“Lest We Forget: Emirati Family Photographs 1950-1999”

Mina Zayed
November 19–June 18

Sentiment is often at odds with contemporary art: If it is palatable, familiar, or familial, then it is not considered revolutionary, experimental, or new. This exhibition, “Lest We Forget: Emirati Family Photographs 1950–1999,” taken from an ongoing project started in 2010 on the women’s campus of Zayed University, proves otherwise by featuring a living archive of amateur photographs and films taken by Emirati citizens. It starts at a time when film reached the mass market and ends when digital cameras replaced analog technology. Families are encouraged to donate their own images to the display.

The viewer is exposed to a corrective measure toward a social history not accessible to the journalists and diplomats—themselves outsiders—who often illustrate Abu Dhabi for the rest of the world. The city has expanded at an unprecedented rate in the past decade, so it makes sense that these scratched, achromatic photos on torn scraps, bits of home videos with unsynchronized sound, and installations of vintage telephones, televisions, and Coca Cola bottles are contained in a severe, modern environment. The pristine space catalogues these notes of nostalgia in modular, clinical light boxes and interactive touchscreens displaying orderly family portraits and babies posed on carpets. Global clichés here expose the curiosities of modernity in a place that resembles a near-future science fiction, though one entrenched in its particular antiquities of tradition: Women appear to be mostly phased out of documentation after maturity, and a young HH Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan parades a falcon on his lap in the 1970s. The accompanying notation explains that the bird is rewarded with the heart of its prey—cut out by the boy’s father—and is served water in an Arabic coffee cup.



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