Representing the Cosmopolitan UAE: Citizenship and Temporality in Exhibitionary Practice

By Elizabeth Derderian
Submitted to Session P4308 (The Politics of Time and Material Heritage Through the Museum Framework in the Arabian Peninsula, 2016 Annual Meeting
Arabian Peninsula; UAE;
Gulf Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This presentation examines practices and mechanisms of policing citizenship categories in Emirati contemporary arts exhibitions as well as the politics of temporal depth and simultaneity. In addition to ethnographic interviews with artists, audiences, and arts professionals in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), this paper analyzes key recent Emirati art exhibitions including the Emirati Expressions exhibitions series (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015), held biannually on Saadiyat Island in the UAE capital city; the Farjam Foundation’s “1971: Contemporary Art from the UAE,” a private collection shown in Dubai; and the Sharjah Art Foundation’s 2015 biennial exhibition “1980 – Today: Exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates.” First, this paper considers practices of inclusion and exclusion, in particular the defining of citizenship categories, in exhibitionary practice in the UAE. It explores the mechanisms through which differences in citizenship categories are produced, exploited or obviated; for example, the necessity of providing documentation of citizenship as a routine procedure for an artist’s acceptance into exhibitions, or the choices made in advertising format or language that render exhibitions (in)accessible to particular demographic populations and age groups. These distinguishing practices narrow whose art counts as authentically Emirati and simultaneously delineate a desired audience.
Secondly, it interrogates the ways in which artists and art professionals understand the role and importance of temporality. This presentation discusses the ways in which interlocutors at times deny the existence of historical arts production in the UAE to highlight the novelty of younger artists, or conversely showcase that older generation to deny claims that art and museums are not indigenous to the UAE and that the country has no tradition of arts practice. It analyzes how various arts organizations endeavor to showcase and produce a lengthy and established “organic” local production, forging a genealogy of artistic practice to counter international media critiques that art is not indigenous to the region. Thus in the UAE, the question of which artists are permitted to represent the nation in key public exhibitions is deeply political, and reproduces mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion based on age and national origin.