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Smithsonian Folklife Festival opens its doors to public with  UAE as the country in focus

Smithsonian Folklife Festival opens its doors to public with UAE as the country in focus

June 24, 2022

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival opened its doors to the public yesterday for a face-to-face event at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., after a two-year hiatus. The annual Festival, running from June 22 to 27 and June 30 to July 4, is celebrating the UAE’s cultural heritage and deeply rooted history, as the UAE is the country in focus.

The Festival which is supported by the Ministry of Culture and Youth along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and the UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C., explores cultural traditions and folk life of the UAE through a well curated programme under the theme United Arab Emirates: Living Landscape | Living Memory. More than 80 artisans, culture bearers and musicians have flown in from the UAE to participate in the Festival.

Opening with an evening concert on June 22, the daytime programming runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with special evening events starting at 6:30 p.m.

United Arab Emirates: Living Landscape | Living Memory shines a light on cultural traditions that emerge from Emirati experiences of migration, intercultural exchange, and survival in close connection with land, sea and sky. At the same time, the programme is forward-looking, highlighting the country’s contemporary diversity and visions for an inclusive, sustainable future. The Festival also features the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism programme.

Speaking to the Festival audience in a video address, Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Youth said: “The Ministry of Culture and Youth is proud to support the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to showcase Emirati culture and folklore to the world from the heart of Washington, DC. The Festival has been celebrating cultures of the world for more than 55 years and it is really an exciting experience for the UAE to be featured in its current edition.”

“The festival comes at a very opportune time for the UAE, close on the heels of our nation’s golden jubilee celebrations,” she said.

“The UAE is a nation founded on the principles of equality and peaceful coexistence, we believe in a culture of inclusion and acceptance and most importantly we celebrate diversity as we actively engage with our larger human fraternity,” added Her Excellency.

His Excellency Mubarak Al Nakhi, Undersecretary of the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, who led the UAE delegation of participating artists to the Festival, said: “The world knows the UAE as a fast-growing, future-focused nation but not many are aware of our Emirati heritage rooted in Arab traditions. The UAE has a lot to offer in terms of traditional arts and crafts, and the way we keep age-old customs alive. The festival will showcase Emirati customs and traditions, celebrate fifty glorious years of the nation’s formation, and pay tribute to the UAE’s folklore.”

“We have a treasure trove of oral traditions and intangible heritage which speak volumes about our rich culture. The Festival will introduce all these and more through a well-curated programme featuring more than 80 Emirati artists and offer a window to the core of the Emirati identity,” he concluded.

“The UAE has transformed rapidly and profoundly in the last fifty years,” said programme co-curator Rebecca Fenton.

“Today it is urbanised and remarkably diverse, with the majority of its residents having other nationalities. At the Festival, we will explore how crafts and creative traditions can revitalise connections to deep-rooted local traditions and at the same time inspire new creative industries.” She added.

On her part, Michele Bambling, UAE-based curator of the programme said, “The Folklife Festival invites visitors to come to the National Mall to enter a majlis—an important convening space dedicated to community discussion and hospitality,” said. “We hope visitors will join us to explore UAE living traditions as resources for connecting communities and envisioning a shared sustainable future.”

Visitors to the Festival will be able to engage in activities that reflect a diversity of cultural expressions found throughout the UAE. For example, visitors can participate in a workshop to create perfumes and incense, and at the same time learn the importance of aroma in Emirati culture. Master falconers will demonstrate this ancient skill while describing its important historical role and its role in sustainability today. Visitors can hear the traditional, plaintive songs of pearl divers. The flavours and techniques of Emirati home cooking will be demonstrated, emphasising the connection between local ties and global influences. NOON, a Middle Eastern global fusion music group, brings together traditional and contemporary music by featuring the oud, an ancient stringed musical instrument.

The Festival is accompanied by an exhibition titled – Falcons: The Art of the Hunt – at the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art, featuring a selection of paintings and objects from ancient Egypt to China that offer a glimpse into the fascinating world of falcons.

It also includes a marketplace which to offer exclusive artisan-made crafts from the UAE along with other locally sourced products. Food concessions, featuring UAE traditional flavours and dishes using sustainably produced products and locally produced ingredients, will be available for purchase throughout the Festival.

About the Festival

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, inaugurated in 1967, honours contemporary living cultural traditions and celebrates those who practice and sustain them. Produced annually by the Smithsonian’s Centre for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in partnership with the National Park Service, the Festival has featured participants from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

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