inside the Italian Cultural Institute in Abu Dhabi

An ensemble of 100 cellos and a concert by soprano Tiziana “Tosca” Donati are some of the Expo 2020 Dubai events planned by the Italian Cultural Institute in Abu Dhabi.

Open to the public from Thursday at Al Bateen, the venue aims to be a hub serving both the UAE’s Italian community and culture seekers.

Talk to The National, Director Ida Zilio-Grandi expresses as much satisfaction as relief at the opening of the institute, affirming that it was long in coming.

“We were supposed to open in March of last year. We had the venue ready and everything was in place, but then the world turned upside down with the pandemic, ”she says.

“But everything happens for a reason and it’s just great and a blessing that we can finally do it.”

This good fortune also extends to the opening of the center with an exhibition by Fabrizio Plessi.

The renowned multimedia artist presents at the institute his exhibition Digital Wall, a series of striking images that meditate on the great force of nature.

“He was also scheduled to participate in the initial opening last year,” Zilio-Grandi confirms. “So it really feels like we’re picking up where we left off.”

Make connections

While its doors had been closed for more than 18 months, the institute has not been idle.

Abu Dhabi’s launch follows an extensive program of online events signaling its intention to be a catalyst for true cultural exchange.

In June, the organization worked with the Sharjah Museums Authority on the exhibition Drop by Drop Life Falls from the Sky: Water, Islam and Art, a collaboration with the Fondazione Torino Musei in Turin, Italy.

Last October, the center collaborated with the Abu Dhabi Ministry of Culture and Tourism for a digital art event featuring illustrators from the United Arab Emirates and Italy.

While the online format was far from ideal, Zilio-Grandi says it illustrated to viewers around the world the close cultural ties between Italy and the Arab world.

“This is perhaps something that some people do not know because what has been discussed the most, and for good reason, are the historical links between the region and Spain,” she said.

“While it is true that historically the Arabs stayed in Spain longer than in Italy, they left so many traces in Italy in everything from their poetry to their food and their language. “

The ties that unite

Regarding language, Zilio-Grandi, a former professor of Arabic language and literature at Ca ‘Foscari University in Venice, cites the Middle Eastern influence on Dante’s 14th-century founding poem. The Divine Comedy, considered one of the most important literary works of medieval Europe.

Zilio-Grandi is one of the many researchers who argue that The Divine Comedy is strongly influenced by an Islamic text known as the Kitab al-Miraj (The Book of Ascension), which was translated into Latin and Spanish a century before Dante’s work.

“This influence is present in the structure of Dante’s work and in the way it evolves through various scenes and environments,” she says.

“But generally, Italian poetry was influenced by Arabic literature in themes. The beginning of Italian poetry is called the Sicilian school and it has various themes such as spiritual love and divinity.

It is a fascinating subject that the institute intends to explore in February with a colloquium on ancient Arabic texts and European literature.

This is in addition to the aforementioned shows at Expo 2020 Dubai by singer Tosca and 100 cellos live in Dubai in February and March.

“Really, we are just getting started,” says Zilio-Grandi. “While the center will organize and consult events in the UAE and in the GCC, it is really here, at home in Abu Dhabi, that the heart of what we do lies.

“We want to do film screenings, book readings and art exhibitions and truly collaborate with artists from the United Arab Emirates. I want them to know that this is your place too.

A home away from home

It is a message that Zilio-Grandi is also extending to the Italian community of 10,000 people in the United Arab Emirates, with language courses for children also planned.

“The emphasis will be on connecting with Italian children, because at school and with their siblings they only speak English and they rarely read Italian,” she says.

“Italian families are not only looking forward to our opening, but there is also a feeling of expectation. It will be the challenge for us, to find this balance to have an Italian culture program dedicated to Italians and to the international public.

“It is not a choice to choose one over the other. We will do both.

The Italian Cultural Institute is located at 537 Al Qasbah Street, Al Bateen, Abu Dhabi, and opens to the public from Thursday. More information is available at

Update: October 6, 2021, 9:45 a.m.

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