At Large  March 24, 2022  Sarah Bochicchio

"Museum in the Sky" Takes Flight with Emirates Airlines

Courtesy of the artist.

eL Seed, Declaration.

When Manar and Sharifah Alhinai founded the Khaleeji Art Museum in 2020, it was to fill a need they saw emerging in the Arab art world. As the pandemic canceled art events, closed museum exhibitions, and generally halted opportunities, the Emirati sisters decided to brainstorm creative ways to support artists and offer them platforms to promote their work. Manar Alhinai, a journalist who also co-founded Sekka magazine with her sister, tells me over Zoom, “We thought that because we had built a strong network of readers who are tuned into our publication, we could launch a pilot of a digital museum that would help shed the light on the work of these artists.” The Khaleeji Art Museum has since drawn thousands of visitors to its online exhibitions—and has sparked yet another project, Museum in the Sky.

As a special experience brought to viewers by the Khaleeji Art Museum, Museum in the Sky is a documentary-style introduction to the art of the Arab Gulf States, created in partnership with Emirates airlines. In sharing the project’s origins, she describes it as a natural offshoot of the work they had already been doing with the Museum and Sekka. “We thought about what we’ve done, how we’ve integrated technology and art, and we thought about how we could do more. So we came up with the idea of, you know, doing something in the sky.”

The series, which will premiere this spring, currently features four artists who work in different media, showcasing the breadth of the Arab art scene. The first season will include the internationally recognized artist eL Seed; multidisciplinary artist Nujoom Al-Ghanem; Emirati artist Hussain AlMoosawi, whose work is tied closely with architecture; and Maitha Abdalla, a young artist interested in narrative. It’s a mix of more established and emerging artists, those who are working internationally or more regionally, and who come from a range of backgrounds.

Maitha Abdalla. Image by Anas Al Kassem for KAM
Image by Anas Al Kassem for the Khaleeji Art Museum.

Maitha Abdalla

eL Seed. Image by Anas Al Kassem for KAM
Image by Anas Al Kassem for the Khaleeji Art Museum.

eL Seed

Nujoom Al-Ghanem. Image by Anas Al Kassem for KAM.
Image by Anas Al Kassem for the Khaleeji Art Museum.

Nujoom Al-Ghanem

Hussein Almoosawi. Image by Anas Al Kassem for KAM.
Image by Anas Al Kassem for the Khaleeji Art Museum.

Hussein  AlMoosawi

In each episode, the artist will introduce viewers to their practice and highlight three of their artworks over the course of a few minutes. Alhinai nuances the style of the films, clarifying that “It’s not a documentary. It’s the artists walking you through a digital gallery while you are in the sky.” The length—three to five minutes per episode—is meant to allow even those traveling short distances to learn as much as possible.

At the center of the project is collaboration. Alhinai says that, when they approached Emirates, “they loved the idea. They loved our concept of the museum. They loved everything, and they just said yes.”

Courtesy of the artist.

Maitha Abdalla, Between Dreams and Nightmares.

She wanted to tap into an international audience, so they selected the airline with the greatest numbers of travelers to the Emirates (in 2019, pre-pandemic, the airline had over 57 million passengers). The hope is that the series offers an opportunity for passengers to learn about the region they are visiting and to empower artists by allowing them to share their own stories, in their own words.

In addition to the Emirates partnership, Q&As with the participating artists will be published on Art & Object over the next few weeks, to share each artist’s work and perspective with yet another audience. To have the participation of an American media organization adds yet another facet to the Khaleeji Art Museum’s reach. “It's meant a lot to artists, by the way, because they really appreciate that people far away are paying attention to their work because that helps elevate their work and their reputations artists,” she adds.

Image courtesy of Hussain AlMoosawi.

Dubai World Trade Centre.

Although the project is new territory for the sisters, Museum in the Sky complements and extends the work of Sekka magazine, which they founded in 2017 as a way to connect the Arab region to broader communities. “This is my work every single day,”  Alhinai says. “We know that there are great stories coming from this region, and we have to correct a lot of stereotypes in mainstream media. People are always focused on politics, business. There's not much focus on arts and culture."

“If I go to New York, and I go to the Met, or I go to the Whitney, the museum actually tells you the story of a nation, it tells your story of people. Art is a form of us narrating our stories,” continued Alhinai. She cites the importance of this particular moment and to document the experience of the pandemic for future generations. Because, as she notes, artists “are playing the role of historians.”

About the Author

Sarah Bochicchio

Sarah Bochicchio is a New York-based writer and researcher. She focuses on history, fashion, art, and gender—and where all of those things intersect.

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