‘Lest We Forget’ is a campaign gathering the intimate snapshots of Emirati family life over the second half of the 20th Century. fact’s tony sidgwick learns more…

Historical imagery of the GCC provides an interesting glimpse into the past of one of today’s wealthiest regions. It reminds us that a mere half a century ago, the Gulf was on the brink of one of the most rapid and monumental periods of growth, development and modernisation ever seen in human history. It’s the well-documented story of a transition from a relatively simple, peaceful and traditional way of life to a vibrant, modern collection of buzzing metropolises boasting luxury apartments and resorts, glittering steel and glass commercial towers and vast shrines to consumerism and entertainment in just a few decades – well within the lifespan of many Emiratis still living today.

While this progress has been well documented by the countless photojournalists, official photographers and PR firms that have proliferated in the region since then, these images have overwhelmingly depicted public life of VIPs, members of the ruling families and leaders of industry during official visits and engagements, and of the many massive residential, industrial and infrastructural construction projects that have taken place over the years. Far less documented have been the private lives of the local Emirati population during this period, until now. Lest We Forget is a major grassroots arts and heritage initiative that aims to archive, preserve and share vernacular photographs and oral histories of the UAE through its website, workshops and exhibitions. It is supported by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and is a community-based initiative that welcomes public participation.

The initiative provides a unique and alternative insight into the Emirati experience. Comprised entirely of personal stories and family photographs contributed by people in the local community, it tells the story of the UAE through the eyes of the people who lived it and provides a legacy for future generations. It marks the first time family photographs taken by Emiratis have been dug out from old boxes and suitcases and curated into an exhibition and accompanying book.

It provides a much more intimate snapshot of the lifestyles of the Emiratis that have experienced the past few decades of transition. Included in the book are touching hand-written notes that really add a human element, each revealing the story behind the picture, some with arrows pointing from individuals to facts about them, and some lovingly surrounding family members gathered for the snapshot. The exhibition is open until June 18 at Warehouse 421, Mina Zayed, Abu Dhabi. It is open to the public every day except Monday between 10am and 8pm. The next exhibition whose name has not yet been revealed will be open mid-September. Anyone wishing to contribute to the archive can do so at Warehouse 421, or at an appointment, which can be made by emailing contact@lwf.ae.

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Mohammed Noor Al Anoohi, Abu Dhabi, c. 1960s. Courtesy Meera Abdulla Abdulrazzaq Abdulla Al Awadhi. The boy scout in the photograph is my father-in-law Mohammed Noor Al Anoohi. He is the one who provided me with many family photos for this book. I noticed the backdrops of studio portraits like
this one show fantasy places very different than the desert and gulf surrounding Abu Dhabi.”

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Nationality card open pages, Ismaeil Abbas Khouri, Abu Dhabi, 22 September 1969. Courtesy Asma Ahmed Mohammed Sharif Folathi. “Ismaeil Abbas Khouri was a prominent businessman in Abu Dhabi during the formative years of the union. Sadly, he died early in an effort to rescue someone from electric shock caused by a faulty water generator.”

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Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Ahmed Karam Al Balooshi, Abu Dhabi, c. 1980s. “Everyone in my family has this photo on their phone because it shows the greatest person in the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed, and the greatest person in our family, my grandfather. My grandfather enjoys telling me about the few times that he had the privilege to meet Sheikh Zayed.”

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Fatima Al Kendi Al Mutar (left) and Musabeh Al Kendi Al Murar (right), Abu Dhabi, 1974. Courtesy Reem Rashed Musabeh Al Kendi Al Murar. “They lived in Mina Zayed City and travelled to Abu Dhabi to have this photo taken. We used to write verses from the Quran and put the papers in the locket. This necklace was a gift when I was born. This photo is beautifully coloured by hand.”

 

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Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (second from right), England. Courtesy Sheikha Maryam bint Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan. “It is very important in England to have afternoon tea. For us, in the afternoon after prayers we relax together with coffee and Arabic sweets. We call this time Fuala. My grandfather often travelled with falcons. He would gift them to people as special presents. He had great falcons with particular, meaningful names.”

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Nasser Hassan Al Sharaabi, Abu Dhabi, c. 1970s. Courtesy Meera Mohamed Abdulla Saeed Al Yamani. “My grandfather, Nasser Hassan Al Sharaabi, opened the first public library in Abu Dhabi. He was well educated and loved to share books with the people of his country. He sold magazines, newspapers and stationary items there. He brought books back from his travels, or imported them from
various countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait and Palestine. Before selling the books my grandfather was required to take permission from Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan to ensure that what he sold did not pose a political threat. Sheikh Zayed was a regular visitor to the library and often sat and talked with my grandfather and read the books and magazines. One day his bookstore burned down. Some say an electrical fault caused the fire.”

Abu Dhabi's first public library