Global Art Forum at Art Dubai 2018 tackles artificial intelligence

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The program opened at a special evening in Dubai Design District on Feb. 14 2018. (Photos supplied)
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The Global Art Forum 2018 focuses on the power, paranoia and potentials of automation. (Photos supplied)
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Chief Operating Officer and Futurist-in-Chief of the Dubai Future Foundation Noah Raford. (Photos supplied)
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The Forum’s program opened at a special evening in Dubai Design District on Feb. 14 2018. (Photos supplied)
Updated 22 March 2018
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Global Art Forum at Art Dubai 2018 tackles artificial intelligence

It certainly isn’t the most obvious choice of topic for an art summit. In fact, it’s quite a head-scratcher at first. But this year’s Global Art Forum commissioner — and writer/curator/cultural critic — Shumon Basar defended the theme of artificial intelligence (AI) eloquently, saying: “What Global Art Forum tends to do is take the cultural temperature of the moment, and this is clearly part of the cultural consciousness now.

“We’re able to approach the topic in ways that other platforms can’t — by cutting through different disciplines. People from films, philosophy, literature, political theory… we’re always interested to see how minds from different disciplines think when put next to each other. Often that elicits something new from the speaker.”

The Forum’s program opened at a special evening in Dubai Design District on Feb. 14 2018 and continues during Art Dubai, which ends on March 24.

And there will be some very interesting people from different backgrounds participating. Not least the curatorial team of the show, which, alongside Basar, includes Noah Raford – chief operating officer of the Dubai Future Foundation, and former futures adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office (this is a personal project for Raford, however); and Marlies Worth, leading curator and art historian from Austria, who is, among many other things, part of the curatorial team of the international traveling exhibition “Hello, Robot.”

Even though the approach may seem more like thought leadership than art discourse, the trans-disciplinary summit aims to explore the relationship between art and technology today, particularly dwelling on the themes of power, paranoia, and ethics in an era in which artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly commonplace.

“We’re increasingly living in a present that feels like science-fiction. To really understand any artist, you have to understand social history — the world they existed in,” Basar said. “Some of the earliest adopters of the Internet were artists. Today, more and more artists are bringing robots into their work — there are a number interested in the phenomena of humanoids; some artists looking at the anthropomorphic side of robots; some are looking at networks or codes … Many of the participants in the forum are contemporary artists, but they have a key interest in technology.”

A prime example is James Bridle — a highly lauded British artist, writer, and thought leader on the subject of technology and the future — who expounded on his theories of how AI can affect our culture and politics, at a Global Art Forum 2018 curtain-raiser event held at Dubai Design District in February.

Bridle is just one of several notable participants — such as Emirati writer Mishaal Al Gergawi; Finnish architect and musician Martti Kalliala; London-based Artistic Director of the Serpentine Galleries, Hans-Ulrich Obrist; and Estonian artist Katja Novitskova ¬— who will take on the existential issues mankind faces today, through a diverse range of programs over three days.

Issues such as how algorithms influence societal decisions; whether hyper-intelligent machines can feel the full range of human emotions; how AI can affect jobs and employment; the history of technology and the supernatural (“Many people in the Muslim world relate ghosts to machines,” Basur said); and the related topic of the difference in perceptions of AI and intelligence across cultures, and how this can have an effect on the development of AI — which, so far, has primarily been viewed and discussed through the lens of Western philosophy…

This question appears even more pertinent considering the geographical axis the forum has been built on, focusing on the Middle East and its role at the global frontier of the adaptation of technology.

Basur said: “Dubai is obviously at the forefront in tackling how a city can employ new forms of technology for governance. My co-curator Noah Raford, for example, is actively involved in shaping Dubai’s outlook toward automation.

“Recently Saudi Arabia also made a number of announcements, including giving citizenship to the first female robot, and launching Neom (the futuristic, fully automated megacity that will be run mostly by robots). These countries are thinking about what a smart city in the 21st century should be, and I see it as an exciting time for tech entrepreneurs to step up and tackle all these big questions.
Quite often, real disruptive innovation comes from the least likely sources, and emerging economies such as these have a rich potential in this direction.”

In the hope of spurring on some of that innovation and precipitating discussion, the forum will not only include mind-expanding lectures and presentations, but also feature slightly more light-hearted elements such as a live dance and music performance, “I am/not a robot,” and thought-provoking film screenings curated by Cinema Akil — which include a dystopian-future sci-fi short film by Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu; Lebanese short film “Last Days of the Man of Tomorrow”; and Austrian film “Free Lunch Society,” which tackles the subject of universal basic income.

“The kind of experience we hope our audience has is to encounter a menu of topics — some of which they might have thought of before, some not — and that they leave somewhat empowered by these things,” Basur concluded. “Because raising important and pressing questions has always been the role of art.”


King Abdul Aziz Public Library showcases Arab, Islamic heritage

Updated 21 April 2019
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King Abdul Aziz Public Library showcases Arab, Islamic heritage

  • The library has 8,571 books and more than 5,000 manuscripts, documents, coins and rare maps
  • The library has an archive of photographs, one of the rarest collections in the world

RIYADH: King Abdulaziz Public Library provides a key index of Saudi culture, presenting the world with a rich legacy of cultural, historical and literary diversity.

