Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival 9th Edition Standing Tall Against All Odds

The Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival (RAKFAF) is delighted to announce that it returns next month for its 9th edition, helping launch the UAE’s 2021 arts calendar.
The annual arts festival, which was established under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, will open to the public on Saturday, 6 February and run until Saturday, 3 April, 2021, with all international standard Covid-19 safety guidelines in place. The historic Ras Al Khaimah pearling village of Al Jazirah Al Hamra will once again provide the central backdrop for the Festival, having been the Festival’s home for the past two years and standing as a critical bridge between Ras Al Khaimah’s cultural heritage and contemporary art scene. However, this year’s Festival will also see two new exciting mini-exhibition sites within the Emirate: the public viewing deck of the UAE’s highest peak Jebel Jais and the Open Park on Al Marjan Island.

With the theme of Hope – a theme that reflects the re-opening of the arts following the past year’s closures – the outdoor exhibition of art, photography, and sculpture, set within the Heritage Village and now at Jebel Jais and Al Marjan, will present more than 130 artworks by a diverse mix of artists from some 49 countries. There will also be a vibrant program of film screenings, workshops, guided tours, and other events held across the Festival’s various locations. 

Artworks and programming are curated around the theme of Hope. In the year of the UAE’s 50th anniversary, the Festival is looking to the past and exploring the future through the lens of contemporary art at a time when hope is central to our daily lives. Whether responding to the theme by considering human connection, the environment, or the current pandemic, each work and activity explores where hope is found, where it is built, and how it is shared. In a rapidly changing world of new technologies, urbanization, climate change, and COVID-19, the Festival is asking the critical question, how can hope inspire art, and art inspire hope?

This year, the Festival is also delighted to announce that it is partnering – for the first time – with Art Dubai and The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi to provide joint events. These new collaborations show RAKFAF’s commitment to connecting and developing the UAE‘s wider cultural community. Art Dubai’s Regional Director, Hala Khayat, will present a talk on the inner workings of regional arts festivals on Friday, 26 February while on Sunday, 14 February, in collaboration with The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi and supported in part by the US Embassy Abu Dhabi, musician and ethnomusicologist Dr. Ghazi Al Mulaifi will give a virtual workshop entitled Learning Rhythms of the Arabian Sea.

Speaking ahead of the Festival’s opening next month, His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, comments: “The arts and creative industries are key to our personal and community wellbeing and it is with enormous pride and honour that we announce the return of RAKFAF next month, which is now in its 9th year.   2020 was indeed the most challenging of years for our community and this year’s Festival emerges at a crucial time, early in the new year as our community looks to new beginnings, and with an exciting and enriching program presented around the theme of Hope – a theme that seems so relevant in these unprecedented times and one that explores the strength and compassion that holds our community together.” 

Because of 2020, the new norm is virtual participation and exhibition. However, curators and artists participating in RAKFAF 2021 are optimistic about showcasing their artworks live. Irish PR Guru Tara Sillery, representing artists from Kuwait for the second year, said to Al Mahha Art “It has been a tough yet a very fulfilling year in the search for talented artists globally to participate in RAK Fine Arts Festival 2021 (the search started in January 2020!).”

“Despite my very deep association with Kuwait and the depth of love I have for the art scene, unfortunately due to the global pandemic the festival were not able to showcase the number of artists which was originally planned.  This is absolutely no reflection on how much talent there is in Kuwait, nor of how adamant I am that we have to continue to give the art scene in Kuwait a platform to shine… My quest to ensure talented artists get the platform they deserve will never cease and what we can take from this years theme of HOPE is to never lose it.”

Known for her sagacious talent-hunting eyes, in art and fashion, for over a decades in MENA region, Sillery expressed her optimism for cultural events in the GCC “Actually, I believe for the 2022 festival, we will have even more amazing artwork to showcase, as if anything, this pandemic has brought out the inner talents of those who did not have as much time to focus on their passions.  Therefore, there is always a silver lining to every situation!” Sillery said.

