UAE: Inside the treasure trove of an Emirati general
Major-General Obaid Al Ketbi's private gallery houses everything he had used, earned, and received since 1976 after he graduated from a military academy
From swords, rifles and a phone from the Second World War to event badges, old credit cards, pens, and drivers’ licences — Major-General Obaid Al Ketbi never throws anything away. All these prized possessions tell the story of his life as a former UAE army officer, police general, and ambassador.
Located at his home in Abu Dhabi, Maj-Gen Al Ketbi’s private gallery ‘1185 Museum’ — named after his military number — houses everything he had used, earned, and received since 1976 after he graduated from a military academy in Al Ain and started working in the UAE Armed Forces until 2008.
“When I joined the army after graduation, I travelled to various places globally, met different people and we exchanged gifts. I visited various military bases and saw different collections. I was inspired to start my own gallery. Whatever you see here are personal collections,” the Emirati father of two told Khaleej Times during an exclusive tour of his personal museum.
The entire museum occupies two storeys at his villa on Jazeerat Das Street — with more than 15,000 items on display.
Among his favourites are a hand-crafted chess set that was given to him by a Russian businessman, an original Samurai sword, and a centuries-old copy of the Holy Quran. Also on display are pictures of current and former UAE leaders, books about the country’s history, and various items highlighting the Emirates’ nature, culture and heritage.
Maj-Gen Al Ketbi’s collection also features mementos from over 160 countries.
Through the years, his 1185 Museum has already become a cultural stop for visitors from around the world. “I receive all kinds of people here, including diplomats, local and international government officials and others who come to see about our culture and history,” he said.
The museum means a lot to Maj-Gen Al Ketbi, who was born in Al Ain in 1957. “Every item here has a story behind it. Here on the wall, is my elementary school certificate. It was issued and framed in 1971,” he said.
Pointing to a certificate, he added: “This was issued by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan as a permit to start working for the army.”
Maj-Gen Al Ketbi is a former member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and former deputy commander of the Abu Dhabi Police. He had also served in Kosovo during the war, joining the UAE humanitarian team for three months. He is a former chairman of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
From 2015 to 2018, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and served as the UAE ambassador to Australia where he worked relentlessly in strengthening political, economic and cultural relations between the two nations.
“As an ambassador, I worked on many important programmes that benefitted both countries. For instance, the sports diplomacy that aimed at introducing soft power through sports and the programme was a success,” he said.
Maj-Gen Al Ketbi said 95% of the items in his personal gallery are part of a personal collection and gifts from friends.
One of his treasures is a sword which was among the 15 original swords used in The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. “I came across this collectible sword while on a tour in New Zealand. It was at a gallery and was the only remaining piece as all the 14 swords had been sold out. The sword was on display and not for sale. But I managed to buy it after a long talk with the owners,” said Al Ketbi.
The 1185 Museum could certainly be among the UAE Capital’s hidden gems, but Al Ketbi is now on a mission to expand it further so that it can accommodate more visitors. The goal, he said, is to allow more people to learn about the UAE culture and history through his personal collections.
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