The Etihad Museum, opened in early 2017, offers its visitors an impressive range of artifacts and documents illustrating the foundation of the United Arab Emirates. The rich and informative journey into the history of the country is accompanied by artistic means intended to inspire the visitors and communicate the sense of awe and pride the Emiratis feel for this important event and its outcomes. One of the centerpieces of the artistic element of the museum is the massive artwork situated over the entrance to one of the rooms. While it does not have a proper name, it is commonly referred to as the Chef-d’Oeuvre (i.e. the masterpiece) and was painted by the renowned Emirati artist Abdul Qader Al Rais on the request of the museum administration (Government of Dubai, n.d.).
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Abdul Qader Al Rais can be rightfully considered one of the most significant artists of the UAE. He began his artistic path before the country was founded and has since garnered both public praise and critical acclaim. Inspired by impressionists, he uses lush colors and powerful symbolic imagery to communicate his fascination with the land and nature of the country (ADMAF, n.d.). Over the years, his distinct style has become recognizable enough to be strongly associated with the beauty and values of the UAE itself, which is probably the reason he was approached by the museum to represent the history of the UAE’s birth.
The artwork is several meters wide and is situated in one of the main corridors of the building. The positioning is chosen to ensure that the visitors face it early in the excursion and capture the joy and importance of the moment the facility is dedicated to (McFarlane, 2017). The painting depicts a stylized map of the UAE, surrounded by vivid yellow and blue areas. The colors are chosen to represent the desert, an environment historically associated with the region, and the sea, which provided the emirates with pearling opportunities during earlier historical periods (Raj, 2017). These colors convey the message of the beauty and uniqueness of landscape that gave the UAE its current shape and the energy it transpires to its citizens. The stalk of the palm tree depicted on the left is a long-standing national symbol that represents fertility and sustenance and is often used to remind of the power of life permeating the desert (Fullard, 2014).
Calligraphy, another distinctive element of Abdul Qader Al Rais’ style, is used extensively throughout the piece. The side which represents the desert bears the names of seven Founding Fathers who signed the original document which marked the birth of the state (The National, 2017). The side which depicts the ocean contains the names of the seven Emirates that formed the UAE after the historical event in 1971. All of the inscriptions are made with an intricate calligraphic font reminiscent of rich culture and deep respect for the depicted event. Finally, the word “Unity” is inscribed in the center of the artwork, thus emphasizing the central principle and one of the core values which ensure the greatness of the country.
The artwork by Abdul Qader Al Rais uses the power of color and shape to add an artistic perspective to historical messages communicated by the museum’s contents. The use of calligraphy and the inclusion of one of the national symbols further deepens the cultural bond felt by the visitors and increases their understanding of the importance of historical context.
ADMAF. (n.d.). Abdul Qader Al Rais. Web.
Fullard, M. (2014). The 6 UAE national symbols. Web.
Government of Dubai. (n.d.). About Etihad Museum. Web.
McFarlane, N. (2017). 10 pictures from the Etihad Museum that tell a story about the UAE. Web.
The National. (2017). Etihad Museum brings UAE’s story to life on opening day. Web.
Raj, A. (2017). UAE history has a new address. Web.