Jeddah showcases contemporary work of Gulf artists

Updated 09 February 2017
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Jeddah showcases contemporary work of Gulf artists

Jeddah’s art scene is seeing a rich flow of exhibitions and events that shed light on work from local and regional artists.
The 21,39 art initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting art and culture, has combined a series of events that began this month and will carry on until May, with support from the General Entertainment Authority.
One of the highlights of the activities is “And Along Came Polyester,” which gathers the work of five women artists from the Gulf to showcase their contemporary work in solo exhibitions under the same roof at Athr Gallery.
Other art activities include the opening of the Tadafuq and Tasami exhibitions, as well as a series of talks and panel discussions at the three-day Safar forum at Gold Moor.
Arab News spoke to the five artists about their experiences at the “And Along Came Polyester” exhibition.
Aisha Al-Sowaidi, Qatar
As an interdisciplinary designer, I want to share new ideas and create a dialogue of cultures.
Aisha Al-Sowaidi attempts to shift the dynamics in traditionally used objects and furniture. She focuses on the “majlis,” redesigning core elements in its main function.
With a sense of nostalgia, her artwork suggests that through having these objects in the memory, they can compel you to traverse through emotions.
“I’m very happy to join the exhibit and be among the five selected artists. It was a wonderful experience to come to Jeddah and discover the amazing art scene and see people interested in attending such events.”
Al-Sowaidi prefers to look at artists as individuals regardless of their gender. “I think art gives a person the power to express an idea or emotion through a single glance. The visual makes an impact and creates a clearer memory. For me as an interdisciplinary designer, I want to share new ideas and create a dialogue of cultures.”
She said as women pursue a career in art, they need to listen to inner voices and follow their own direction.
“At some point, stop taking advice. Too much advice controls your direction. The best advice will come from within after creating and exploring many forms and techniques,” she said, adding that a challenge is the lack of creative environment in which to grow.
Al-Sowaidi is a multidisciplinary designer based in Doha. Her work incorporates old experiences and behaviors with contemporary design of objects used in the house. She holds an MFA in design studies and a BA in graphic design.
Sarah Abu Abdullah, Saudi Arabia
Look at art. Read about art. Write about art. Stay humble.
Sarah Abu Abdullah’s exhibition “18 Blankets” is an experiential art project she uses as a vehicle to showcase the absurdity of reconstructing daily life in the context of domesticity. Her work unravels the processes of home, a journey mangled and untangled by the uncanny familiar within private domestic spaces.
When talking about what she thought of the event, she said: “I wouldn’t say it’s a precedent. Something doesn’t need to be happening for the first time to be good, and there were many past attempts in the history of art by women in the region. We’re only a result and a continuation of that effort and history.
“There’s an obsession with firsts that’s quite unhealthy. Art (made) by women and giving women artists attention is great and should happen more often.”
She said being an artist is not necessarily about power, yet a focus on women’s voices is important.
Abu Abdullah said the key to success in art is self-education and hard work. “Look at art. Read about art. Write about art. Stay humble, but don’t box yourself into others’ expectations of what your art should be.”
The Saudi artist works primarily on video and film as a medium. She grew up in Qatif, and is pursuing her Master’s degree in digital media at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
Layla Juma, UAE
Art is a powerful and beautiful way to start a conversation.
Layla Juma’s exhibition “A Still Moment in Thought & Spatial Perception” displays repetitive, geometric shapes to create rhythmic sequences and forms.
These shapes are crafted to conceptually articulate the ever-changing architectural landscapes of the present and the imagination of their future.
“The participation in this event was an important step toward enhancing mutual understanding between artists in the Gulf,” said Juma.
“It gives a deep interaction and knowledge of the latest development in arts in our region. It’s wonderful that we meet as artists and share our visual and intellectual dialogue through our artwork.”
Art is a powerful tool to express oneself, Juma said. “We express ourselves through our artworks. We can send messages to the community, and we have an important role to get attention to what we’re producing. Art is a powerful and beautiful way to start a conversation.”
She advises the young generation of artists to interact, learn, communicate and develop ways to produce good art.
“There are always lots of challenges in the artist’s way, starting from the first steps of producing the first artwork and ending with criticism, but the most important thing is how our art work can affect whoever sees it.”
Hala Al-Khalifa, Bahrain
I left Jeddah with a great sense of excitement and energy. I believe artists in Saudi Arabia are extremely cutting-edge.
Hala Al-Khalifa’s exhibition “She Wore Her Scare Like Wings” demonstrates a personal journey of healing. The colors used in the paintings portray deformed wings conveying a sense of vulnerability yet strength and perseverance.
“It was a fantastic show celebrating women in arts in Jeddah, and I think showcasing five women from the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) is an incredible idea,” Al-Khalifa said. “It’s a way to exchange dialogue and share thoughts.
“The beauty of this exhibition is that artists had their own themes and mediums to express themselves. I was very happy with this collaboration.”
Her participation in “And Along Came Polyester” introduced her to the moving art scene in Jeddah.
“I’m very happy and proud to see what’s happening in the Jeddah art scene,” she said. “I’ve been following this initiative (21,39) over the years, and every year I’m amazed at how much they’ve developed.”
She added: “I left Jeddah with a great sense of excitement and energy. I believe artists in Saudi Arabia are extremely cutting-edge.
“The ideas they shared were very exciting, and so was the diversity of the mediums and dialogues; woman artists working alongside men, the younger generation working with the older… It’s remarkable.”
Al-Khalifa said women in the Gulf are empowered in different fields and receive equal opportunities to their male counterparts.
“I believe women in the Gulf have been empowered in various fields, and art is definitely one of them.”
She urges anyone with a passion for art to pursue it. “There are many platforms that celebrate artists now, either in cultural institutions or museums. It’s important to be in this landscape. If there’s an idea or a voice that needs to be heard and a passion for arts, I absolutely advise you to do it wholeheartedly.”
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Omanis praise compatriot for 'historic' Man Booker literature prize

