Past Forward in East Lansing / by Salama Nasib

When I was approached to produce a commissioned artwork for the Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates exhibition organized by the UAE Embassy, the Meridian International Center and co-curator Noor Al Suwaidi, I got so thrilled and excited to be representing the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in such a manner. It was even double the excitement and joy when I received an invite to be the guest artist for the city of East Lansing in Michigan, United States of America (USA).

Noor and I departed together from Abu Dhabi to Washington, D.C. and stayed a night over there exploring the city for a bit. The second day we met Dana Al Marashi – Head of Heritage and Social Affairs Department at the Embassy, and flew all the way to Lansing in Michigan after a quick transit in Chicago’s airport. There we met Haitham Al Mussawi, Digital Diplomacy and media Editor at the Embassy, and he kindly rented a car and took us all to our hotel. From there we began our mission and visited the exhibition space, which was the Eli and Edythe Broad Art museum.

I had the privilege of showcasing my work alongside other pieces in Past Forward’s exhibition at The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, a contemporary art museum at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing. The architecture of the museum, designed by the famous Zaha Hadid, is outstanding, and the museum is considered to be one of the most significant of its kind in the US, so that was an honor in and of itself. We were given an in-depth tour by Broad Museum curator Caitlin Doherty, and I was happy to see how phenomenal the exhibition looked. The placement of the artwork and the specially designed dividing walls gave the exhibition a vivid and dynamic feel, and we were thrilled that it received positive feedback from the audience.

The Past Forward panel discussion and launch reception brought together individuals of different backgrounds in engaging conversation about the art scene in the UAE and the role of culture in bringing people together. It was great to see the mostly American audience so curious to learn more about Emirati art and traditions. The panel discussion covered the importance of the UAE Embassy-Meridian Center partnership in the broader UAE-US relationship, as well as the UAE’s role as an art hub in the Middle East and North Africa region and the world. The UAE’s Consul General in Boston, HE Salem Al Shamsi, joined us at the panel discussion and delivered brief remarks about his role in furthering the close bilateral UAE-US ties. Also present were Curtis Sandberg, Senior Vice President for Arts and Cultural Programs at the Meridian International Center, and June Pierce Youatt, Provost at MSU.

Another aspect of the trip that I really enjoyed was hosting school workshops to all different ages from elementary school kids to university level teachers-in-training. It was a very rich experience meeting those young individuals and engaging with them in conversations about art and expression. We introduced them to new, fun and experimental techniques in printmaking that they had never tried before: Gelli printing and stamp printing. The results were amazing and students absolutely loved the methods, and were also able to learn more about the UAE through the workshops. We visited Chippewa Middle School, Lansing Charter Academy, Boys and Girls Club of Lansing, and MSU.   

We were also able to learn more about our host city, East Lansing, through some cultural activities. We kicked the trip off with a traditional football game at the MSU Spartan Stadium – that was definitely a memorable time and authentic American experience. We also toured some cultural sites in the area including the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, the Michigan State Capitol Building, and the Cranbrook Art Museum and university. We met many local members of the East Lansing community who warmly welcomed us and showed us around. 

Overall I had so much fun being the guest artist for this edition of the Past Forward touring exhibition. It was such an enjoyable experience meeting the friendly East Lansing community, interacting with the young and talented artists, and representing my beloved country to the art patrons in Michigan. I am sure that we left Michigan having contributed to the already strong ties between the UAE and US - something that I will always cherish and appreciate being part of.

For more information and details on the exhibition and the Embassy's activities, please visit the following links: