Jeddah Arts 21, 39: Man’s relationship with Earth in spotlight

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Updated 16 February 2016

Jeddah Arts 21, 39: Man’s relationship with Earth in spotlight

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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Saudi Venice Biennale debut follows Cannes

Updated 25 May 2018

Saudi Venice Biennale debut follows Cannes

  • The Saudi pavilion illustrated the evolution underway as the country embraces a new era of change, powered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the future
  • Communication is the overriding aim for the creators behind the Saudi pavilion

VENICE: In its debut appearance at Italy’s leading architecture fair on Thursday, Saudi Arabia unveiled a sweeping exhibition exploring the country’s progress over the past five decades. 

Holding its own among the 65 national pavilions at the 16th Venice Biennale’s International Architecture Exhibition, the Saudi pavilion illustrated the evolution underway as the country embraces a new era of change, powered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the future.

It is the first time the Kingdom has had a presence at the Venice event, which is considered one of the leading forums for international architecture and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe to the city.

At the heart of the display in the Venetian Arsenal — the historic shipyards that house some of the most prominent pavilions at the fair — a set of screens on opposite walls flash clips of Saudi cities showing people wandering along the Jeddah Corniche or drinking coffee at a Bujairy Park cafe in Riyadh.

The reels illustrate the way urban sprawl has unfolded across the Kingdom, where rapid urbanization resulting in settlement-driven growth has skipped over spaces in Saudi cities, leaving vast lots vacant between buildings.

With more than 40 percent of urban land unused, communities are dispersed, creating a sense of fragmentation between neighborhoods connected only by cars.

“The vacant lot is a highly prevalent typology in Saudi cities: anyone passing through them will notice the empty tracts of land everywhere,” said architect Turki Gazzaz, who co-created the pavilion space – which is named “Spaces in Between” — with his brother Abdulrahman Gazzaz.

The duo, who founded Jeddah-based architectural studio Bricklab, beat 70 other entries to secure the commission to create the Kingdom’s first biennale pavilion, which shows the role design can play in restoring the social and structural fabric of Saudi cities.

While outlets for creative expression have previously been limited in the Kingdom, attitudes toward design-led solutions are becoming increasingly favorable. 

“People are becoming more conscious about these critical issues that exist within our urban fabric … this is beginning to spill out into our society and affect it in a positive way,” Abdulrahman said.

Recent reforms rolled out under Vision 2030 have created a channel for creativity to fuel the country’s growth as it looks beyond the oil sector — a turning point highlighted by the pavilion’s use of resin, which is a byproduct of the petrochemical industry.

This has been mixed with sand — a material that both symbolizes Saudi Arabia and links it to the rest of the world — for the giant curved screens that frame the exhibition.

Inside, projections show digital maps of the Kingdom’s main cities, beginning with aerial perspectives that convey their fragmented growth before moving down to street-level snapshots of everyday life in the city.

These pictures have been drawn from social media and most are taken from cars, the dual axis of urban life for city-dwelling Saudis.

Below, old mobile phones, a walkie-talkie and broken motherboards are showcased beneath a glass panel of fragmented electronics to “create a conversation about consumer culture” and comment on the “virtual public space” that people increasingly congregate in at the expense of public places, said Abdulrahman.

Speaking to Arab News at the launch of the Saudi pavilion in Venice on Thursday, Dhay Al-Dhawyan, project manager at the Ministry of Municipality and Rural Affairs, described the need to “humanize” Saudi cities, something Vision 2030, and the more immediate targets for 2020, are moving toward.

“We want to bring back city centers, walkability, accessibility, connectivity and rework the visual aspects of our cities to make them more lively and functional,” he said.

The overall theme at this year’s biennale is “Freespace,” selected by the Irish curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara to encourage architects to explore how “a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity” can contribute to the urban environment.

Tapping into this ethos, the Saudi pavilion curators have compiled a display that blurs the boundaries between development and desert, city border and boundless expanse.

In demographic terms, Saudi cities have always been diverse, but in many cases they lack the infrastructure to encourage interaction, said Jawaher Al-Sudairy, one of the exhibition curators and director of Nahda Center for Research as well as senior program manager at Harvard Kennedy School.

“There are public spaces, but they are under-utilized, so that’s where the conversation should be.”

Communication is the overriding aim for the creators behind the Saudi pavilion, which invites visitors to explore the evolution taking place in Saudi Arabia’s skyline and engage with the social shift underway as the Kingdom steps on to the world stage.

“We’re tackling a global issue here; this is not unique to Saudi Arabia,” said Dr. Sumayah Al-Solaiman, the other half of the female curatorial team at the exhibition.

In keeping with the spirit of the biennale, literature distributed at the Saudi pavilion errs on the side of the aloof and arty, but the experience created by the exhibition is firmly grounded and accessible.

The teams want visitors to identify with the issues raised, which have a global resonance in an era defined by rapid urban growth. “We’re more similar with other nations than we are different … and this is a great way to have a conversation that is not necessarily bound by national boundaries,” said Al-Solaiman, dean of the College of Design at Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University.

“The Venice Biennale is an excellent platform to start a conversation around architecture and how were designing and building, and we want to have this discussion with other architects around the world.”

“Our participation in the International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is an unprecedented moment for Saudi Arabia’s creative community. It’s an opportunity to bring pioneering Saudi thought to an international platform through our creative vernacular,” said Ahmed Mater, executive director of the Misk Art Institute, which organized the Saudi pavilion.

“Coupled with the allocation of an incredible pavilion space, we are very excited about our presentation this year at the Biennale Architettura, but are also looking forward to future years and presentations and what they will draw on from our own community.”

For Al-Sudairy, one of the most interesting projects on the horizon is the Riyadh Metro, which she believes will change a lot more than mobility in the capital. “I can’t wait to see how it changes the way people move around … it’s going to transform the city physically and socially.”

The Metro is one of many large-scale projects underway in the Kingdom that aims to bring a sense of cohesion to the country’s urban environments and unite diverse communities.

The Saudi pavilion opens to the public on Saturday, May 26.


The Saudi pavilion exhibition ‘Spaces in Between,’ above and top. (Valeria Mariani)