Museum Development in Abu Dhabi: Hybrid Processes and Cross-Border Relations

By Sarina Wakefield
Submitted to Session P4308 (The Politics of Time and Material Heritage Through the Museum Framework in the Arabian Peninsula, 2016 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
Gulf Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper will examine the development of the planned cultural institutions on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. It will focus on analysing the development of the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museums within the theoretical framework of hybridity. By doing so this paper raises questions about the role of heritage in relation to globalisation, but also about how relevant those traditional models of heritage and nation building (which were largely developed through the exploration of processes which had occurred during nineteenth and twentieth centuries in western, industrializing and post-industrializing contexts) are in understanding the role of heritage in the Gulf. This paper will draw on the authors doctoral research in Abu Dhabi, which used rapid ethnographic assessment processes model that incorporated: interviews, observations, surveys, and documentary analysis.

The paper will challenge the idea that museums and cultural institutions are dominated and demarcated by national borders and identities. Instead it will seek to explore the way in which the museum developments on Saadiyat Island speak to cross cultural identity development, and in particular contemporary cosmopolitan identities (Wakefield 2013, 2014). It will do so by first providing a discussion of hybridity as a concept and how its usefulness for understanding contemporary heritage developments in Abu Dhabi. It will then explore how the development of the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi are part of a ‘hybrid process’ of developing heritage in Abu Dhabi, which are being used to develop new museums and cultural institutions. Next the paper will explore how these hybrid processes are connected to issues of cross-cultural translation, identity (local, national and global) and representation. Particular focus will be paid to the political and power dynamics that emerge from the co-production of contemporary new museums in the United Arab Emirates. Ultimately this paper serves to explore how the creation of cross-border heritage, through the development of new museums on Saadiyat Island serves various economic, political and social aims that affect how heritage is created and presented in new socio-cultural contexts. In doing so it contributes to the interdisciplinary field of critical heritage studies and our understanding of contemporary heritage developments in the Gulf.