Narratives about Bedouin heritage currently dominate the Arab Gulf states nation-building agendas. In the UAE, the state-led heritage industry includes artists into their nation-building projects, seeking to establish common national narratives. Are artists aiding the state’s efforts, or are they resisting these attempts?
In the last ten years, artists have begun responding to recent heritagization efforts which focus on a pre-Oil Bedouin past. This is the case in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where state-funded festivals combine heritage with art and provide funding for the arts industry. This has influenced how artists engage with the currently existent art-infrastructure, and has led to heated debates amongst artists about what kinds of art-production become subsidized, what becomes neglected and where the boundaries of permissible state-involvement lie.
Examining how such national narratives collide with a strong-willed and diverse arts scene posits a contentious research field in the Arab Gulf states. Yet investigating such spaces of contention becomes crucial for anthropologically-minded research since it is at such intersections of heritage agendas and art markets that fundamental questions about the role of the state as facilitator or preventer of the arts become exposed in their most controversial, yet productive, forms.
Melanie Sindelar is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna, where she has also been a uni:docs fellow. She received her M.Sc. in Social Anthropology from Oxford University and is currently IFK_Junior Fellow.