How a woman-led art initiative is showing the way for climate action

As the curtains fell on COP28, the artworks, symbolic of the union's dedication to environmental stewardship, stood poised to embark on a journey of their own


Mazhar Farooqui

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Published: Thu 14 Dec 2023, 7:09 PM

As she stood on the Dubai roadside in early 2011, Mauritian artist Zaahirah Muthy faced a stark reality: a suitcase in hand and the unknown sprawled before her. Her journey to the city that promised opportunity had taken an unexpected turn, resembling a canvas where the strokes seemed to betray her aspirations.

Cut to 2023, and Zaahirah has transformed into a powerhouse of change. A fervent artist-activist, she has spent over a decade making waves through ZeeArts, a Dubai-based global art incubator she founded and named after her son Zeeshan. The ethos of ZeeArts is as straightforward as it is impactful: Connect, Collaborate, and Celebrate the arts through a myriad of innovative initiatives and projects.

One such groundbreaking venture is United for Climate, a fusion of art and environment that celebrates the spirit of the Union through artistic expression. At COP28 Zaahirah's vision came to life. Seven awe-inspiring public artworks, crafted from recycled materials, graced Expo City Dubai, each representing a distinct UAE emirate. A collaboration between international artists and their UAE counterparts these installations captivated attendees with their beauty and message, showcasing the UAE's commitment to leading global efforts in climate action.

As the curtains fell on United Nations Climate Change Conference, the artworks, symbolic of the union's dedication to environmental stewardship, stood poised to embark on a journey of their own. Each artwork will return to its respective emirate, becoming a beacon that continues to shine light on the UAE's dedication to addressing climate change.

“I wanted to harness the creativity of the global and local artistic community to drive climate action and sustainability, spotlighting the UAE's commitment to lead the climate action,” says Zaahirah who involves local artists in raising awareness about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and has already curated events in various countries.

United for Climate Change

United for Climate is a global empowerment initiative that goes beyond art. Pioneering a sustainable approach, it emphasises recycling, reducing, and repurposing waste,

showcasing the creativity of artists worldwide while contributing to the urgent cause of climate action. Here's a glimpse into each installation, soon to find a permanent space in the seven emirates of the UAE.

Abu Dhabi: A Marine Conservation Masterpiece

Dive into the narrative of "Guardians of the Deep," an awe-inspiring art installation dedicated to protecting Abu Dhabi's coral reefs. Beyond aesthetics, it serves as a powerful platform for conversations on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Climate Action and Life Below Water.

Crafted by Abu Dhabi and Al Ain artists—Graciela Noemi, Samia Saleh, and Karine Roche—supported by Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi and its students, this visionary project urgently highlights the fight against climate change and the crucial need to safeguard aquatic ecosystems. It's not just art; it's a compelling story of environmental advocacy woven into the vibrant tapestry of Abu Dhabi's cultural landscape.

Dubai: Barjeel Dubai

Inspired by iconic Arabic wind towers, Barjeel Dubai stands three metres high, symbolising the UAE's architectural heritage and commitment to combatting climate change through the innovative recycling of computer motherboards.

Crafted by global artists—Zaahirah Muthy, Abeer el Edani, Koushal Choudhary, and Sylvain Tremblay—the intricately designed wind tower blends heritage and innovation under Zaahirah curation.

Supported by Dubai Municipality, Barjeel Dubai embodies the city's commitment to the environment, innovation, and the preservation of culture for generations to come—a testament to Dubai's dedication to sustainability and the harmonious integration of tradition and progress.

Ajman: Arabian Horse

This artwork draws inspiration from revered Arabian horses, embodying prestige, nobility, and affluence. Supported by the Ajman Tourism Development Department, the sculpture is crafted from over 3000 used spoons, a collaborative effort involving department staff and strategic partners in Ajman. Created by Nigerian artist Akporode Collins Abinoro, known for transforming recycled cutlery into art, and in collaboration with Emirati artist Ahmed Almahri, this piece celebrates diversity and cultural fusion.

Sharjah: The Wheel of Knowledge

The Wheel of Knowledge" embodies the perpetual journey of education and science, a tribute by artist Suaad Al Shamsi to Sharjah's identity as the City of Knowledge. This installation, dedicated to preparing future generations, weaves the artist's personal journey as the pioneering Emirati female aircraft engineer. Utilizing an aircraft tire as the canvas adorned with over 2,000 books from Al Mawaheb school, it symbolizes the importance of education, inspiring young minds to embrace the transformative journey of learning.

Artist Rihab Saidan and Seham Alwazery collaborated for the artwork supported by "Aafaq Islamic Finance," a leading provider of innovative Islamic financial services.

Fujairah: Sea Shells

Led by Ali Al Khader, a sculpture instructor at the Fujairah Academy of Fine Arts, and his students, the artwork draws inspiration from the emirate’s diverse beaches.

Crafted entirely from recycled environmental waste—old metal mesh, skewers, wood, and water bottles collected locally the creation advocates for the safeguarding of marine life and ecosystems, urging against careless industrial waste disposal. The project is supported by Fujairah Fine Arts Academy.

Ras Al Khaimah: Al Meez Garden

Inspired by the native "Al Meez" flower in Ras Al Khaimah's mountains, this installation fuses artistry with environmental consciousness.

In collaboration with students from RAK Academy, over 500 plastic bottles transform into vibrant flowers, each bloom a symbol of collective dedication to environmental stewardship. Supported by the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, this art installation will grace the Ras Al Khaimah Art Festival in 2024.

Umm Al Quwain: Ring of Life

Drawing inspiration from the "Gargour" (fish cage) and water, this artwork narrates the historical essence of the country. Crafted by artist Kashir Mir from Pakistan, the sculptural installation delves into the abstract notion of 'openness.'

Examining contrasting yet interwoven concepts, it mirrors the interplay between a core and its periphery, the melding of form and formlessness, and the delicate balance between fragility and stability. The Gargour, a symbol of continuity and eternity, pays homage to the resilience of the region's people in preserving traditions and cultural heritage across generations.

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