When roadside billboards around Jeddah advertised one of the biggest art events in the Kingdom, one couldn’t have knowingly missed it. Given that all previous art weeks in the city were a hit, this year Jeddah Arts 21, 39 with attractions such as satellite dishes converted into art pieces, a life-sized kaleidoscope and hanging fiber glass leaves with acrylic, undoubtedly drew a discernibly massive crowd.
The Saudi Art Council (SAC) kickstarted its Jeddah Arts 21, 39 third annual exhibition under the theme ‘Earth and Ever After.’ The non-profit initiative ran a week-long art program and a set of art events featuring local and international artists.
Interestingly, this year’s exhibition inspiration for ‘Earth and Ever After’ comes from the Holy Qur’anic verses: “From this dust We created you, and in this We shall put you back, and from this, We shall raise you up once again.” (20:55) and “And Allah has made the Earth a spread for you, so that you may go about its broad ways.” (71:20).
The council is chaired by Princess Jawaher bint Majed bin Abdulaziz. Main curators heading the 2016 exhibition were Mona Khazindar and Hamza Serafi, who are also members of the Saudi Art Council.
“The aim of the exhibition is to reflect on humanity’s relationship with the Earth, to explore whether it is reconciled with each artist’s own personal bond and how an artist’s environment is inextricably bound to his sense of identity and roots,” said Khazindar.
The event features works of several contemporary Saudi and international artists. The exhibition saw a crowd of art aficionados and audiences that were engrossed in the manifested sculptures, paintings, photographs and art projects in the Saudi city of Jeddah.
Saudi artist Mohammad Haider’s artwork titled ‘Song of Campus’ spoke a thousand words. Made with tent canvas on wood outlining the world map, Haider’s piece had an amazing eye for detail.
Zahra Al-Ghamdi’s project titled ‘Cell of the Earth’ was an attention-grabbing piece of work made with a collection of cells taken from the Earth that represent a mixture of deep concepts forming the Earth’s core.
“My work is not a carbon copy of a real cell taken from Earth,” explains Al-Ghamdi. “It is an idea expressed through certain gestures, techniques and ores. My work is a symbolic depiction of these cells as they are analyzed by viewers’ naked eyes in hopes of discovering what Earth really is in their own perspective.”
A few masked men were miming and doing bits and pieces of silent drama every now and then during the proceedings of the event. Speaking to Anmar Baitalmal, we found out that a group of boys of the Humanity and Theater Club from University of Business and Technology call themselves the MACE, which is the abbreviation of mask and face. “We do theater and silent drama plays, which is something new in Saudi Arabia,” says Baitalmal, project manager of the club. “We do all these acts in silence because we want to send messages to people regarding social matters without having to say anything at all.”
Foreign art pieces showcased at 21, 39 this year included Italian-born Giovanni Ozzola’s famous chalk on stone artwork ‘Routes,’ Lebanese artist Ali Cherri’s lithograph and ink artwork ‘Paysages Tremblants’ and Syrian illustrator Boutros Al-Maari’s acrylic on canvas titled ‘Here is Damascus.’
Saddek Wasil created an interesting art piece with shopping carts portraying a symbol of consumerism and an essential necessity in modern man’s daily life. “Piling up shopping carts in a pyramid shape and adding the human element of emptiness signifies the economic fluctuations and the advent of commercial consumerism into social life which has led to the rise of other phenomena known as The Pyramid Principle,” expresses Wasil.
British/Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum had two fascinating pieces titled Coat Hanger and Plotting Table, both of which were on loan from a private art collector.
Although Hatoum’s Coat Hanger may seem like a whimsical piece at first glance, it is actually highly symbolic. A shredded map is assembled like a shopping bag and hung on a coat rack alongside a deformed coat hanger. “It transpires that this is an old map of Palestine, that features the Arabic names of Palestinian villages,” says Hatoum. “After Israel was established, the villages either disappeared or were recognized as entities by the Israelis. The piece is like an element of somebody who carries their identity or origins with them everywhere, like a shopping bag.”
Walking out of the exhibition territory, you bump into the eminent Homegrown Market, who played a pop-up gift shop for the 21, 39’s ‘Earth and Ever After’ exhibition. “We tried to stay within the theme of the exhibition, so a lot of products featured here are either art inspired or to do with the environment and are also environmentally-friendly,” said its founder Tamara Khadra.
Khadra’s platform was an inspiring one featuring organic and handmade products, promoting local and regional designers. “Although there is a lot of talent in the region, it’s either that most of them cannot afford to have their own stores or they don’t have the time or capability to run the store. So, we facilitate that for them.”
It didn’t stop there! The following day featured the Al-Hangar exhibition at Saudi Arabia’s historic area of Al-Balad and an exhibition at Tasami Gallery. Meanwhile, Athr Gallery presented two solo exhibitions namely ‘Show Me the Light’ by Palestinian artist Ayman Yossri Daydban and ‘The Whole Truth’ by renowned Lebanese/British artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan.
In the art series was a preview of ‘Izn Praise of Hands’ that was hosted by one of the main sponsors of 21, 39 program, Van Cleef & Arpels.
As part of the art week, SAC sponsored a tour of the Old town of Al-Balad where historic buildings, including Waqf Al-Khunji Al-Kabeer, are being renovated and converted to an arts and cultural center by the council.
Prominent Hijazi architecture fanatic Ahmad Sami Angawi collaborated with Athr Gallery to showcase his first solo exhibition titled, ‘Al-Mangour; Loved & Beloved’ in the city of Al-Balad. The exhibition shone light on the beauty of Al-Mangour, a forgotten Hijazi craft, through the documentation and analysis of the creation process.
A solo exhibition titled ‘The Everlasting Now’ by Emy Kat and curated by Hamza Serafi was the final exhibition in the series of art events. “21,39 is the highlight of the year for art lovers in Jeddah and presents a unique opportunity to showcase the work of today’s most talented artists in cooperation with leading art galleries in Jeddah,” said Serafi.
“The Saudi Art Council is a group of local art enthusiasts who contribute to the local community through the promotion of art and culture in Jeddah,” explains Mohammed Hafiz, Vice Chairman of SAC. “By organizing 21,39 we are enabling contemporary artists to present their creations to a wider audience than they would otherwise reach, while giving Jeddah’s art enthusiasts a whole week in which to enjoy and celebrate the universal language of art.”
Following last year’s success of 21,39 the council subsidized guided tours of the main exhibitions to around 5,000 students from 200 schools.
Commenting on the ‘Earth and Ever After’ exhibition theme, UBS — a partner of SAC, said “This year’s theme, the abundance and beauty of the earth, couldn’t be more timely. It invited us to reflect on humanity’s relationship with the Earth as well as how an artist’s environment is inextricably bound to a sense of identity and roots.”
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Jeddah Arts 21, 39: Man’s relationship with Earth in spotlight
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