Emirati Family Photographs 1950–1999
Warehouse421, Abu Dhabi, 2015

This exhibition and its accompanying book present a unique exploration of Emirati vernacular photographs through memory and creative expression. For the first time, the public has an opportunity to discover an extensive collection of cherished Emirati family photographs and oral histories generated by the first generations of Emirati citizens and responded to by their descendants through contemporary artworks. The Lest We Forget exhibition, book and archive are the result of inter- and intra-generational collaboration among Emirati citizens.

The analog photographs, generously contributed by nearly one hundred families, reveal daily life and special occasions in the UAE from the 1950s, when people could first afford cameras, until the late 1990s, when digital photography became widespread. Unlike the majority of published photographs taken in the Emirates during this period—mostly by non-Emirati medical missionaries, oil explorers, journalists, diplomats, professional photographers and travelers—these personal, often spontaneous snapshots were taken by ordinary citizens. The photographs not only preserve the memories of the people who took and posed for them; they also bear witness to the swift and momentous transition from a traditional, tribal way of life to that of a modern, prosperous nation. 

The Lest We Forget project started in 2010, through a series of curatorial practices courses taught by Dr. Michele Bambling on the women’s campus of Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. The resulting exhibition and companion book were named after a family photo album belonging to the late Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, bearing the typewritten title, “Lest We Forget.” Brought to class by Mariam bint Sultan, the album contained the first photographs generously contributed to the project.