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Exhibition From Cinderella to Sindbad on Display in Abu Dhabi Since 4 April 2021

Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung

From 4 April to 20 September 2021, the exhibition From Cinderella to Sinbad: German and Arabic Timeless Tales at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation shows the cross-cultural influences of the narrative traditions of German and Arabic storytelling.

The exhibition shines a spotlight on the rich cultural heritage and storytelling traditions of Ancient Egypt, the Arab world and Germany, and forms part of the programme of the 2021 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, where Germany is the guest of honour. The show is a collaboration between the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre (ALC), the German Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the Goethe Institute, and the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation.

A joint research project carried out by the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung Berlin (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) and the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities (AGYA), the show is presented in English and Arabic. The exhibition is taking place at a moment in which Germany and the United Arab Emirates are seeking to strengthen their cultural ties. At the same time, through this project, the ALC has consolidated its status as a promoter of cultural exchange and dialogue.

The Cultural History of Storytelling and Narrative Traditions

The show features a broad spectrum of narrative traditions, ranging from Ancient Egyptian papyri to the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, from the Arabic poet Al Mutanabbi to the German playwright and author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, along with stories from One Thousand and One Nights (Alf Laylah wa-Laylah) through to contemporary pop-up books and comics. Some 100 objects including facsimiles, archive material, books and games from the holdings of the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung of the Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin and other institutions such as the Goethe Institute of the Gulf Region and the Kalima Translation Project (which presents German works in Arabic translation) offer fascinating insights into 4,000 years of the cultural history of storytelling. The exhibition explores the shared aspects of stories and fairy tales and looks at overarching themes such as good and evil, heroism and satire. 

Another focus of the investigations are literary traditions which continue to provide a source of inspiration to artists and authors, including the Ancient Egyptian stories of Sinuhe and the Westcar Papyrus. The way stories are adapted and interpreted reveals how ideas can be passed between eras and regions, which is also illustrated, for example, by the story of Sindbad. The exhibition highlights similarities in storytelling traditions through various versions of Cinderella or “Aschenputtel”, which can be found both in Germany and on the Arab Peninsula. The show pays particular attention to children’s books by Emirati authors that are based on local fairy tales and traditional stories. 

The exhibition can also be visited online.

Intercultural Dialogue 

Cultural exchange is an essential component of progress and development, and of an open dialogue between peoples and nations. Intercultural dialogue creates a platform for exchanging stories, experiences, concerns, hopes and ambitions, and can have long-lasting effects. With this exhibition, we are celebrating the Federal Republic of Germany as a country with a long literary history, which has made important contributions to global culture, but also to Arabic culture more specifically. We look forward to further future cultural collaborations with Germany.

H.E. Dr Ali bin Tamim, Chair of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre

Vibrant Cultural Exchange

H.E. Peter Fischer, German ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, points out that the idea for the exhibition arose shortly after Germany was announced as the guest of honour for the 2021 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair:

We are so happy to bring this exhibtion from Berlin, Germany – a country of such rich literary history – to our friends and partners in Abu Dhabi. The exhibition underscores the engagement of both countries, and further strengthens their bilateral relationships in the fields of culture, education and research. This is a fascinating and vibrant cultural dialogue, and the visitors to the exhibition will almost certainly be surprised by some of the shared cultural references. I’d like to thank our partners and all involved for their efforts in putting together this exhibition.

Building Cultural Bridges

The exhibition curator, Prof Verena Lepper from Berlin, explains:

The exhibition is aimed primarily at children and seeks to show that the roots of modern Emirati storytelling traditions are very old indeed, stretching all the way back to antiquity, making them part of an international network. Through the exhibition, we have been able to build cultural bridges between Germany and the Arab world.

Cultural Differences and Shared Goals

Fairy tales like Aschenputtel or the stories of the One Thousand and One Nights entertain their readers with stories from faraway lands and foreign cultures, at once exotic and familiar. There is an originary, shared structure: the hero’s quest, the dangers he must confront, and the battles in which he must emerge victorious, and of course, the triumph of good over evil. For this reason, the books in this exhibition are perfectly suited to discussions about cultural differences and similarities, and about our shared ambitions and goals.

Fareed Majari, Director of the Goethe Institute in Abu Dhabi