Find out why 21,39 is at the heart of Jeddah’s art scene

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A close up of a piece by artist Nojoud Al-Sudairi.
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A section of Filwa Nazer’s “The Anatomy of Winning” (2018).
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Ahaad Alamoudi’s “Those Who Do Not Know Of Falcons Grill Them” (2018).
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Moath Alofi’s “Mihlaiel” (2018).
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An untitled piece by artist Ayman Yossri Daydaban.
Updated 10 February 2018
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Find out why 21,39 is at the heart of Jeddah’s art scene

JEDDAH: This week saw the opening of the most-anticipated art exhibition in town. Jeddah’s bustling art scene was in full swing as annual contemporary art fair 21,39, organized by the Saudi Art Council (SAC) under the patronage of Princess Jawaher bint Majid Abdulaziz Al-Saud, returned for its fifth edition, this time under the theme “Refusing to Be Still.”
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.


‘Broken Dinners, Postponed Kisses’ tells heart-wrenching story of Syria’s lost artists

Updated 15 November 2018
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‘Broken Dinners, Postponed Kisses’ tells heart-wrenching story of Syria’s lost artists

  • The 93-minute film follows six Syrian artists as they narrate their stories of displacement

BEIRUT: Filmmaker Nigol Bezjian premiered his latest movie “Broken Dinners, Postponed Kisses” with an intimate screening in Beirut on Wednesday night.
The 93-minute film — which features dialogue in Arabic, Armenian, German and English with English-language subtitles — follows six Syrian artists as they narrate their stories of displacement.
Bezjian, an Armenian born in Aleppo, Syria, spoke to Arab News about the experience of making the powerful film and said it was inspired by one of his previous works, “Thank You, Ladies and Gentlemen.”
“The movie is about Syrian refugees in the camps of Lebanon and it stayed with me,” he said about his previous film. “But I wanted to make a film about people in our region who had to depart their homeland, from the time of the end of World War I until today.”
That sparked the idea for his latest venture.
Bezjian chose six characters and honed in on their past experiences in what turned out to be an insightful peek through the keyhole into the lives of those who have been affected by the strife in Syria.
“The characters in the film are artists who work in different disciplines of art,” he explained.

“The film is something of a documentary, as the characters’ stories are all real, yet the concept that ties them all together was created by me,” the filmmaker continued.
Making an appearance are filmmaker Vartan Meguerditchian, actor Ayham Majid Agha, musician Abo Gabi, dancer Yara Al-Hasbani, painter Diala Brisly and photographer Ammar Abd Rabbo.
The film explores the inner feelings and reflections of people who had to leave their homes and be transported to a new environment, facing many challenges along the way.
Despite the sometimes heart-wrenching subject matter, Bezjian noted that the main challenges he faced while producing the film were budget and timeframe.
“The movie took two-and-a-half years (to make), so the main challenge was not to give up and keep the same spirit and momentum throughout this time,” he said.

At the screening, an eager crowd listened as the filmmaker gave his introductory speech.

“There are a lot of faces I don’t recognize, and that’s a good thing,” Nigol said. 

The movie is filled with tense moments, artistic shots and captivating characters, that succeeded to show the reality of artists’ lives in environments marked by conflict and refuge.