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First Fellows of NYUAD’s Research Project FIND Discuss UAE Projects with The National

Yasser Elsheshtawy, Roberto Lopardo, and Reem Falaknaz, fellows of the NYUAD research organization FIND (Forming Intersections and Dialogues) spoke to The National about their projects, which portray a meaningful portrait of the UAE through artistic and scholarly projects.

FIND, founded by NYUAD Associate Professor of Film and New Media Mo Ogrodnik, is an alliance for artists and scholars to explore and make projects about the diverse landscape of the UAE and its connections to the larger world.

"Some of the stereotypical representations of the UAE do not coincide with our experience of living here," Ogrodnik told the newspaper. "The UAE stands at a crossroads in the region and we want to use FIND as a petri dish to investigate the UAE's unique transnational culture, heritage, and its future."

FIND is doing much of this through the work of its fellows. For instance, Elsheshtawy is working on a mapping project of street life in Abu Dhabi using a combination of photography and technology to understand how the public uses these spaces. He hopes the project will not only provide a useful resource of information for urban planning, but also highlight communities, such as South Asian workers, in the UAE who are often overlooked.

"It's not just about physical structures but about the social use of spaces and about humans and how they encounter the city," he told The National. "It's an attempt to humanize the city so that it’s not simply a matter of buildings and streets and infrastructure."

Lopardo's project similarly aims to document the minute details of everyday life in Abu Dhabi, but through the method of creating a series of individual videos over 24 hours, one for each minute of the day.

"It's taken for granted that a man cuts the shawarma in front of you but we forget that there's a motion to that. We're not kids any more, we've already processed that information once. We've collected it, we don't need to go around all day thinking about it," Lopardo said. "For me, that's the point. To reawaken the senses and say, once again,'Look around you.'"

Falaknaz, whose project involves a portrait of mountain life in Ras Al Khaimah, will be engaging with the community she is studying by leading storytelling workshops with children in in Ras Al Khaimah schools.

The fellows spoke about the significant support they have received from FIND both technically and artistically.

"Through FIND, we will represent Abu Dhabi. They have challenged me," Lopardo said.

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