Contemporary Emirati Art Exhibit Makes Final American Stop at UK's Bolivar Gallery

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 11, 2016) — The first major touring exhibition of Emirati art will make its final stop of an 18-month tour of the United States this weekend in the Bluegrass. "Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates," organized by Meridian International Center and the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), tells the story of the UAE’s rich history, culture and rapid development. The exhibition will run April 16-May 13 at the University of Kentucky’s Bolivar Art Gallery, in the new Art and Visual Studies Building.

A special highlight of "Past Forward" is the display of works that showcase facets of Emirati culture, including a strong equestrian heritage and a culture deeply rooted in hospitality. Similar to Lexington, horses are intrinsically woven into the fabric of Emirati culture. The UAE is home to some of the world’s most famous horse racing tournaments including the Dubai World Cup, and the country’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed, led the country in promoting purebred Arabian horses to the world. The UAE — which is home to more than 200 different nationalities — and Kentucky share a proud culture of hospitality that makes visitors feel at home.

"'Past Forward’ presents the UAE’s culture and history as told through the eyes of the country’s best contemporary artists, and how the country has preserved its traditions while developing into the modern, open and tolerant place it is today," said UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba. "'Past Forward’s final stop in Lexington, Kentucky, is the last chance to view some of these talented Emiratis’ artwork in the U.S., and we are excited to share this moment in a city where we have so much in common."

The UAE and the U.S. share close bilateral ties, and the "Past Forward" touring exhibition and auxiliary programming is a reflection of the two countries’ friendship. In conjunction with the exhibition, this week, a delegation of featured artists from the UAE will participate in public programming and arts outreach on the UK campus and around the community.

The exhibition showcases more than 50 paintings, photographs, sculptures, video installations and other media by 25 notable Emirati artists that emphasize core elements of life in the UAE. Emirati artists are a multifaceted group of men and women who have maintained a sense of national identity while also promoting their vision and aspirations for the future. Early proponents of contemporary art in the UAE forged a path for the art world over 40 years ago, making the discipline a key aspect of today’s culture.

"We are thrilled to host this incredibly important exhibit. It is a tremendous vote of confidence by the UAE to enable the School of Art and Visual Studies to showcase more than 25 leading Emirati artists,” said UK College of Fine Arts Dean Michael Tick. "The scope of this exhibit not only allows us to strengthen our programming for the benefit of the students of the University of Kentucky as well as the entire community, but also showcase our new state-of-art building."

"Past Forward" showcases works by several of these pioneers, who draw inspiration from the country’s rich history, diverse society and unique environment. Immersed in a fast-moving, transitional space, Emirati artists still remain deeply connected to their roots. "Past Forward" leads visitors on a visual journey from artistic beginnings in the UAE to the country’s evolution into a vibrant regional art center. It also provides an intimate view of life in the UAE that characterizes the nation’s past, present and future.

"'Past Forward’ will provide a unique opportunity for people in Lexington to learn about the UAE’s cultural heritage through the eyes of Emirati artists," said Meridian International Center President and CEO Ambassador Stuart Holliday.

The Emirati artists featured in this exhibition are: Ebtisam AbdulAziz, Shamma Al Amri,

Ammar Al Attar, Khalid Al Banna, Zeinab Al Hashemi, Shaikha Al Mazrou, Maitha Al Mehairbi, Farah Al Qasimi, Mohammed Al Qassab, Abdul Qader Al Rais, Alia Saeed Al Shamsi, Hamdan Buti Al Shamsi, Afra Bin Dhaher, Mattar Bin Lahej, Maitha Demithan, Alaa Edris, Lamya Gargash, Mohammed Saeed Harib, Alia Lootah, Najat Makki, Lateefa bint Maktoum, Khalid Mezaina, Salama Nasib, Khalid Shafar and Obaid Suroor. To read more on each artist's story or to see examples of an artist's work, visit the "Past Forward" website at

As part of the exhibition, a panel discussion on the contemporary art landscape in the UAE will be presented from 4-5 p.m. Thursday, April 14, in the auditorium of UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital Pavilion A. The discussion will be moderated by Miriam Kienle, assistant professor in the UK School of Art and Visual Studies, and will include UAE artist Lamya Gargash; Terry K. Harvey, vice pesident of Cultural Programs at Meridian International Center; Dana Al Marashi, head of the Heritage and Social Affairs Department at the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington, D.C.; and UAE artist Maitha Al Maehairbi

The following week an opening reception will be held for the exhibition from 4:30-8 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at Bolivar Art Gallery. The exhibition, panel discussion and opening reception are all free and open to the public. 

"Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates" is organized and circulated by Meridian International Center with support from the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington, D.C. Additional support for "Past Forward" is provided by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, the Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and Etihad Airways. The exhibition is co-curated by the Meridian Center for Cultural Diplomacy and contemporary Emirati art expert Noor Al Suwaidi. As part of its national tour, the exhibition has visited Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Spokane, Washington; East Lansing, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois.

Housed in the UK Art and Visual Studies Building, the Bolivar Art Gallery is the primary gallery space of the UK's School of Art and Visual Studies at the College of Fine Arts. The gallery features exhibition programming showcasing work by visiting artists, as well as UK students and faculty in the School of Art and Visual Studies, an accredited member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in the fields of art studioart history and visual studies, and art education.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., Meridian International Center is a premier international leadership organization that provides valuable insight and experiences across borders, cultures and sectors. Meridian works with U.S. Department of State partners in the government, private, NGO, and educational sectors globally to create lasting international partnerships through leadership programs and cultural exchanges. Meridian also connects U.S. and foreign governments with the private sector to respond to global challenges and sustain impact. Meridian’s mission is to create innovative exchange, educational, cultural, and policy programs that advance three goals: strengthen U.S. engagement with the world through the power of exchange, prepare public and private sector leaders for a complex global future, and provide a neutral forum for international collaboration across sectors.

The UAE is a source of stability, tolerance, innovation, and growth in the Arabian Gulf and around the globe. The United States and the UAE are reliable allies, with historical and present-day shared security and economic interests. In fact, the UAE is the largest export market for U.S. goods in the Middle East and more U.S. naval vessels visit UAE ports than any other port outside the United States. The United States and the UAE also enjoy growing social and cultural ties, and many U.S. institutions in education, health care and the arts have formed collaborative partnerships with UAE entities. For more information:

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