By Anna Somers Cocks
Which artist won the world’s largest, most prestigious and probably most valuable commission this year, taking it from concept to finish in nine months? The answer is Idris Khan: 38, British, of Pakistani and Welsh parents. His commission is a vast memorial to the war dead of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), inaugurated by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi today (30 November).
Founded in 1971, the UAE lived essentially at peace for the first 34 years of its existence, but this age of innocence ended in March 2015 when it joined a coalition led by Saudi Arabia against the Shia Houthi in the Yemeni Civil War. On 4 September, 45 UAE soldiers were killed when a missile hit an ammunition store. This aroused deep emotion in a closely entwined tribal society and a few days later, the Crown Prince, who is also deputy supreme commander of the armed forces of the UAE, announced both the ritual of commemoration, with a Martyrs’ Day to fall every 30 November, and a memorial. A military history museum is also a possibility, inspired by a visit of the UAE minister of foreign affairs to the Gallipoli display in New Zealand’s Te Papa museum.