Since 1967, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival has shared different cultures, communities and countries with the US and the larger world. To this day, it remains the Smithsonian’s largest and most successful event, reaching millions of people both onsite and virtually.
After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival returned to the National Mall in Washington, DC. As part of this year’s festivities, the 2022 event spotlighted two main themes: Earth Optimism and the United Arab Emirates.
From June 22-27 and June 30-July 4, the festival presented United Arab Emirates: Living Landscape | Living Memories. This incredible experience was organized by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, in partnership with the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the UAE Ministry of Culture & Youth and the UAE Embassy in the US. Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister for Culture and Youth, expressed her excitement for the opportunities the festival presents to celebrate Emirati culture and folklore.
Proud to be a part of this year’s festivities, Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba stated “The need for this type of connection is greater now than ever before. Situated at the crossroads of three continents, the UAE has always been a hub for social, cultural and intellectual diversity, and this heritage has shaped our values, rich traditions and outlook for a better future. We welcome this Smithsonian celebration and are delighted that visitors from the U.S. and around the world will have the opportunity to experience our Emirati culture and hospitality firsthand.”
United Arab Emirates: Living Landscape | Living Memories
United Arab Emirates: Living Landscape | Living Memories was inspired by a majlis, an Emirati tradition where the community comes together to discuss local events, issues and ideas.
As such, visitors from all over the world had the opportunity to explore the UAE’s cultural heritage and traditions, specifically how they were shaped by the natural environment. The program also highlighted the UAE’s forward-looking vision, one based on diversity, sustainability and innovation.
For two full weeks, the festival brought over 80 artists, musicians, storytellers, exhibitors and more. From artistic displays to culinary demonstrations, films, poetry and musical performances, visitors were able to become completely immersed in the region’s traditions and cultural practices in DC. Each individual event was underlined by three main themes:
- Place: What makes the UAE a distinctive place?
- Creativity: How do artists draw from traditions to reimagine culture through innovative making?
- Belonging: What brings people from many places together in the UAE?
Among the many featured events included a culinary demonstration hosted by none other than Hattem Matter, the Arab World’s first and only pitmaster from Dubai. During his demonstration, he shared his secret to making his signature barbecue sauce, a recipe that combines both American and Middle Eastern flavors like never before.
Also in attendance was NOON, a Dubai-based band that has successfully combined jazz, rock and traditional Middle Eastern sounds. Moderated by Bill Bragin, they performed what is formally known as NOON in Conversation & Song: Future Soundscapes from the UAE. This session highlighted the UAE’s evolving music scene, expatriate communities and the band’s modern spin on traditional Middle Eastern music.
The UAE program also hosted several story circles including “Ramadan and Connection,” a virtual meeting on how Muslims from around the world are honoring the holy month during the pandemic. Here, viewers had the opportunity to directly speak with UAE program co-curators Rebecca Fenton and Michele Bambling, recently featured in the 50 Years | 50 Faces campaign.
These are just a few of many highlights from the UAE’s featured programming this year. To see the full list of events and happenings, you can visit the Smithsonian Folklife Festival website.
The UAE’s History with the Smithsonian
The UAE’s growing connection with the Smithsonian is a direct reflection of the UAE-US alliance. For over 50 years, these two countries have united over a shared commitment to creating a better future not only for each other, but the entire world at large.
This mutual goal ultimately led the UAE to a long and thriving partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. After years of working together, the two entities signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that focused on creating new opportunities for exchange between the Smithsonian and UAE cultural and research organizations.
Speaking to the MOU, Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba stated “The UAE’s museum and cultural sector is growing at a rapid pace, and new efforts are also underway to preserve the country’s heritage and discover new knowledge. As these sectors develop, it is critical for UAE organizations to work with best-in-class partners that can share insights and best practices. No other organization has the experience or breadth of expertise that the Smithsonian has, and we are thrilled to help launch this new initiative.”
Since its signing, the UAE Embassy in the US has worked closely with the Smithsonian on a number of initiatives focused on art, music, zoology, conservation and more. With this in mind, this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival is just the beginning of this partnership and we can’t wait to see what’s in store in the future.