I came to Sharjah for a few days to see and learn a little bit (maybe very little) of traditional Islamic and Arabic culture after a deluge of Dubai modernity and hedonism, and Abu Dhabi extragance and excess. I started my adventure at this great - not that large not too small - art museum. I think this is a very special museum in a very special part of Sharjah.
There are quite a few museums and attractions in this older, central area of the city. I must say though I found it to be quite quiet and lacking energy, or maybe it was some sort of off-vibe I was feeling. We are all trying to find our way in this still young Covid era, and that's probably what is going on around here. Tourists haven't come back yet.. So what to say about what I saw at the Art Museum?
You know I'm not some kind of major art critic (or a minor one for that matter) who can speak intelligently about the different aspects of art such as line, space, form, etc. - I'd be plagiarizing something I read if I did. I can tell you my feelings about my visit though. One thing I felt was lucky and honored to have met and been assisted by Maythaa, a museum staff member (guide?).
As I was moving between around the museum, it was nice chatting with Maythaa. Actually she first helped me understand some Arabic language (مفترس/farasa?muftaris?) that concerned some artwork I saw at exhibition elsewhere. That's a whole nother story though. Because of her presence, I felt like I didn't come to this museum alone (which I actually did).
Here I was introduced to an artist named David Roberts. He was a 19th century illustrator from Scotland who came to the Middle East and sketched a large body of work that became series of lithographs. Many of them are displayed on a whole wing of the first floor. All are of a similar landscape style. The works displayed here are not really my cup of tea though so to speak. Since photography had not yet come to fruition during that time period, what was most important about art back then was to capture images as they truly existed, not with any kind of artistic interpretation. I see Robert's role in these works as being more like a documentarian rather than an artist.
The second floor held two exhibits of what I feel would be considered more artistic. One wing was the museum's permanent exhibit on modern and contemporary Arab art. The other has an exhibition from an outside museum group where I really lost my focus and trend of thought and didn't see much of. I really enjoyed that first permanent however.
The range of artists and their works are too varied in scope and style for me comment on. It would take much too long for me to write about it, and I've spent more time than is appropriate on this review already. I'll just tell you I was really happy roaming around these works. I pretty much was alone had the whole wing to myself. I actually sang a little out loud which is quite odd for me to write down for you to read. You know there was this one little boy and his mother here for a short period of time as well. His excitement being here was infectious, and I enjoyed seeing and hearing him run around as well as his mother's gentle way of teaching him about what they were seeing. This was music too.
In that second exhibition from the outside museum group, there was a large group of university age students just starting a tour. I decided to go to the end of the wing so I wouldn't disturb or be disturbed by them. As I started looking at some of the art is when I noticed there was a security guard watching me. As I moved along the wing from room to room, he followed me always standing nearby. As you can imagine, this made me feel very uncomfortable - so uncomfortable that that I left and saw less than a quarter of the exhibit. I went back downstairs and sat at the snackbar and had some water. I told Maythaa about this, and she mentioned that other guests there have had similar experiences as well.
Like I mentioned before, it was really wonderful meeting Maythaa. She was very caring and helpful for me as a guest. She is communicative and well informed about the museum and its art. I was glad to meet her for other reasons than my visit to the museum as well.
I find it odd that came to another country and hardly met any of the people actually from that country. The only people I've really been with here in the UAE are expatriates. Don't get me wrong, most everyone is great and I enjoy speaking with them, but it would be nice to get to know people who are from here as well. I'm glad I got this opportunity with Maytha. Although we come from different cultures that at times seem to be at odds with each other, I'm learning how similar we really are and that the differences we do have, such as the way we dress or what we eat, are superficial, and the interactions we have are what counts.