02.05.2014

Award ceremony of 2014 UNESCO Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture resounds with calls for cultural diversity and mutual respect

©UNESCO/Nora Houguenade
From left to right: Zeina Arida, Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan al-Qassimi, Princess of Sharjah, Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General and Abdullah Al Owais, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Information of the Emirate of Sharjah

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, on 2 May awarded the 2014 UNESCO Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture to Syrian-born French author, translator and publisher Farouk Mardam-Bey and to the Beirut-based Arab Image Foundation, represented by its Director, Zeina Arida.

Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan al-Qassimi, Princess of Sharjah, attended the ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters along with Abdullah Al Owais, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Information of the Emirate of Sharjah, and Abdullah Alneaimi, Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates to UNESCO.

Director-General Bokova stressed the importance of the Sharjah Prize saying it reflected a view of the world in which culture holds the key to peace - not just to security - but a lasting peace based on mutual respect trust and freedom. “More than ever,” Ms Bokova said, “This vision has perhaps never been more important than it is today—in this era of globalization—when people and cultures interact ever more, when men and women perceive themselves increasingly as having multiple identities,” Ms Bokova said.

Pointing to the universal values contained in every culture and religion, the Princess of Sharjah argued that religion calls on us all to meet, appreciate and get to know one another. “The most important thing is righteousness, no matter the country it comes from,” said the Princess, who spoke of the ability of culture to bring people together. She quoted French author Antoione de Saint Exupéry, who said that differences make us richer, not poorer.

The same spirit underpinned the words of the Permanent Delegate of the United Arab Emirate, who stressed the need to build bridges between Arab culture and the rest of the world.

The Director of the Arab Image Foundation, Zeina Arida, highlighted the twin vocations of the Foundation: to preserve documentary collections and to curate artistic works and projects.Created in 1997 as a non-profit organization, the Foundation’s collections of photographs from and of the Arab world and its diaspora include images from the middle of the 19th century to modern times. It also organizes exhibitions, international collaboration projects and exchanges, as well as supporting projects by contemporary artists.

©UNESCO/Nora Houguenade -
From left to right: Farouk Mardam-Bey, Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General and Abdullah Al Owais, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Information of the Emirate of Sharjah

Cultural diversity is not the juxtaposition of separate cultures with specific characteristics frozen for all eternity, argued Laureate Farouk Mardam-Bey. Cultural diversity is born of the cross-fertilization of cultures, he argued.

Farouk Mardam-Bey, France’s leading publisher of translated Arab literature, went on to speak of the vibrancy of modern Arab letters in which, he said, women have a strong voice. Translating contemporary Arab literature, seldom a profitable endeavour, is necessary, he argued, to improve our understand the Arab world.

Created at the initiative of the Government of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates), the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture rewards the efforts of two personalities or organizations, a national of an Arab country and a national of any other country, who have made a significant contribution to the dissemination and promotion of Arab culture in the world. As of this year, it recognizes two new fields of activity: photography and publishing. The Prize carries a monetary value of $60,000, equally divided between the two laureates.

(Video available only in French)

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