BUILDING ON THE UN’S SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (SDGs)—17 of which were put forth in 2015 to be achieved by 2030—UK-based social enterprise Edge of Arabia and UNESCO established the Arab Art & Education Initiative (AAEI). With participating institutions such as Art Jameel, Misk Art Institute, the Guggenheim and MoMA, AAEI features artist dialogues, exhibitions and education programmes within its year-long programme, culiminating in a UN Culture Summit in 2019. “The development of the AAEI has been in the works for many years and we are thrilled to now see it come to life, particularly at this moment in time when open dialogue between the US and the Arab world is needed more than ever,” says Stephen Stapleton, the driving force behind AAEI and founder of Edge of Arabia, CULTRUNNERS and The Crossway Foundation. “The Initiative has truly come about thanks to the commitment and support of our partners—an amazing coalition of over 15 New York and Arab world institutions who are dedicated to the cause of the AAEI and have made the launch programming so robust and stimulating.”
ArtX Young Arab Artists work by Ahaad Al Amoudi
Collaboration and open dialogue are at the epicentre, welcoming all religions and backgrounds to make it a true Pan-Arab initiative. “Particularly because of the political climate at the moment, we felt that this initiative provided a vital and necessary platform to put culture and artists at the centre of the conversation,” explains Stapleton. “Our hope with the AAEI is that by fostering meaningful partnerships between artists and arts organisations in the US and Arab world, we can contribute to establishing best practices and providing models for better engagement, better collaboration and better communication in order to counteract some of the prevailing polarity that we are seeing on the global stage.”
ArtX Young Arab Artists Balqis Al Rashed’s A State of Play. Photography by by Nidal Morra
Programming focused on presenting past and present cultural narratives. The Poets of Little Syria walking tours hosted by Washington Street Historical Society included journeying through Lower Manhattan, home to the first Arab immigrant communities in New York and literary centre for renowned writers and poets such as Khalil Gibran and Amin Rehani. “Orientalised in the late 19th century as an exotic destination, by the 1930s, the community was perceived as a distinct cultural thread in the American fabric,” the society says. Rather than correcting mis-perceptions, their outreach efforts serve to highlight the story of a vibrant and successful Arab-American presence. Meanwhile at ArtX Kuwaiti Razan Al Sarraf curated an exhibition showcasing young Arab artists tackling the rapid social changes across the Middle East and the effects on identity. At the Brooklyn Museum, Syria, Then and Now: Stories from Refugees a Century Apart (until 13 January) explores the Syrian refugee crisis by presenting medieval ceramics in Raqqa alongside contemporary Arab artists Mohamad Hafez, Issam Kourbaj and Ginane Makki Bacho. “These juxtapositions demonstrate the dynamic art coming out of the region as well as the historical underpinnings of these narratives, and in doing so offers a more well-rounded view of the Arab world’s culture legacy as well as its future,” notes Stapleton.
AAEI is a reminder to not underestimate the power of culture in addressing urgent political, social and economic concerns. “This is our effort to engage artists and cultural organisations in the UN’s comprehensive plan for a better world,” says Stapleton. “Culture is one of the most inclusive forces in society today, and the AAEI is firmly rooted in this belief. All are invited to come together around the universal language of art and for the common purpose of imagining a better world.”
Cilck Below to see Editor Rebecca in conversation with Sothbey's