Artist Maitha Bin Demithan explores the traditions of the UAE, focusing on some of the rituals and symbolism that have historically made her culture distinct. Theatrically staged on black backdrops, garments such as a burqa, thoab and bisht are revered as precious specimens of heritage, many of which are disappearing from Emirati life. It is the artist’s intention to create an intimate environment for the viewer to engage with these nearly life-size portraits of objects, and individuals who are adorned by them. This is symbolic of a shift in contemporary Emirati culture, where the act of ‘looking’ has traditionally been highly charged, and the boundary between public and private realms is being renegotiated.
The UAE’s traditions are in a period of flux, as transnational exchange is rapidly altering the UAE’s social, cultural and physical landscape. A wealthy, young country founded in 1971 following the dissolution of the Trucial States, the UAE was once largely comprised of semi-nomadic traders. The discovery of oil and the development of tourism have contributed to a population growth from 70,000 inhabitants in the 1950s to more than 9 million today. Eighty-nine percent of the UAE population consists of non-nationals; the country has one of the highest net migration rates in the world.
Maitha Bin Demithan observes recent transformations in Emirati life: “All around me [the UAE] is becoming Westernized. Many Emiratis now choose to wear Western dress over traditional dress, and I find myself wanting to preserve some of the traditional textiles and embroidery in my work.” Her portraits consist of multiple scans manually stitched together, as if by hand. This has a fragmented, patchwork appearance that references Bin Demithan’s interest in displaying her artistic process and is a metaphor for the gaps between different generations and the increasingly diverse cultures living in the UAE.