Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) has launched Public Art Abu Dhabi, a wide-reaching initiative that will further the emirate’s long legacy of investing in culture and embedding it in the fabric of society.

The initiative has launched on 20 March 2023 with the unveiling of WAVE, a public digital media artwork by the artistic collective d’strict, in Abu Dhabi’s Cultural Foundation. Using an anamorphic illusion technique, the 2D installation recreates perpetually surging three-dimensional waves and was first showcased at COEX K-Pop Square, Seoul, South Korea.

Public Art Abu Dhabi’s programmes will reflect the emirate’s intrinsic cultural identity, anchoring a sense of belonging and fostering creativity. Integral to this initiative is its community engagement efforts. Acting as a catalyst for creativity and artistic expression in the public domain, Public Art Abu Dhabi will offer opportunities for everyone to engage with new cultural programming.

An investment of over AED128m+ (US$35m) will be dedicated to the initiative annually, to support the emirate’s wider creative industries through public art.

HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “Abu Dhabi’s public art enriches lives by bringing art to every member of the community, inspiring a sense of civic pride, and advancing the capital’s creative legacy. The emirate has a proud tradition of public art, which we are now elevating with our ambitious Public Art Abu Dhabi initiatives. These will foster creativity, placemaking and cultural infrastructure and ensure that public art is integral to our emirate’s cultural identity, livability, and attractiveness to visitors. DCT Abu Dhabi’s promise is to promote, protect and progress the emirate and transform Abu Dhabi into a global centre for culture.”

HE Saood Abdulaziz Al Hosani, Undersecretary of DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “Public art is where creativity and infrastructure meet, and Public Art Abu Dhabi represents our commitment to enhancing the urban and cultural fabric of the emirate, bringing artistic expression into the everyday lives of our residents and visitors. This is a unique opportunity to transform Abu Dhabi’s physical and civic spaces, making the UAE capital a more livable, creative and joyful place.”

Rita Aoun, DCT Abu Dhabi’s Culture Sector Executive Director, said: “Public art has long been a facet of Abu Dhabi and is seen throughout the city from its modern days. The Department of Culture and Tourism is now consolidating these efforts and building on them the future of our city. Public Art Abu Dhabi comes after the completion of a holistic infrastructural transformation of the culture sector on all fronts as part of our strategical objectives for the development of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. We are ready for further announcements of new major projects that will bring art to our public in the public and will first and foremost resonate deeply and significantly with our community."

Public Art Abu Dhabi will contribute toward the conservation of significant architectural and urban spaces, enhancing their historical, aesthetic, social, scientific, and technological value to the community. It will extend the ambitions of DCT Abu Dhabi’s Modern Heritage Conservation Initiative (MHCI), which identifies, safeguards, and maintains sites that narrate the country’s more recent past.

Public Art Abu Dhabi Biennial, opening in November 2024, will be led by Reem Fadda, Director of the Cultural Foundation and Abu Dhabi Cultural Programmes, and the independent curator Galit Eilat. The curators previously worked together between 2006 and 2009 co-curating the multifaceted and award-winning project Liminal Spaces in Palestine, Israel and Germany. Fadda and Eilat will bring their experience of working on projects involving a deep engagement with communities and art in the public domain to the first Public Art Abu Dhabi Biennial.

Other projects include Manar Abu Dhabi, a public art platform which features light art sculptures and installations in the archipelagos and mangroves of Abu Dhabi. Viewers will embark on an immersive water journey and discover the artworks from a fresh perspective. The exhibition is set to connect the shores of different islands and celebrate Abu Dhabi’s natural beauty. The artworks will vary from light projections, sculptures and installations to performances, creating a surreal and magical outlook on the surrounding landscapes.

Public Art Abu Dhabi will further make its mark with a series of yearly direct commissions across the emirate's landmarks, including tunnels, roundabouts, bridges, parks etc. Engaging artists to create significant permanent or temporary contributions, the commissions will draw inspiration from the UAE capital’s distinctive traits and highlight its modern heritage and natural landscapes. They will enhance the public’s everyday life and cement Abu Dhabi’s position as a leading cultural destination with a distinct identity. 

Reem Fadda, Director of Cultural Foundation and Abu Dhabi Cultural Programmes and Co-curator of Public Art Abu Dhabi Biennial, said: “Community is the cornerstone of Public Art Abu Dhabi. Through both the Public Art Abu Dhabi Biennial and Manar Abu Dhabi we will insist that works commissioned for these major programmes will transform places and resonate with the people in a meaningful way. These artistic projects will become the gateways for our creative community and a way for Abu Dhabi to project forward to the world.”

Galit Eilat, Co-curator of Public Art Abu Dhabi Biennial, said: “Having worked together with Reem in the past, I am excited and proud to embark on the new ambitious curatorial project together. The Biennial will commission and exhibit a vibrant, inclusive and varied selection of artists rooted in the UAE and the region, while also keeping with its mandate on including artists from all over the world.”