For NYU Abu Dhabi freshman Shakhbout Al Kaabi, an unexpected call during finals week delivered some very good news. He had won the Abu Dhabi Festival Visual Arts Award 2013. Launched this year as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival — a four-week-long celebration of music and visual and performing arts — the award recognizes an Emirati undergraduate student or emerging artist who demonstrates outstanding creativity in an original piece of work. Al Kaabi was one of more than 160 students to enter the competition.
For its inaugural year, the award asked participants to submit works inspired by 25 Years of Arab Creativity, an exhibition held in conjunction with the festival that presented a panorama of contemporary Arab art through painting, sculpture, photography, and video and installations that included special commissions and works by UAE artists. Al Kaabi, who is considering NYUAD's Visual Arts and Film and New Media majors, was especially inspired by No Return, a triptych by Driss Ouadahi, whose theme, he imagined, illustrates "the fact that a better future lies in moving forward and adapting to new circumstances."
Based on a similar theme of change, Al Kaabi's winning work — a photograph titled "An overthrown throne" — seeks to convey the "regimes, depicted here as thrones," Al Kaabi explained, that have collapsed during the past two years from the sheer will of the people. "People who were inspired by a brighter and more equal future," he continued. "Many lost their lives for such a dream; its scar is still seen on the throne." Another significant aspect of the image is its grey background, which Al Kaabi uses to communicate that "the future prospects are neither black nor white."
His photograph was selected by a jury seeking an entry with artistic merit, technical skill, evidence of original and creative thinking, and emotional impact, as well as one evidently inspired by 25 Years of Arab Creativity.
Encouraged to enter the competition by NYUAD Professor of Visual Arts Tarek Al-Ghoussein, Al Kaabi was awarded AED 10,000 in prize money, which he will give to his parents to "do whatever they want to." Al Kaabi will also be recognized in a formal award ceremony this coming September.
"I was super happy and excited for the news and proud of myself for making my professor proud," Al Kaabi said. "And I have learned from this experience that one should have faith in him or herself and try new things."