Manar Abu Dhabi: Light Art Showcases Biodiversity of the City

The city of Abu Dhabi is dazzling with more than 35 light sculptures, projections and immersive artworks by both local and international artists. Manar Abu Dhabi inaugural light-art exhibition features a dazzling array of new, site-specific commissions that span the land, the mangroves and the sky above the UAE’s capital, transforming the city into a creative maze that shines a beacon of hope.

Work by Tunisian-Ukraine artist Nadia Kaabi-Linke called “Bait Al-Nur”. It is based on the change of the shape of the shadow at different times of the day.

“Light art is a multisensory and immersive art medium that goes beyond the traditional — it creates an engaging and inclusive experience for all which is what we aim to achieve for our visitors at Manar Abu Dhabi,” say Reem Fadda and Alia Zaal Lootah, curators of Manar Abu Dhabi.

‘Manar’, after which Manar Abu Dhabi was named, directly translates to ‘lighthouse’ in Arabic.

“We recognised that light art has a formidable ability to enhance urban and rural landscapes, and therefore is the ideal medium to showcase the biodiversity and heritage of Abu Dhabi across its archipelagos and mangroves,” explain the curators, “By choosing ‘Manar,’ in this respect, we have committed to celebrating public art, using the transformative power of light to allow the participating artists to showcase their diverse works in Abu Dhabi’s unique public and natural environments. ”

Reem Fadda & Alia Zaal Lootah, the curators of Manar Abu Dhabi.

SCALE engages the curators in a conversation to understand more about the public art exhibition and the Installations that have created a buzz.

SCALE: How did you create and curate artworks that takes unexplored parts of the city into consideration converting the city into a great canvas?

Reem Fadda & Alia Zaal Lootah: Manar Abu Dhabi is an exhibition that invites visitors to experience Abu Dhabi in an unconventional way — through light art, which interplays and interacts with the city’s natural and urban landscapes. But it is also a platform for selected local and international artists to showcase their site-specific sculptures, projections and immersive artworks based on its respective, unexplored area.

We identified several key locations throughout the capital including Lulu Island, Saadiyat Island, Jubail Island, Al Samaliyah Island, and Fahid Island among other coastal areas such as Corniche Road and the Eastern mangroves. While some of these islands are popular among the public, the others are yet to be explored — which is why they were intentionally considered for the installations. Through the artworks we are drawing attention to Abu Dhabi’s unique archipelago geography and urban infrastructure. Visitors can embark on a 2.3-kilometer art journey and can admire various artworks from illuminating drone shows to captivating light art installations and more across each location.

Through Manar we are also inspiring community engagement and encouraging the public to connect with art. We will continue to enhance these unexplored places of historical, aesthetic, architectural, and social value, paying homage to the emirate’s past while stepping forward into a continuously developing future.

This artwork by teamLab at Samaliyah Island, Abu Dhabi, has no structure by itself. The structure emerges from the flow; it is soft and flexible like a life form.  The artwork is strongly influenced by its environment, including wind, rain, and humidity.

SCALE: Tell us the process of choosing artists for this prestigious exhibition.

Reem Fadda & Alia Zaal Lootah: For Manar, it was key for us to provide artists with a platform which would allow them to showcase their work in relation to the ‘Grounding Light’ theme.

We were determined to represent a diverse mix of local, regional, and global artists who specialise in various forms of art through installations and sculptures. Many themes can be observed from the installations, from architecture, technology, nature, land drawings, kinetic paintings, video art, among others.

Conceptual artist Carsten Höller shows his latest installation Abu Dhabi Dots at the beach. As the second installment in the artist’s Dots series, the immersive installation takes center stage at the beach, where 20 spotlights in vibrant colours, follow the movements of the participants and allow them to play a game with each other.

SCALE: How has the common man appreciated this art exhibition?

Reem Fadda & Alia Zaal Lootah: Manar Abu Dhabi, with its large curation of artworks, was appreciated by the general public regardless of artists’ backgrounds and interests. Light art brought people together in locations they did not expect to visit.

The immersive and multisensory experiences felt through Abu Dhabi’s stunning landscapes with the profound site-specific artworks is allowing visitors to experience art in a welcoming and enjoyable way.

Pedestrians are also enjoying coming across the artworks unexpectedly on Corniche Road — one of the busiest promenades in the city.

Visitors of Manar are witnessing the heritage of Abu Dhabi through the eye of the artists, in the form of their interactive public works — without the intimidation one may experience in more formal, private cultural settings.

