Initially conceived as a French-inspired store, it started off as a one-stop-shop with a cafe.
The Flying Saucer, an iconic landmark in Sharjah, has been reopened as an art and community space. It also features a multimedia art installation that references aliens and colonialism.
Over the past few decades, the building has taken on different roles. As the building changed hands, so did its functions and architecture. Initially conceived as a French-inspired store, it started off as a one-stop-shop with a cafe. It has also served as a restaurant and gift shop, before becoming a supermarket and a fast food restaurant.
The Sharjah Arts Foundation (SAF) began the process of restoring The Flying Saucer to its former glory in 2015.
Sheikha Nawar Al Qassimi, Vice-President of the foundation, said the dynamic space also will see some socially distanced film screenings and family workshops in the future.
The renovation introduced new elements enhancing the open character of the interior gallery space. The intervention also includes new additions designed to complement the building spatially to support its function as a community hub.
Sheikha Nawar added: “Arts, culture and education are Sharjah’s pillars. Additionally, in the country today, there is a lot of talk about space exploration and the UAE’s missions to Mars, so this building is particularly relevant in that context as well.”
Talking about the nostalgia that the structure evokes, she said: “We grew up with this building around. The Flying Saucer has been a part of our cultural memory. The building had different functions from the 1970s onwards but one thing that was always there was its unique architectural structure. As a child, it was a really exciting UFO (unidentified flying object) building. As we grew up, we saw it take different forms and today we have preserved it and repurposed it as a space for arts, culture and education.”
She said the idea is to take art out of formal museum spaces and bring it out to the public. “We have taken art spaces out of the art district and put them in everyday neighbourhoods and everyday locations in a way that it is not so formal and intimidating. So people can come and look at this place even if they are not a formal art audience, if they have just come here to have a cup of coffee, but they might end up checking out a show.”
Who designed this UFO?
The intriguing part about this architectural quirk that was acquired by the SAF in 2012 is that nobody definitively knows who originally designed it.
Opened in 1978, the building’s architecture draws from a combination of space-age and Brutalist influences that permeated the period.
Lindsay Seers, who is one of the creators of an immersive multimedia installation at the renovated building, said: “The building itself is quite mysterious. Nobody knows who built it. It almost feels like it dropped out of the sky and landed here as a UFO. In terms of its colonial history, it was next to a British Army Camp. They also had a phrase about this Flying Saucer … ‘the alien has landed’. I think it was to do with the idea of the aliens being the British occupying the territory here. There is a backdrop of post-colonialism as well.”
The building has a “very specific” acoustic and lighting condition, Seers added. “It’s a beautiful building. I knew I had to make something that referenced flying saucers. The building asks for it.”
Keith Sargent, another key artist responsible for the multimedia installation, said: “There has been a lot of research around the idea of a building that doesn’t seem to have any record of how it got here. So, that became the iteration of this piece.”
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