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By Jo Tatchell
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Extra info for A Diamond in the Desert: Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World’s Richest City
Creative expression had never attracted much attention. It was not easy to imagine a Renoir, a Tracey Emin or even a Dickens, all chroniclers of social truth, carving out a career in Abu Dhabi. The highest-profile artists were those who painted straightforward portraits of the royal family, prize falcons and horses. As for the rest of the world, what kind of values could it expect Abu Dhabi to bring with it? Were the ways of the desert coming west, or was a new hybrid personality reflecting a multicultural city?
No one broke from one stratum to another. Most of us were only guests in someone else’s country. There could be no gentle criticism or the suggestion that there might be room for change. More than that, censure of the system, and by association the leadership, was illegal. Prison or deportation faced those who spoke out. Either that, or they were discredited. I understood that people might do better than they would at home, in Peshawar or Goa, but I couldn’t rid myself of the awkward sense that I was at liberty while others lived in bondage: they were granted leave every two years to visit their families and forced to surrender their passports to their masters in between.
It seemed the Culture District wasn’t the half of it: the city was on the brink of total transfiguration, from provincial oil town to global centre, bringing the world a Hong Kong for the Middle East. And it was happening. The first wave of museum openings, the Guggenheim and the Abu Dhabi Louvre, was due in 2013. But all the talk of culture and sport – the Formula One decider was scheduled for 2009 – was still bound up with the bottom line. Money, reputation and who was making how much looked to be of primary importance to Abu Dhabi, on paper at any rate.
A Diamond in the Desert: Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World’s Richest City by Jo Tatchell