"It was important that this work can travel," Al Ghaith explains. "This is a documentation of a land, and I want to share that. People think they know how Dubai has grown because of what they see in the media, but this is the icon of it and how it really looks."
Abdullah al Saadi takes an altogether different approach. Ten years in the making, the exhibit presents the artist's notes, carvings in rocks and assorted data from life on his sweet potato farm in rural Khorfakkan. From pages torn out of his sketchbook through to clay sculptures, Al Saadi repeats over and over the outline of the fruits of his harvest. This meticulous approach to his work points to a meditative attempt to engage with the land around him. Aloof from theorising, there's a raw amazement at just how fertile Al Saadi finds his country of birth - both in terms of crops and the unmanicured beauty of natural forms. He's a sort of Henry David Thoreau of the Northern Emirates.
Bint Maktoum is known as much for her haunting images of a world interlaced with dreams as the talent incubator she set up in Nad Al Sheba, Tashkeel. The artist has gone back into the field to produce a series of new images that continue her interrogations into "the relationship between person and place".
"It's strange to see land now on the horizon. I'm used to looking to the end of the earth, to infinity, when I look out to sea," she says, referring both to the dredged islands off the coast of Dubai and one of her images depicting a woman, suitcase in hand, standing at the sea's edge. "This woman is a sort of breaking point in this image," she explains. "So many people are coming to Dubai who bring their own views and culture, so now I'm thinking about how we fit in all this - both Emiratis and also those who have grown up in Dubai and call the city home."
A couple of doors down from the UAE pavilion, two Saudi artists Raja and Shadia Alem have attempted to encapsulate the fabric of peoples, cultures and chants that define their hometown of Mecca. In this vast, dark space, a polished oval mirror - painted black - greets the viewer on the way in. But stroll around the other side of the oval, and thousands of metal orbs are revealed on the floor, which reflect projections of the patterns found in the architecture of Mecca - scattering light across the floor of the pavilion, as well as the visitors to the space, with what looks like flecks of gold. Meanwhile, the sound of chants and footfall from the streets of the holy city reverberate through the exhibition hall.
As Saudi Arabia's first entry in the Venice Biennale, this is a strong starter - enigmatic and bold. We might not learn much about the country's art scene, but we feel one step closer to its street-level cultural life.
Iran and Syria both return with national exhibits, with Syria's roster including Sabhan Adam - known for his painted depictions of grotesquely elongated and sour-faced figures - while Iran brings four artists living and working in the country, notably photographer Mohsen Rastani. Both countries have been quite tight-lipped about just what their pavilions will include when they open to the public on Saturday.
Iraq returns to the Biennale as a national participation for the first time since 1976, with a six-artist show under the theme of "Wounded Water". With the architect Zaha Hadid and the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture as patrons, each of the six artists - notably Helsinki-based Adel Abidin and painter Ahmed Alsoudani - will create works on-site that respond directly to the thematic idea of water.
The Egyptian pavilion is particularly poignant this year with the entire space dedicated to the performance artist Ahmed Basiony, who was killed in the protests in Cairo in January. Prior to his death, Basiony had taken part in an exhibition in the Palace of Arts in Cairo in which he wore a suit covered in small sensors. He would run on the spot for an hour a day, for 30 days, and the sensors would react to his sweat, creating a bloom of colours on projected video screens around the artist.