Arrayed along the northeastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, the United Arab Emirates encompasses vast deserts, arid mountains, coastlines, and dazzling cityscapes. Emirati cultures are at once grounded in a sense of the local and linked with people, places, and ideas far beyond its borders. Even before the recent growth that has brought millions of people from many nations to the UAE, the region has been a globally connected crossroads of trade and migration for thousands of years.
At the 2020 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Living Landscape | Living Memory will highlight the skills, cultural practices, and essential knowledge that arose from living in challenging landscapes. Surviving in the extreme heat with little fresh water required living in rhythm with the environment, attuned to the subtleties of its ecosystems and moving through its shifting seasons. As communities sustain or revitalize these traditions today, they also reimagine possibilities for a changing world.
Poetry, an oral art suited to the semi-nomadic life of Bedouin people in the region, flourishes in a contemporary spoken-word scene embraced by poets of many nationalities. Falconry, once a means of subsistence hunting, has become a worldwide passion and a focus for innovative conservation efforts. The ancient falaj irrigation system that nurtures desert gardens is one of the earliest forms of sustainable engineering, and this ethos resonates in pioneering designs for green cities. Today, advances in ecological research and species conservation are important contributions from the Emirates.
The United Arab Emirates (الإمارات العربية المتحدة al-ʾImārāt al-ʿArabīyyah al-Muttaḥidah) is a vibrant young nation with a deep history. Its seven member emirates—Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain—joined together as a federation in 1971. Less than fifty years old, the UAE faces significant challenges and possibilities. Since the advent of oil wealth in the 1960s, the UAE has transformed rapidly and profoundly, becoming a prosperous, urban nation where residents hailing from other parts of the world make up nearly ninety percent of the population. But the time before oil is still in living memory.
Through our program on the National Mall in June–July 2020 and our online features, we invite you to enter the majlis—a key traditional space dedicated to community discussion and hospitality. Join the conversation as we explore Emirati traditions, past and present, as resources for connecting communities and envisioning a sustainable future.
The program is supported by The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the UAE Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, and the UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C. It is curated by Michele Bambling and Rebecca Fenton.