Venice is much more than gondolas, masked balls, and debatably pungent canals. The city represents the very highest echelons of arts and culture as symbolized by la Biennale di Venezia, which is widely considered to be the world’s most prestigious exhibition for contemporary art, film, and architecture. I’ll never forget how when I was first starting out in the art world I referred to the “Biennial” and was corrected by a collector. It’s bee-en-al-ay, he said with pursed lips, shaming me all the way down to my chipped fingernails. If you’re new to the art world and reading this I do hope I’ve saved you from a similar fate.
The UAE debuted a pavilion in 2009 at the 53rd International Arts Exhibition and then expanded its presence this year at the International Architecture Exhibition, which was entitled ‘Lest We Forget: Structures of Memory’ and presented the formative findings of an ongoing initiative to archive the history of architectural and urban development in the UAE, complete with photographs, storytelling, blueprints, letters, and other artifacts.
I’m already plotting how to get myself to the upcoming International Art Exhibitionover the summer, where I imagine getting lost in a labyrinth of exhibition spaces for days at a time with only an espresso, a pen, and my red Moleskine notebook (and maybe a stray cat) for company.
If you are a UAE national or long term resident with a passion for the arts it is essential that you consider the Venice Internship, a one-month long training program that could offer you the opportunity to serve as a custodian and docent of the UAE Pavilion. The application deadline is looming on 15 November.
I was delighted to get the chance to interview two interns who have recently returned to the UAE from Venice. Humaid Mansoor, a painter with one foot in the local street art scene and Noura Alserkal, a jewelry designer agreed to reflect upon their adventures:
DL: Why did you apply for the internship in the first place?
Noura Alserkal: You get to live in Venice for 1 whole month, manage the first UAE pavilion in the 14th International Architecture Exhibition and become a cultural ambassador of your own country! Who wouldn’t want to apply?
DL: What was your day-to-day life like during your time in Venice?
NAS: The best days would start off when I had a morning shift. Waking up at 8am, then heading off to my favorite cafe to pick up a croissant I’d eat while walking through beautiful alleyways. Some days I would pause just overwhelmed by the beauty of the city. After my shift I would explore the city, especially the museums. It was wonderful and exciting to have the freedom to go to places I enjoyed, like when I visited Palazzo Grassi, and Tre Oci or the time I took a waterbus and visited the islands. Other days, I would spend my free time writing and documenting my experience.
DL: How does Venice compare to the UAE in terms of art scenes, aesthetics, and vibe?
Humaid Mansoor: I honestly don’t believe that the comparison would be a fair one. On the one hand you have Venice, where you can observe visible signs of how the arts have progressed over centuries. On the other hand you have Dubai, where this vibrant community has emerged in the past couple of decades through small pockets coming together to form a ‘scene’. With a world-renowned biennale and history revolving around arts of all disciplines, in my eyes Venice serves as the epicenter of all that is art related. Even though Dubai is relatively new to the art world, there are clear examples of how the city and its leadership are nurturing artists and their work. In Dubai we are at the beginning of a long promising road.
DL: Who was the most interesting or unusual person you met?
NAS: One day in the UAE pavilion I met two guys from the Czech Republic, who asked a lot of questions about the UAE and Emirati culture. As we were conversing, they told us their journey to the Biennial was not an easy one and that they’d had to hitchhike to make it possible financially. I was fascinated by their determination and how they went for what they wanted even if it caused a lot of discomfort on the way.
DL: What surprised you the most about your experience?
HM: The biggest surprise for me was how much I loved the city. For the first time ever, I wasn’t itching to go back home after 2 weeks. I’m actually still in denial [that it’s over] every time I sit in my car.
DL: How do you imagine that your experience will influence your own artistic practice as an artist?
HM: I returned to the UAE bursting at the seams with ideas I wanted to experiment with. Each day in Venice was an experience on its own and to try and emulate that in the studio has now become my goal. For this reason, I suspect my next work will reflect an Italian influence.
DL: If you had to choose one song to serve as your soundtrack for the internship, what would it be?
HM: A Night Like This by Caro Emerald
DL: If you had to choose one work of art to symbolically represent your time in Venice, what would it be?
NAS: It would be Pablo Picasso’s ‘Portrait of Daniel Kahnweiler’ (1910) because my time in Venice was conceptual yet real. The painting reflects this same sense of independence and abstraction.
Good Ideas: Applications to become a member of the next class of Venice Interns are due on 15 November. This internship offers a unique opportunity for young Emiratis and long-term residents to be part of the National Pavilion United Arab Emirates at la Biennale di Venezia during the upcoming 56th International Art Exhibition, through a month-long internship in Venice where they act as custodians and docents of the National Pavilion UAE. For more information about eligibility and the application process go here.
Image Credits: Courtesy of National Pavilion United Arab Emirates la Biennale di Venezia