The exhibition is being held in multiple locations throughout Jeddah — including SAC’s headquarters, Rubat Al-Khunji in Al-Balad, and the old PepsiCo. factory, which has never before been open to the public — and will run until May 5. It features more than 30 artists, both local and international, and stages numerous artworks in different mediums including sculpture, painting, audio-visual installations and more. It will also feature book launches, a chess competition, workshops and fun family events.
The theme revolves around artists’ desire to continually evolve and spark dialogue. The SAC’s website says the exhibition reveals “the creative energy that characterizes contemporary production in Saudi Arabia and its growing significance in the 21st century.”
Vassilis Oikonomopoulos, assistant curator at the Tate Modern in London, was invited to curate the exhibit and has brought together an array of new artists, Saudi and international, who have created a heady mix of interpretations of the theme, with many interesting angles.
“‘Refusing to Be Still’ presents the creative energies that are active within the local context,” he told Arab News. “I wanted to use the intensity of internationalization to advance a dialogue with other artists from around the world whose work deals with similar concerns about human issues.”
Oikonomopoulos added that the artists have “surpassed” his expectations.
“Working with the artists closely, and commissioning their works, was important because it was also sort of creating a dialogue between us,” he said. “The works are dynamic and it’s necessary as a curator to support the artists to the maximum. Like an evolving reality, artistic practices are constantly transforming, refusing to stand still and become permanent.”
Veteran artist Ayman Yossri Dayban’s latest sculptural installation based on 1960’s Egyptian cinema posters. He has created a complex space based on the posters but defined by the areas he has cut out. A light emanating from inside those cut-out areas of the four-sided sculpture is intended to engage passersby as the shadows from the sculpture fill the entire space, amplifying the sense of theatricality and intensity.
Elsewhere, Madinah-based photographer and explorer Moath Alofi stages a video installation entitled “Mihlaiel,” which tells the story of lost heritage through scenes from five different locations around the magnificent lava tube volcanoes of Khaybar.
“I’m chasing a mystery, chasing enigmas, chasing regions unknown to most people,” Alofi told Arab News. “I wanted to expose and give recognition to the area by shedding light on its beauty. In a way, I wanted to show how we can all relate to these historical civilizations.”
His video is shot from above with corresponding extracts from the ground as the explorer walks around the abandoned structures of a historical fortress. Another part of the video shows the ancient structures of the Arabian desert kites, an ancient hunting technique dating back 6,000 to 9,000 years.
The dazzling aerial views of the lava tubes are surely the best images of them yet captured on film. Alofi’s short video brings history into the present.
First-time participant Hatem Ahmed’s paintings, meanwhile, interpret the theme by examining the way in which meanings of ‘life lessons’ from the past have shifted today.
“My paintings speak of different ideologies that were used in the past and were supposed to teach the viewer a life lesson,” he said. “We’ve taken these lessons from the past and twisted them in a way that speaks to your subconscious in the now.”
Ayman Zedani’s 54 concrete cubes are based on the World Heritage Site map of Jeddah. The map is thus transformed into the 54 cubes by highlighting buildings in the city and embedding them in the cubes in the form of negative space, signifying the duality of the absence and presence of the site.
“Bab, is a site-specific installation that focuses on difficult issues related to preserving the old city of Jeddah. Despite all the efforts to rescue it, it still struggles,” Zedani told Arab News. “Preserving the city is a very delicate task, any attempts to intervene on its behalf must tackle both its complexity and vibrancy.”
Another 21,39 debutant, Saleh Sefari, has created a 15-hour video feed of a campsite staged on a construction site in Jeddah. The video, soundtracked by recordings of city life, displays a full day and alludes to the impossibility of depicting reality without resorting to fiction. What lies beyond the borders of the framed reality casts doubt on the authenticity of what we see and experience.
“The concept derived from a conversation I had with Vassilis,” Sefari explained. “It revolved around how our grasp of reality is inherently flawed by our own personal biases and beliefs. It not only revolves around movement, but the continuity of movement. My work revolves around questioning our most fundamental truths, an ever changing, constant, eternal battle between reality and our perspective of it. I’m extremely excited to showcase my work.”
Oikonomopoulos believes the fifth edition of 21,39 explores the multi-faceted practices that characterize the continuously active contemporary art movement in Saudi Arabia. Art lovers should not miss it.