Emirati artist Latifa Saeed invites visitors to walk through an undulating labyrinthine structure constructed from 5,000 glass bricks. The obscured walls of Al-Duroob (The Passages) offer a dynamic interplay between veiling and unveiling, construction and contraction, and boundlessness and restriction — all of which unveil as the journey unfolds.

SCALE: How has Abu Dhabi benefitted from this thoughtful curation?

Reem Fadda & Alia Zaal Lootah: Through the 35 artworks, Abu Dhabi is becoming a space for open dialogue between UAE-based and international artists. In elevating the art scene, the introduction of Manar is poised to further grow the emirate’s creative economy. This is also pivotal for the UAE, as it aligns with our strategic objective to bolster cultural and creative industries across the country.

Coral Alchemy (Acropora Grove) from Shezad Dawood’s ongoing ecological art series, illuminates the city at the Abu Dhabi Cornishe. The site-specific installation is inspired by the forms, evolution, and ongoing destruction of the native Acropora Downingi species that is currently facing dire stress impacts due to warming waters.

Moreover, a lesser-known fact about Abu Dhabi is how it is home to over 200 islands, most of them uninhabited. Visitors of Manar Abu Dhabi are exploring the unexplored, and accessing the previously inaccessible, hidden gems of the emirate through these magnificent artworks showcasing its cultural legacy.

SCALE: While it is difficult being curators to have a particular favourite installation, can you take our readers to the light art installations which should not be missed in this exhibition

Reem Fadda & Alia Zaal Lootah: Each installation at Manar Abu Dhabi is unique and has been chosen specifically for its contribution to the city-wide exhibition as well as what it represents on its own.  There are a few artists and works that are particularly stand out:

Jim Denevan, Self Similar, 2023. Fahid Island.

‘Self-Similar’ by US-based artist Jim Denevan is one of the many that stand out, being dozens of pyramids, made from sand, to recreate Egypt’s Giza pyramids. Hand sculpted, the pyramids are laid out in a circular formation, spanning an area of about one square kilometer.  The artwork is an evolution from ‘Angle of Repose’, a piece the artist created in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla, for Desert X last year.

‘Al-Duroob’, translated to ‘the passages’ in English, is another impressive artwork at Manar by Emirati artist Latifa Saeed. It comprises 5,000 glass bricks constructed to form a wall structure that offers a dynamic interplay between veiling and unveiling, constriction and contraction, and boundlessness and restriction.

Persistance of the Form by Groupe F illuminates the sky near the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi’s skyline is also being illuminated by a marvelous drone show led by French production company Groupe-F. Taking place nightly from Louvre Abu Dhabi, the 24-minute show is a showstopper for visitors, making magic appear in the emirate through a cohesive display of art, nature, and light.

The Kinetic paintings are recordings of live performances, presented on LED screens.

Flying Ships 2023 by Nujoom Al Ghanem

Using a C language programme, Palestinian-American artist Samia Halaby presented City and Yafa, recordings of kinetic paintings. The program is written as an instrument of artistic form and embodies a certain aesthetic reflective of the artist. The use of kinetic painting by Halaby saw visitors embracing a visual experience that combines abstract rhythm and motion.

Forest of Autonomous Resonating Life by teamLab

SCALE: How important is communication in this art drive? What are the challenges as a curator and how did you scale them?

Reem Fadda & Alia Zaal Lootah: Communication plays a fundamental role in making Manar Abu Dhabi a talking point for the art community and the wider public to appreciate public art in the emirate. Through our communications’ efforts, we are building a close-knit community of art enthusiasts and creating awareness of public art and its importance in sharing a feeling of familiarity, relatability, and sense of belonging. The Department of Culture and Tourism plays a fundamental role here with platforms such as Public Art Abu Dhabi (PAAD) — initiatives like Manar under PAAD help strengthen dialogue and conversations around public art in the city.

This Horizon Inside of Us by Shilpa Gupta

Curators like ourselves are responsible for the selection, organisation and management of installations. We have had to consider everything from accessibility and engagement for a diverse audience, conservation of art, as well as ensuring that the chosen locations reflect the work that is being exhibited there and vice versa.

To ensure that every piece is admired, understood, and talked about requires excellent set-up of the environment in bringing the piece to life. For instance, U.S based artist Jim Denevan’s ‘Self Similar’ artwork, one he considers his most ambitious project to date, required a mass land space of up to one kilometre to showcase pyramids made of sand. In this case, the surrounding space, and the landmark itself, Fahid Island, was apt in showcasing the artist’s work.

At Manar Abu Dhabi, we’ve ensured, through our connections with each artist, that their narrative and/or story is fully told through the respective locations.