Solitude 1 by Kuwaiti Artist Lamia Ghareeb

“Kuwaiti Artists – keep continuing to shine always, you make me proud and you make my heart burst with pride when I see you grow and achieve your dreams along with the success you truly deserve.” Sillery concluded her statement for Al Mahha Art.

Below, you’ll find a list of events RAKFAF will include in this years edition… If you are in the UAE make sure to check it out with consideration of safety measurements. For further information, visit  www.rakfinearts.ae or follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. RAKFAF is free to the public.

Art, photography and sculpture:

RAKFAF seeks to support the social and cultural development of Ras Al Khaimah and the UAE by
nurturing emerging talent. This year’s Festival will showcase the work of more than 100 local,
regional, and international artists.

Oral history project:

A series of video interviews will be presented as short films in various villas at Al Jazirah Al Hamra Heritage Village.  For these, five former residents have been recorded talking about daily life in the pearling village, providing a rich, valuable history and rare insights into what life was like in the Emirate decades ago.  These unique oral records, which will be at the heart of this year’s Festival, aim to preserve Al Jazirah Al Hamra Heritage Village’s history and the stories of those who lived there, and ensure that Ras Al Khaimah’s cultural heritage is passed on to the next generation.

Film screenings:

The work of emerging independent filmmakers from Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia, Jordan, Algeria, and Hungary will be shown throughout the first month of the Festival.  Short film highlights include: Bishoy Mather’s documentary Carbon (2019), which follows four people subjected to stereotyping, bullying, intolerance, and discrimination and examines how each of them confront their respective struggles; Osama Abu Zaid’s animation Mr. Purple (2019), which explores how freedom of choice, diversity, and differences make the world a brighter place and gives hope to others; and Hungarian filmmaker IIona Szekeres’ documentary Hamda (2020), which celebrates the journey of Hamda Al Qubaisi, a strong, determined 17-year-old Emirati Formula 4 racing driver.


Workshops will be held in person at all three Festival sites, as well as online. These will cover topics such as tile painting, handmade ceramics, the art of making coffee, performance art, and zentangle art.  A community art and film day will also be held on Al Marjan Island on Friday, 26 February, providing a space for the community to discover the work and talent of local artists and creatives. Another event highlight is the Pet Friendly Day on Saturday 20 February; businesses and organizations from across the UAE will travel to Al Jazirah Al Hamra to provide workshops, events, and stalls including pet yoga, paw print moulding, Dogventure, and pet adoption from Ras Al Khaimah Animal Welfare Center (RAKAWC).

New partnerships with Art Dubai and The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi:

These new collaborations build on several previous partnerships and the Festival hopes to expand its collaboration initiative further as it looks to its 10th anniversary, working even harder to build local capacity and support the domestic arts scene.  The talk by Art Dubai’s Hala Khayat on the region’s art festivals will help local artists build an awareness of the sector, enabling them to navigate the available opportunities.  

The Rhythms of the Arabian Sea workshop, in conjunction with The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, is built around the residency of Kuwaiti-American artist and ethnomusicologist, Dr Ghazi Al-Mulaifi, and members of his band Boom Diwan, at The Arts Center.  The workshop is part of a residency that includes class visits at NYU Abu Dhabi and virtual workshops for school groups across the UAE, and is centered around a virtual concert led by Boom Diwan on Saturday, 6 February.

Talking on the partnership, Linsey Boswick, Director of Artistic Planning at the Arts Centre at NYU Abu Dhabi, said: “We are thrilled to partner with RAKFAF for the first time through this workshop, which is supported by the US Embassy Abu Dhabi.  The site of the Festival, Al Jazirah Al Hamra, is a seafaring fishing village and deeply connected to the heritage explored in the workshop, which centers around the percussive sea faring rhythms of the Gulf.  We at The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi are deeply committed to bringing communities from the Emirates together, through diverse and enriching programming, to foster the growth of an arts ecosystem across the UAE.”