New art exhibition exploring alphabets comes to Abu Dhabi

Head to Warehouse421 to learn how the written word developed

New art exhibition exploring alphabets comes to Abu Dhabi

Despite basing our careers around the written word, we’ll admit that on a day-to-day basis, we give very little thought to the origins of the English alphabet. However, we’ll certainly concede that a new exhibition coming to Warehouse421 exploring the background of six of the most influential alphabets in the history of the Middle East sounds absolutely fascinating.

Running from March 16 to July 28, the collection contains nine different works. These include pieces from local artists, and also creative talents from across the rest of the region, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine Nomadic Traces: Journeys of Arabian Scripts explores the beginnings of the Phoenician, Aramaic, Musnad, Palmyrene, Nabatean and Early Arabic writings.

The exhibition not only contains drawings, art installations and ceramics, but also jewellery, textiles, fashion, furniture and other interesting objects. Through the clever use of art and design, the project recounts Middle Eastern history in a way that is both creative and engaging.

For instance, it explores how economic trade, cultural exchange and human interaction all resulted in different writing systems being formed across the region.

It also reflects on how scripts have helped to define and preserve the cultural identity of past and present civilisations, and comments on the ever-changing nature of writing and its ability to move freely across borders and between cultures.

Faisal Al Hassan, manager of Warehouse421, says the exhibition is the most extensive piece of research that the arty hub has produced so far.

He said: “We are extremely proud to be able to work with such a passionate team of artists, designers and researchers from across the region.

“Although Nomadic Traces highlights events that occurred centuries ago, its underlying themes still resonate strongly in the world we live in today. At a time of rising nationalism in many parts of the world, the exhibition provides a timely reminder that societies throughout history have benefitted, sometimes in unexpected ways, from interacting with other people and cultures, rather than reflexively resisting outside influences.”

You might think this sounds like the kind of collection that will only appeal to history buffs, but Dr. Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès, the curator of the exhibition, explains that it has been put together in a way that is easy for everyone to get their heads round.

She says: “We cannot imagine a world without text today and we are totally dependent on written information in all aspects of our contemporary way of life.

“Nomadic Traces takes the alphabetic linear writing system off the page and into the very fabric of everyday life. It is layered in a way that invites the viewer to wander and discover, presenting historical material in a way that makes it accessible to a non-specialist audience.”

The nine featured artists who have contributed to the exhibition are Nasser Al-Salem, Sarah Al-Agroobi, Nadine Kanso, Ghita Abi-Hanna, Milia Maroun, Khalid Mezaina, Rasha Dakkak, Hamza Omari, and Xeina Al-Malki. And along with their works, visitors can also view a selection of essays that relate to the subjects touched upon in the art. These cover topics such as Recovering a Fuller Arab Heritage, Writing within the material culture of Islam, Design trends and issues of cultural identity in the Arab World and diaspora, and Relevant Graphic Design in Communicating Regional and Cultural Narratives.

The exhibition is totally free and you can find out more at

Free. Mar 16-Jul 28, 6pm-8pm. Samrayr Street, Mina Zayed (02 676 8803).

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