My International Fieldwork trip to US in July 2022

The following statement is to express my thanks for the support of International Fieldwork in the US between 21 June and 27 July

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival highlighted my work and the Mangroves from the Water in mangrove heritage, art making and conservation.  My participation was based on esteem and my knowledge in the area of mangroves; I represented the United Arab Emirates in the Living Landscape | Living Memory program at the 56th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The program highlighted visions for a diverse and sustainable future.  The second part of my fieldwork in the US was a 17 day residency at the Pilchuck Glass School where I gained glass techniques skills to support my doctoral research project.

I would like to thank Deakin University, the Pilchuck Glass School and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival curators and supporters for making the international fieldwork project a success.  

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival curators and supporters are:  

  • the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation,
  • the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth,
  • the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC,
  • co-curators Michele Bambling and Rebecca Fenton and
  • Pablo Molinero Martinez, the program coordinator. 

I would like to thank Deakin University for their support of my participation in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and for the financial assistance for my residency in Seattle at the Pilchuck Glass School.

Tangible benefits are as follows.

  1. These experiences will contribute to the practice led, autoethnographic research framework of my research and will directly support two written sections in my exegesis centring on art influences and art practice.
  2. The experiences will also influence a body of sculptural artwork using glass in multimedia art installation works. 

The Mangroves from the Water research aims to highlight the plight of mangroves and wetlands globally and my experience in the US will add great benefit to the body of knowledge in this field.  Artists can make an impact in finding ways to deliver scientifically factual messages that scientists may struggle to put across.

You can view my presentation on my experience in this document:

Zahidah Zeytoun Millie

An Artist’s Roots: Painting and Saving Mangroves with Zahidah Zeytoun Millie

This feature was written by Sophie Henry 

Posted on July 3, 2022 on the Smithsonian Folklife Festival blog.

Zahidah Zeytoun Millie is all about roots: her Syrian roots, mangrove roots, and the roots she sets down in each country she moves to. As an artist and curator, she ties them together in her artwork and her activism.

Here at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, as part of the United Arab Emirates program, Zahidah leads workshops on painting mangrove trees. When I arrived at her tent, ten or so children, drawn by the inviting sight of colorful watercolor palettes, sat in a circle on the ground. In the center was a large glass jar of mangrove saplings. The children drew outlines with a watercolor marker, then softened the lines with a wet brush, and finally added a wash of watercolor from the pans. She walked around, commenting on line quality or color choice. Her own paper was covered in swirls of green and brown that coalesced into the tangled roots of a mangrove.

Zahidah’s artist website shows almost 200 mangrove watercolors. They’re visually tantalizing pieces, varied but unified. Some are more figurative while others lean abstract: mangroves naturally dance between organic body and graphic design. Sometimes she paints wet-in-wet, letting the pigment flow and blur so that the painting only implies a tree as its subject. Other paintings are crisply detailed, with bold dark strokes for the branches.

Mangroves gave Zahidah hope and purpose in a time of crisis. In 2012, when civil war broke out in Syria, she was living in the UAE.

“I was very scared about my family, my homeland,” she said. “But as an artist, you always survive with your art.” She began kayaking through the marshes in the UAE to relax, and there she found the mangroves. “I thought, okay, what can I do? There are two things—the mangroves and my country—and I linked them in one. I organized an exhibition about the mangroves. And the funds I sent to Syrian children and refugees in Syria. That was my little contribution.”

Zahidah telling her story to the children

Zahidah spent many years working as both an artist and environmental activist. When she moved to the UAE in 2000, she became interested in issues of native plant conservation and sustainable architecture. Mangroves are native to the UAE—the country has significant coastal regions, despite popular perception as a purely desert biome. Unlike many trees, mangroves thrive in saline waters. They support aquatic and terrestrial life, purify surrounding waters, and act as carbon sinks. The beautiful trees both inspire us and protect against climate change, but they are in danger. According to the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, the rate of mangrove forest loss is three to four times higher than that of terrestrial forests.

As the Syrian war raged on, Zahidah refocused. She recalled thinking, “I can’t do anything for the manmade war in my home country, but I can try to do what I have in front of me.” She involved herself fully in the cause of the mangroves. Gathering a group of fellow artists, she curated another multimedia art exhibition, Mangroves from the Water. She received funding from an environmental agency in Abu Dhabi, and her work eventually culminated in a 2017 mangrove festival.

