PATRON OF THE ARTS

UAE, Sharjah 2017 | CULTURE & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Manal Ataya, Director General of Sharjah Museums Department (SMD), on some of its current exhibitions, collaborating with overseas institutions, and upcoming plans for the year.

 Manal Ataya
BIOGRAPHY
Manal Ataya has served as Director-General of the SMD for eight years. She holds a BA in studio art and communication studies from Hamilton College and an MA in museum studies from Harvard University. She is a Clore Fellow, having completed the UK cultural leadership program in 2010. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences-University of Sharjah and ICCROM-ATHAR, the regional center for cultural heritage preservation in the Arab region.

What have been some of the most exciting exhibitions you've hosted in recent years?

We are currently hosting an outstanding exhibition from Jordan at the Sharjah Archeology Museum. Petra: The Desert Wonder showcases artifacts that represent an aspect of the ancient city of Petra, which was recently chosen to be among the Seven Wonders of the World. The exhibits include a collection of sculptures, manufactured goods, and architectural elements created by Petra's people between the 4th and 2nd century BC. Interestingly, and highly significantly for us, the city of Petra was a contemporary of Mleiha, now acknowledged as an outstandingly important archaeological site within the Emirate of Sharjah. Also currently on show is Moments in the Lives of Muslims in China-Through the Lens of Peter Sanders, a representative selection from the first-ever comprehensive photographic essay on the Muslims of China, brought together by the British photographer Sanders—a Muslim himself—over 20 years. In collaboration with the Sharjah Art Foundation, we are hosting Ahmed Morsi: Dialogic Imagination, which traces the artist's diverse output from the 1940s up to the present day. Generally speaking, SMD organizes about eight to 10 exhibitions every year, usually co-curated by our local curators and colleagues from the lending institutions.

How have you worked to promote all Sharjah has to offer to the international community?

One of our outreach strategies is to facilitate virtual access to our museums' collections so that people who cannot physically visit our museums can still benefit from it. The other two strategies relate to physical access and intellectual access. The highlights from the museums' collections can be viewed on our main website. In addition, since 2012, SMD has been a major contributor to the largest virtual museum in the world, the Museum with No Frontiers. Over 100 objects from the SMD collections are featured in its database and its permanent virtual exhibitions dedicated to Islamic art and important historical topics. In addition, we have an ongoing collaboration with the Berlin State Museums, which started in 2008 when the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization hosted the first international exhibition from the Berlin Museum of Islamic Art at its official opening. Since then, we have collaborated on several occasions, further formalizing the relationship in 2014 by signing a joint MoU, which also brought in the Goethe Institute as a third strategic partner. Further ongoing partnerships and collaborations include a fruitful one with the Vatican Museums, following our unique 2014 project, “So that you might know each other." We are now working on a joint follow-on show to travel abroad.

How important are programs to engage and educate the youth in the community. Are there any planned for this year?

Events like the Sharjah Science Carnival are important because they represent a fun way to make our visitors aware of the far-reaching educational potential of our museums and collections. In addition to the Science Carnival, we organize a wide range of events in direct reference to Earth Hour Day, International Astronomy Day, Traffic Week, and UAE National Day, for example.

What are your ambitions for 2017?

In 2017, we will complete our latest museum project, which is the comprehensive refurbishment and reinterpretation of Bait Al Naboodah, a traditional house that first opened its doors as a museum in 1995. This house originally belonged to the late Obaid bin Eissa Bin Ali Al Shamsi, nicknamed Al Naboodah, a prominent pearl trader with extensive commercial ties to India, Africa, and France. Another highlight of 2017 is the 20th anniversary of the Sharjah Art Museum, a beacon of Sharjah's pioneering commitment to championing the modern and contemporary arts of the Arab world in dialog with the world at large. On a more general note, we look forward to an exciting and dynamic continuation of our ongoing temporary exhibitions and educational activities across our 16 museums and heritage sites.