the barjeel. This is a type of ventilation used to cool buildings and homes in the hottest days of the year. It’s a type of open column sticking up from the main roof of the building, it looks like open windows with decorated borders. It almost kind of reminds me of the game Monument Valley. Many homes along the coast are built using fossilized coral and molded together with a seashell-lime mixture (called sarooj) and chalk.

Most visual art as we know it is mainly in the 20th and 21st centuries, and this includes sculpting, painting, design, animation, and photography. A few well-known Emirati artists include Moosa Al Halyan (surrealist painter), Abdulraheem Salim (painter and sculptor, one of the first artists to participate in the fine arts movement in the UAE), Najat Makki (she helped create the contemporary arts movement), Mattar bin Lahej (painter, sculptor, photographer), Farah al Qasimi (photographer known for capturing life in the Persian Gulf), and Abdul Qader Al Rais (award-winning abstract artist, known for combining Arabic calligraphy with geometric shapes). Mohammed Saeed Harib is a well-known animator, mainly for his cartoon FREEJ.

by Abdul Qader Al Rais

The UAE is also known for its cultural arts fests in the region. The Sharjah Biennale, Art Dubai, and Abu Dhabi Art are some of the festivals focused on highlighting the best in the art world.

From Sharjah Biennal 13

Literature in the United Arab Emirates is written primarily in Arabic. Poetry has long been the go-to form of expressing themselves. Early on, their poetic styles were highly influenced by the works of the 8th-century scholar Al Khalil bin Ahmed. He was the one who is credited with creating the first Arabic dictionary. He not only helped put the language on paper, but he also introduced harakat (the diacritic vowel marks in the Arabic language), musicology, and established poetic meter. These traditional poetry styles still exist today, but some Western-style prose poetry has also worked its way into what modern poets use.

Sheikh Saqr al Qasimi

Quite a few 20th century poets have become popular, especially some who wrote in a Classical Arabic style, like Ahmed bin Sulayem, Mubarak Al Oqaili, and Salem bin Ali al Owais. There was a group of poets from Sharjah known as the Hirah Group that were also fairly influential in the poetry world and used many elements from the western Romantic poets: Sheikh Saqr al Qasimi (a former ruler of Sharjah), Sultan bin Ali al Owais, and Khalfan Musabah.

Rashid Abdullah al Nuaimi

However, the first novel that was published was Rashid Abdullah al Nuaimi’s Shahenda’s Novel. A diplomat by trade, working as a foreign minister in the oil and gas division, I’ve come across several articles about the award he received in 2015 acknowledging his feat as writing the first Emirati novel, but nothing ever mentioned its publication date.

Khalid Albudoor

Other authors of note include Nujoom Al-Ghanem (poet and film director), Khalid Albudoor (important in the modern poetry movement), and Ousha Al Sha’er (her poetry is prominent in Nabati, or Bedouin poetry).

Up next: music and dance

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