University of Leicester
2020KAZANSMPhD.pdf (8.02 MB)

Dialogues of tradition and modernity: The development of contemporary art in the United Arab Emirates

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posted on 2021-03-18, 14:13 authored by Sophie Kazan
This thesis examines the development of contemporary art in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is originally a tribal culture and a dialogue has formed between its traditional identity, which is collected from the past and the nation’s rapidly developing environment. How do these two realities coexist and how are they visually manifested in contemporary art by Emiratis?
In the UAE, there has been a literary silence on art and an absence of art critique. Thus for the purpose of this research an oral history has been collected with interviews and conversations with over fifty artists, UAE art specialists and collectors. The investigation also explores perceptions of art and located cultural themes that are particular to the Arabian Gulf region and in particular to the UAE. It argues that contemporary art by Emiratis must be seen as part of an expanded art world. The relevance of distinctions and geographical categorisations are questioned and the growing importance of local cultural traditions is highlighted, in the development of a global art. As part of this visually based narrative, themes of globalization, cosmopolitanism, tournaments of value and modernisms are observed in art and art practices from the UAE.
Far from stalling change, local traditions and beliefs have become motors of difference and drivers of development, channelling the country’s aspirations and ambitions into the future. This observation of how dialogues of the past contribute to contemporary art, is relevant not only to the study of peripheral non-Western art, but also to global perceptions of contemporary art.



Simon Knell; Isobel Whitelegg

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Museum Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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