On World Heritage Day, April 18, the library highlighted its efforts in preserving cultural heritage, which makes it one of the most important libraries in the Arab and Islamic world. It possesses a variety of heritage treasures in manuscripts, documents, rare books, coins and photographs. The library has 8,571 books and more than 5,000 manuscripts, documents, coins and rare maps.

The library has established a knowledge-based space to produce large collections of specialized books on the history of the Kingdom and in the Arab and Islamic worlds while continuing to use its knowledge system in line with Vision 2030 and the cultural strategy of the Ministry of Culture.

The library’s special holdings consist of manuscripts, rare books, rare documents, rare maps, rare photographs and coins. These form an integrated picture and are characterized by rare historical scenes that stimulate research.

The library established the Manuscripts Department in 1988 to contribute to the preservation of Arab and Islamic heritage and make it available to researchers and investigators. The department has more than (4,400) original manuscripts in addition to more than (700) photocopies and microfilms, including the charts of the Institute of History of Arabic and Islamic Sciences at the University of Frankfurt. More than 3,500 manuscripts have been indexed and filed in the computer system.

The library in Riyadh, the pioneer in publishing heritage, has digitized all of its manuscripts — more than two million of them — and stored them on CDs.

The library contains a collection of rare books of ancient and rare European editions, consisting of 78 books on the biography of the Prophet Muhammad. The collection also includes 113 translated books in ancient European languages of the Holy Qur’an, as well as 55 books on Qur’anic studies and 54 books on Islamic sources. This collection represents the beginnings of European interest in the Holy Qur’an and its studies. The library acquired a collection of Arabic editions printed in Europe in 1592-1593. These editions are part of the library’s interest in the original Arab and Islamic heritage. They include rare books such as The Canon of Medicine by Avicenna, Rhetoric Mysteries by Abd Al-Qahir Al-Jurjani, a commentary on the “Isagoge” by Abu l-Faraj at-Tayyib, The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qur’an by Jalal Al-Din Al Suyuti, as well as 8,271 rare Arabic indexed books.

The library hosts a number of private collections, including that of the American orientalist George Rantz. This collection has many books, manuscripts, maps and rare documents, containing books in Arabic and 3,265 books in foreign languages. It also has the collection of Hamza Boubakeur, dean of the Islamic Institute and former imam of Paris Mosque. It is an integrated collection with 17,170 titles of 19,821 volumes of periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts, documents, newspaper clippings, rare books and books in Arabic, French, English, German and Russian. It includes books on scientific and religious sciences, and tourist literature that describes countries, their heritage, customs and traditions, and is linked to Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Gulf and the Islamic world.

The library has an archive of photographs, one of the rarest collections in the world, with a total of 5,564 single original photographs or collections in albums, taken by the most famous photographers of the East and the Arab world since the beginning of photography in 1740, as well as photographs taken by travelers, sea captains, military personnel, envoys, consuls and politicians who visited the region from the middle of the last century until the beginning of this century. This archive of photographs is one of the most unique in the world.

The library has 365 photographs of the two Holy Mosques with previously unpublished negatives. These photographs were taken by the Egyptian international photographer Ahmad Pasha Helmi, who was commissioned by King Farouk to photograph the two Holy Mosques during the visit of King Abdul Aziz to Makkah and Medina, in addition to a collection of albums depicting the Hijaz railway and other parts of the Kingdom.

Official and non-official documents are important scientific materials in the writing of history. Nations rely on collecting their documents, archiving them and making them available for study. The library in Riyadh has been keen to acquire rare documents and books, especially on the history of King Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the history of Saudi Arabia, and to allocate a special section for them. These documents include:

George Rantz records: in English, French and Arabic, covering the period from 1930 to 1960.
Documents of the Egyptian and Arab press on the visit of King Abdul Aziz to Egypt.
Documents of the American press about King Saud’s visit to the US.
Documents on oil agreements between the Kingdom and some American companies.
Documents of the British press regarding the war between the British forces and the forces of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman against the forces of the imam of Oman, and the effects of this war on the region and the position of the Saudi state and King Saud of this war.
Abdul Rahman Azzam’s collection of documents (in Arabic and English) covering the period from 1925 to 1960.
Correspondence reflecting the assistance provided by Saudi Arabia to the Mosque of Paris and Makkah pilgrims.
The British collection of documents on King Abdul Aziz Al Saud (English), covering the period from 1800 to 1953. These are photocopies of the original documents and constitute one of the most important sources of the history of the Arabian Peninsula.
Khair Al-Din Al-Zarkali’s collection of documents: (in Arabic) covering the period from 1920 to 1975.
The library also has 700 rare maps, especially of the Arabian Peninsula, dating from 1482. The library has acquired more than 7,600 rare gold, silver and bronze coins, dating back to different Islamic times.

World Heritage Day was proposed by the International Council of Monuments and Sites on April 18, 1982 and approved by UNESCO in 1983 with the aim of promoting awareness of the importance of cultural heritage and protecting it.