Now, Zahidah and her family live in Australia. Upon moving, she found that Australia had the same issue of mangrove loss. Making Australian people care, however, has been more difficult. “In the UAE, I tried to work from the roots of the thing. I found a story,” she said. “But moving to Australia, I couldn’t find a story. Different politics, different history.”

She needed to find roots in Australia, something to connect the people to the trees. So she chose to expand her project, Mangroves from the Water, into a PhD at Deakin University.

“I keep trying to see what is right, what is wrong, what is going on. This is the meaning of life for me.”

Zahidah Zeytoun Millie teaches us to look closely at the world in front of us: to notice its beauty, to learn to love and protect her. Join her at the Story Majlis to see her art and learn about mangrove conservation.

Author Sophie Henry is a writing intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and an art history major at Yale University. She also studies Spanish, German, and chemistry.

Setting up our display at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

We are super excited to be setting up our display to promote Mangroves from the Water and its quest to highlight and protect the mangroves in the UAE and the world!

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival returns to the National Mall in Washington D.C. this summer,
June 22–27 and June 30–July 4. The featured programs this year are “Earth Optimism × Folklife:
Inspiring Conservation Communities” and “United Arab Emirates: Living Landscape | Living Memory.”
Over two weeks, visitors can enjoy music performances, craft workshops, cooking demonstrations,
hands-on activities, and more—all free, and a selection of events livestreaming worldwide.
We’re excited to take part in this annual celebration of culture of, by, and for the people, and we invite
you to join us in Washington, D.C., and beyond.
Save the dates and learn more at!


Here is a sneaky peak …

Radio Interview: Zahidah highlights the MFTW’s participation at the upcoming Smithsonian Folklife Festival. 

In a recent The Sustainable Hour Apple podcast interview, curator and founding artist Zahidah Zeytoun Millie highlights the Mangroves from the Water (MFTW) display at the upcoming Smithsonian Folklife Festival. 

Please listen to this important and informative interview here: The Sustainable Hour Apple podcast

Zahidah talks of ‘earth optimism’ and ‘ecological intimacy’, and she believes in the importance of art on using a ‘soft language’ about the climate scientists’ messages. She is taking this concern to the international stage later this month at a prestigious festival in Washington DC, USA: The Smithsonian Folklife Festival. 

This summer, the @SmithsonianFolk Festival returns to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. We’re
excited to take part and invite you to join us, June 22–27 and June 30–July 4!
Learn more:


MFTW features in the UAE program at the 2022 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Preparations underway for the UAE exhibition

2022 Smithsonian Folklife Festival
June 22–27 and June 30–July 4, 2022
National Mall, Washington, D.C.

In 2022, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival returns to the National Mall in Washington D.C. after a two-year hiatus.

The two-week event includes two major themed programs:

United Arab Emirates: Living Landscape | Living Memory, exploring the cultural traditions of the UAE, and Earth Optimism × Folklife: Inspiring Conservation Communities, celebrating conservation successes.

As always, the Festival invites visitors to participate in hands-on activities, craft workshops, cooking and gardening demonstrations, conversations, and performances.
The Festival kicks off with an evening concert on June 22. Daytime programming begins June 23.

Hours are generally 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with evening concerts and special presentations starting at 6:30 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.

For the first time, events in the Folklife Studio and all evening concerts will be livestreamed on YouTube
and Facebook. ASL interpretation and closed captioning will be provided for these programs.

The Mangroves from the Water team will share more details shortly of our participation in these events. We are very excited and honoured to have been selected to participate!

In the news: UAE’s participation at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Washington D.C.

Khaleej Times features the UAE’s participation in the 2022 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The article includes a YouTube video message by Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE Ambassador to the US, who said “since the first Folklife Festival in 1967, the event has honoured global cultural traditions and celebrates those who practice and sustain them”.

“The 2022 festival theme is UAE – Living Landscape l Living Memory. These two primary pillars will introduce festival attendees to arts, poetry, cuisine and other cultural traditions that have made the UAE an inclusive, modern and pioneer nation in just 50 years,” added Al Otaiba (Khaleej Times).

Please read the full article by Waheed Abbas for Khaleej Times here:

The iconic obelisk The Washington Monument where the festival will take place.

Launched in 1967, the Festival is an international exhibition of living cultural heritage presented annually in the summer in Washington, DC. This year’s edition, Living Landscape | Living Memory, will be held from June 22 to 27 and June 30 to July 4 at the National Mall, Washington DC, and will feature the UAE.

Mangroves from the Water will be there!!