Art Dubai day 3: Friday March 18

Today we started out with breakfast and a talk at a local park. Al Kazan park is one of the few urban parks in Dubai and features a water tower, playground, trees native to the gulf region and grassy areas, along with plans to build a library of Arabic books. The speakers included one of the original park designers and the talk focused on the changes the park and area have seen and why it has become important to urban culture moving forward. The water tower served as a landmark and icon when it was built in the 1980’s , not long after the birth of the country. It was the tallest structure for miles before the the nearby skyscrapers were built. It also serves as a visible reminder of the scarcity of water in the desert region and how important conservation is.

We then traveled to the Ismaili Center to hear the Director of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada speak and recieve a tour of the Center. Henry Kim is in charge of the Aga Khan Museum and he spoke about the first 18 months of the museum being open and about th exhibitions that have been there and that are planned. The exhibit we saw at the Barjeel Foundation was actually there first, and an exhibition on Syria is planned. Kim stressed the importance of this focus on the 5000 years of history and culture for the war- torn country.

We then took an architectural tour of the Ismaili Center. There are 8 Ismaili Centers around the world and they serve as community centers for the Nizari Ismailis, which is the second largest branch of Shia Islam. Their religion focuses on human reasoning, pluralism, and social justice. The design of this center is based on Fatimd era architecture, an important period in their history. The courtyard featured a central fountain that fed into two smaller ones, a typical feature of courtyard design in Perisa and India. The center also runs a secular early childhood education center with concurrent instruction in Arabic and English that is open to the surrounding community. The most amazing feature was a freestanding dome of brick inside their worship space. The entire building  is full of light and all of the marble was cut from Syria. It was a great cultural experience, as most of us on the tour had never heard of this branch of Islam or the Ismaili Centers.

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