The Founder’s Memorial, a permanent national tribute commemorating the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, opens in Abu Dhabi on 22 April to mark the start of the Year of Zayed.
The Memorial uses art, landscape, words, stories and multimedia experiences to invite visitors “to embark on a journey of discovery into the life and legacy of the UAE’s founding father”.
Situated on the Abu Dhabi Corniche on the site of the longstanding giant-size portrait of Sheikh Zayed, the Memorial sits in 3.3 hectares of beautifully landscaped public space. Its centrepiece is The Constellation; housed within a monumental pavilion 30m square are a total of 1,327 geometric shapes suspended from 1,110 cables to create a dynamic abstract portrait of Sheikh Zayed’s image – different profiles of Sheikh Zayed emerge when viewed from different angles. It’s even better at night, when the piece is illuminated by more than 2,000 lights.
The artist is Ralph Helmick, an American who has made a speciality of large-scale public art – he has done more than 50. He said Sheikh Zayed’s connection to nature emerged as a particularly strong guiding principle in his design; “even while overseeing unprecedented modernisation, he remained grounded in the physical world. The Constellation, therefore, is not a traditional figurative representation; it embodies an active re-creation of his likeness, exploring the boundaries of perception through oscillating moments of abstraction and representation that infinitely dissolve and resolve on a monumental scale. Put simply, the installation seeks to fuse the terrestrial with the celestial”.
The official comment from Yousef Al Obaidli, General Manager of The Founder’s Memorial, highlighted its overt purpose – “great nations value their leaders, and this is what we have done … More than just a monument, the space provides a focal point where the community, and in particular young people who did not have the opportunity to know him, can gather to learn, reflect on and celebrate Sheikh Zayed’s vision and tremendous contribution to the world”. But, as with many of Abu Dhabi’s most recent public developments, the ‘leading cultural destination’ motif was also emphasised: “The Founder’s Memorial is a new landmark and major visitor attraction in Abu Dhabi, strengthening the UAE’s position as a leading cultural destination. We look forward to welcoming international visitors to our space where they can learn about Emirati culture and heritage through a deeper understanding of the character and values of the founder of our nation …”.
The Memorial’s Welcome Centre features a multimedia “experience” showing Sheikh Zayed’s life, legacy and values through rare film footage, together with personal stories from people that knew him. Complimentary tours from trained guides will be available in both Arabic and English.
The surrounding gardens are planted with indigenous shrubbery and trees; there’s a Sanctuary Garden area with “a serene ambience”, a Heritage Garden with native plants traditionally used for their medicinal properties, the obligatory falaj-style water channel, and an elevated walkway with great views.
The Founder’s Memorial is located at the corner of Corniche Road and 18th Street along the Abu Dhabi Corniche. It is free to access and will be open daily from 9am to 10pm.