Updated 22 May 2019
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Omanis praise compatriot for 'historic' Man Booker literature prize

MUSCAT: Omanis on Wednesday hailed writer Jokha Alharthi’s “historical achievement” and praised her for bringing “honor” to their Gulf nation after she became the first Arab author to win the Man Booker International prize.
“It is a huge historic achievement for the author, for Oman and for Arabic culture in general,” said Saif Al-Rahbi, an Omani poet, essayist and writer.
“It shows that Omani literature is moving along,” he told AFP.
Alharthi, 40, received the prestigious prize during a ceremony Tuesday in London for her novel “Celestial Bodies” which depicts life in her small Gulf nation.
The 50,000-pound (57,000 euro, $64,000) Man Booker International prize celebrates translated fiction from around the world and is divided equally between the author and the translator.
The judges said Celestial Bodies was “a richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured.”
It tells the story of three sisters who witness the slow pace of development in Omani society during the 20th century.
“I am thrilled that a window has been opened to the rich Arabic culture,” Alharthi told AFP after the ceremony at the Roundhouse in London.
“Oman inspired me but I think international readers can relate to the human values in the book — freedom and love,” she said.
The jury praised an “elegantly structured and taut” novel which “tells of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.”
The director general of Oman’s culture ministry, Said bin Sultan Al-Bussaidi, agreed.
The novel, he said, shows that Alharthi’s work “reflects maturity and has reached an international level.”
“It is an honor for each and every Omani man and woman... (and the prize) will help spread Omani literature across the world,” he added.
Alharthi is the author of two previous collections of short fiction, a children’s book and three novels in Arabic.
She studied classical Arabic poetry at Edinburgh University and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.
In an interview with the BBC at the weekend, Alharthi said she had wanted for a “very long time to write a book about life in Oman (but) couldn’t when she was actually in Oman.”
“But when I went to Edinburgh, the first year was difficult for me, homesickness, cold, so I felt that I need to go back to warmth and feel something from home,” she said.
“Actually writing saved me.”
Her prize-winning novel — which the Guardian newspaper said offers “glimpses into a culture relatively little known in the west” — came out in 2010.
Alharthi said on Tuesday that the novel touches on the history of the slave trade in Oman, an absolute monarchy where Sultan Qaboos, who has ruled since 1970, has been pushing for reform.
For one expert of Arabic and Middle Eastern literature, it could be a game changer for novels emerging from the region.
“It has the potential to orient publishing away from the Arabic novel as answering the question ‘what can we learn about them?’ and toward the Arabic novel as a work of art,” said Marcia Lynx Qualey, editor of ArabLit Quarterly.
“The surge in translation of Arabic-language novels is already in progress, but I think this re-orients publishers somewhat,” she told AFP.
Qualey said there “is definitely a growing interest in works by Gulf authors.”
“In Kuwait, Oman, Saudi, and elsewhere there are authors writing on issues of class, domestic violence, slavery, racism, patriarchy, power, and other issues that are of global interest,” she added.
Celestial Bodies was translated by US academic Marilyn Booth, who teaches Arabic literature at Oxford University.
Jury chair Bettany Hughes said the novel showed “delicate artistry and disturbing aspects of our shared history.”