Imagine one dome covering all continents, all countries, and all civilisations, shining its light on all of them equally, unique as they are. A stroll underneath the ever-changing calligraphic shades of the dome, crossing oceans from one theme to another leads the visitor to all corners of the world in a search for universality where human concerns and evolutions are central. The specificity of Louvre Abu Dhabi, a universal museum at the crossroads of civilisations is to put these civilisations in regards.
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The great vestibule welcomes the visitor and clearly introduces the objective of Louvre Abu Dhabi. Universal themes represented by maternity figures, water containers, death masks, or writing instruments showcase surprising similarities in the concerns of early civilisations. From there, the visitor follows a trail through the history of humanity, illustrated by some of the finest art from all over the world.
Wherever we are from, it all started in the same way.
Communities start settling thanks to domesticated animals and crops. Around 10,000BCE, the first villages appear bound by rituals and beliefs.
First profits lead to expressions of power and the first kingdoms around 3,000BCE supported by weapons and armours.
With riding horses that are rapidly sculpted, sizes of empires and trade increase.
Cities emerge and create a culturally-rich environment stirring great innovations such as writing that boosts exchanges.
The expansion continues around 1,000BCE into large empires that raise, dominate and collapse.
Religions influence local specificities into a universal turn and stir artistic creativity as Asian trade routes develop and spread Chinese inventions such as paper, porcelain or gunpowder. Golden ages lead to intense exchanges of goods and ideas.
As other civilisations evolve in a relative self-sufficiency, the 11th century sees the Byzantine Empire, Islamic world and Christian Europe fight and trade as never before.
The subsequent economic and scientific developments open routes to Africa and America during the 15th century, creating bridges between civilisations until then isolated.
This is the start of globalisation: maps, globes and curiosities from other worlds are precious.
After the discovery period is the time for rivalries. In the 17th century, great kings have to win not only on the battlefield but also on canvas on which monumental conquering portraits are depicted.
With increasing wealth in the 18th century, arts are centred around the private sphere and portraits.
Economic competition leads to industrial revolutions in the 19th century glorified in universal exhibitions.
Decolonisation and world wars redefine the 20th century. Arts follow the pace of society, with many currents and many questions asked, in what has now become a global village.
As I contemplate the history of mankind I have just gone through by admiring art of a rare quality and taste, people take selfies in front of the Ai Weiwei, the fountain of light created in Beijing in 2016. The actual light reflections echo deeper reflections about humankind. The selfie taken by the Chinese girl next to me is already uploaded on Instagram. Her friends located thousands of kilometres away are instantly peeping into Louvre Abu Dhabi with a quick like. Art at this global stage spreads throughout the world, faster than ever before and leave people to contemplate its purpose.
With this travel though time and space, Louvre Abu Dhabi describes how human concerns were expressed and addressed through arts as different civilisations developed, matured, and disappeared. It leaves the traveller to its emotions and reflections. Women in black abayas take selfies while men in white dishdashes stroll by. If the forms of arts differ, what is the most striking are the similarities between civilisations. Between us. No matter our religion, skin colour, community…
Text and photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
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