8 Months Later: Reflections from Two ‘Past Forward’ Artists

Past Forward artists Zeinab Al Hashemi and Khalid Mezaina reflect on their D.C. visit.


As Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates continues its tour around the United States, the MCCD staff was touched to hear from Zeinab Al Hashemi and Khalid Mezaina – Emirati artists featured in the exhibition – who visited Washington, D.C., during the exhibition launch at Meridian’s Cafritz Galleries this past May. Read what the artists had to say about their exchange:

Zeinab Al Hashemi:

One of my highlights last year was definitely my participation in the Past Forward exhibition and also being chosen to represent my country at the opening reception along with my dear friends, co-curator Noor Al Suwaidi and fellow artists Khalid Mezaina and Maitha Al Mehairbi.

Maitha Demithan, Dana, Zeinab, Noor, and Khalid pose in front of Shaika Al Mazrou's 107 piece.
Maitha Al Mehairbi, Dana Al Marashi (UAE Embassy), Zeinab Al Hashemi, Noor Al Suwaidi, and Khalid Mezaina pose in front of Shaika Al Mazrou’s 107.

From the day we arrived, the UAE Embassy and Meridian International Center were welcoming and made sure that we were comfortable with our stay. Everyone was super excited about the opening reception, and we were all waiting for the big event.

On our first day, we went on a school visit and did a short, fun presentation about the UAE and its culture before we showed some of the Emirati artists’ works from Past Forward. I was so happy to see all the kids engaged in the conversation and wanting to know more about our country. Khalid and I then led a workshop with the kids to teach them about making patterns using colored paper. It was my first time teaching kids, and I was surprised with my ability and energy around them. We did a couple of other school visits throughout our trip with more workshops that were all very fun.

The group with children at the Children's National Medical Center in D.C.
The group with young patients at the Children’s National Medical Center in D.C.

When the opening reception day came, everyone was ready and all the artworks were installed perfectly. Having Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba at the event made our day extremely meaningful, especially after hearing his words to all the visitors about the importance of art and Emirati artists. I felt responsible as an Emirati artist to speak not only about my work, but also about my dear other artists. As I was in the exhibition looking at all the familiar artworks done by these Emirati artists, it felt like a one big family of art pieces having a dialogue with one other. Each piece complimented the others. It was a beautiful, successful night and event. I give great thanks to all those who worked hard to make it happen.

The beautiful linden grove at Meridian.
The beautiful Linden grove at Meridian.

Aside from the workshops and Past Forward opening, Khalid, Noor, and I visited some D.C. museums and their exhibitions. For each visit we had great tour guides, who shared details about the shows, the artworks, and the museums.

Behind-the-scenes tour of museum collections in D.C.
Behind-the-scenes tour of museum collections in D.C.

Past Forward is a contemporary Emirati art exhibition, the first of this scale. It has already moved on from D.C. to Dallas/Fort Worth and now is on its way to Los Angeles. I am very proud that my works were selected to tour the United States and represent the Emirati art scene.

 Khalid Mezaina:

It was a real honor to be one of the selected artists to attend the official inauguration of the Past Forward exhibition in Washington, D.C., and to represent my country and the UAE’s creative scene. The opening was such a surreal moment, seeing artworks of my friends, colleagues, and peers all in one showcase outside the UAE. It was a proud moment seeing everyone’s works together, and what we have achieved over the years through our careers. Another highlight of the exhibition was having the opportunity to meet Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, who opened the event with remarks. Also, a huge bonus was seeing my Wind Towers illustration, which was showcased in the exhibition, applied onto collateral, including tote bags and on the cover of the exhibition catalogue.

Khalid's three artworks featured in Past Forward, with Wind Towers in the center.
Khalid’s three artworks featured in Past Forward, with Wind Towers in the center.

The reception and feedback during the exhibition was extremely positive. The reception attendees were curious and asking questions, both about the art and the United Arab Emirates, which allowed for an interesting dialogue between artists and viewers. I think it helped break down stereotypes of what people perceive of the Arab world by seeing progressive artworks from the region and meeting the artists themselves.

The UAE and US flags at the UAE Embassy.
The UAE and US flags at the UAE Embassy.

Besides the exhibition, being able to host art workshops in public schools and at the Children’s National Medical Center in D.C. was an amazing experience. Working with children from different social backgrounds was humbling and truly an eye opener. I hope our workshops had an impact on everyone we encountered and sparked the inner artist in all. Other activities also included museum visits around the capital, and meeting some of the institution’s directors and curators, taking in the already existing rich art and culture in D.C.’s exciting museum field.

The Marie  H. Reed Community Learning Center in D.C.
First school workshop at Marie Reed Elementary School in D.C.

Overall, my experience in Washington, D.C., was unforgettable. As it was my first time in America, this was a great introduction to a great country and a truly honorable experience to represent and call the UAE my home. I look forward to going back in the near future.

A colorful map of the U.S. from one of the museum visits.
A colorful map of the U.S. at Marie Reed Elementary School.

Past Forward is supported by the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington, D.C., and will be on display next at the LA Art Show (Jan. 14-18) and the Fowler Museum at UCLA (Jan. 25-Mar. 8).