LEXINGTON — “Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates,” the first major touring exhibition of Emirati art, is opening at the University of Kentucky’s Bolivar Art Gallery on April 16.

The exhibition, organized by Meridian International Center and the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), tells the story of the UAE’s rich history, culture and rapid development. The exhibition will be on display in Kentucky — the final stop in the exhibition’s 18-month national tour — through May 13.

A special highlight of “Past Forward” is the display of works that showcase facets of Emirati culture, including a strong equestrian heritage and a culture deeply rooted in hospitality. Similar to Lexington, horses are intrinsically woven into the fabric of Emirati culture. The UAE is home to some of the world’s most famous horse racing tournaments including the Dubai World Cup, and the country’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed, led the country in promoting purebred Arabian horses to the world. The UAE — which is home to more than 200 different nationalities — and Kentucky share a proud culture of hospitality that makes visitors feel at home.

“’Past Forward’ presents the UAE’s culture and history as told through the eyes of the country’s best contemporary artists, and how the country has preserved its traditions while developing into the modern, open and tolerant place it is today,” said UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba. “’Past Forward’s final stop in Lexington, Kentucky, is the last chance to view some of these talented Emiratis’ artwork in the U.S., and we are excited to share this moment in a city where we have so much in common.”

The UAE and the U.S. share close bilateral ties, and the “Past Forward” touring exhibition and auxiliary programming is a reflection of the two countries’ friendship. During the week leading up to the exhibition’s opening in Lexington, a delegation of featured artists from the UAE will participate in public programming and arts outreach on the University of Kentucky campus and around the community.

The exhibition showcases over 50 paintings, photographs, sculptures, video installations and other media by 25 notable Emirati artists that emphasize core elements of life in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Emirati artists are a multifaceted group of men and women who have maintained a sense of national identity while also promoting their vision and aspirations for the future. Early proponents of contemporary art in the UAE forged a path for the art world over 40 years ago, making the discipline a key aspect of today’s culture.

“We are thrilled to host this incredibly important exhibit. It is a tremendous vote of confidence by the UAE to enable the School of Art and Visual Studies to showcase more than 25 leading Emirati artists,” said University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts Dean Michael Tick. “The scope of this exhibit not only allows us to strengthen our programming for the benefit of the students of the University of Kentucky as well as the entire community, but also showcase our new state-of-art building.”

“Past Forward” showcases works by several of these pioneers, who draw inspiration from the country’s rich history, diverse society and unique environment. Immersed in a fast-moving, transitional space, Emirati artists still remain deeply connected to their roots. “Past Forward” leads visitors on a visual journey from artistic beginnings in the United Arab Emirates to the country’s evolution into a vibrant regional art center. It also provides an intimate view of life in the UAE that characterizes the nation’s past, present and future.

“’Past Forward’ will provide a unique opportunity for people in Lexington to learn about the UAE’s cultural heritage through the eyes of Emirati artists,” said Meridian International Center President and CEO Ambassador Stuart Holliday.

“Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates” is organized and circulated by Meridian International Center with support from the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington, D.C. Additional support for “Past Forward” is provided by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, the Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and Etihad Airways. The exhibition is co-curated by the Meridian Center for Cultural Diplomacy and contemporary Emirati art expert Noor Al Suwaidi.

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