Design, art and education come together at AlAan Artspace

Afra Naushad

Published — Wednesday 21 November 2012

Last update 21 November 2012 4:15 am

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A new contemporary art gallery ushered the growing number of art aficionados last month in Riyadh with its first exhibition “SoftPower”, which runs until Dec. 10.
Works by Saudi artists Manal Al-Dowayan, Sarah Abu Abdallah and Sarah Mohanna Al-Abdali explored daily interactions in contemporary life and raised questions about the identity of women in Saudi Arabia. They approached the subject delicately through humor, ambiguity and irony, giving it a relevance that resonates not just locally but traverses regionally and beyond.
Al-Dowayan’s work “Esmi” — an imposing and socially challenging installation of rosary beads that was first exhibited at Edge of Arabia earlier this year — was loaned to the exhibition. Created through a series of workshops that invited women to boldly etch their names onto the beads, the project was a remarkable feat not just artistically but largely in having challenged baseless traditions and absurd mores of shrouding women in anonymity.
While Al-Abdali’s “Four Wives” is a responsive social critique to the practice of polygamous marriages, Abu Abdallah’s video footage titled “Saudi Automobile” is an ironical unresolved narrative from a female’s perspective. The video shows an attempt at salvaging a sabotaged car from a junkyard by beautifying its exterior with pink paint.
“The Saudi Arabian art scene is fast evolving and SoftPower captures both the diversity and depth of the talent inside the Kingdom. Through this exhibition we were looking at diverse perspectives in art and society embedded within the works of these three artists,” explained Alaan Artspace’s founding director Neama Al-Sudairy.
The gallery’s prime focus is to foment relationships between artists, curators, collectors and cultural practitioners from within and outside Saudi Arabia by extending their mission mandate to include educational art programs, workshops and panel discussions that will allow the simmering art scene in the Kingdom to progress and grow. It is committed to building a visually strong cultural dialogue that speaks to national and international audiences.
The multi-functional gallery will also be dedicating programs aimed at nurturing emerging and established contemporary artists and designers, one of which includes the Project Wall — a not-for-profit space that will provide artists with a platform to exhibit new works on a rotational basis.
While the idea of the comprehensive gallery space was conceived in view of the lack of art institutions in the Kingdom that spoke directly to the art populace, the founders were inspired by international art galleries and institutions with integrated educational programs such as the internationally inclusive art scene in Dubai, and The Townhouse in Cairo.
“Although the art scene in the Kingdom is relatively small, the underdeveloped scene is actually liberating”, says Al-Sudairy.
While there is a strong indication for the growth of art in Saudi Arabia with an overall focus and interest internationally on art emerging from the Middle East, it is all the more important for homegrown institutions like Alaan Artspace to develop and really invest in nurturing emerging and mid-career artists, she added.
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