Misk Art Institute (MAI), founded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, collaborated with Crossway Foundation, Fully Booked and Bricklab to create Saudi Arabia’s first art book fair. MAI supports Vision 2030, empowering the art scene in Saudi Arabia and particularly women, as they make up 50 percent of the fair’s exhibitors.
Athr Gallery’s pavilion has hosted independent creative publishers, artists and designers working on printed art. It has provided a cozy space for people to explore local artists’ books and design publications, and brought together diverse individuals and collaborations. The comfortable ambience and rooftop space allowed for discussions between exhibitors and the public about the works on display.
Hamza Serafi, Athr Gallery founder, told Arab News. “The book fair is our latest event, along with The Clocks Are Striking Thirteen, in collaboration with Misk; it’s a traveling show and this year it started in Jeddah, while later it might go on to other places.
“The Clocks Are Striking Thirteen is part of 21,39, which is a local initiative of the Saudi art concept to promote art in Jeddah,” he said. “It searches the identity of reality, what it is and isn’t, and the diversity of reality. It raises questions, not depending on collective memory, but on looking and searching to challenge reality. In addition to that, we have video art and some installations.”
Nada Al-Tuwaijri, head of media and communications at Misk, told Arab News: “The purpose of the Misk Art Institute is to shed light on the arts and culture scene in Saudi Arabia, which was always underground. Today, we can proudly say that we have a platform supported by the government that we can work within. We’ve got plenty of partnerships and collaborations with international institutions in the pipeline. We launched our international program at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and we appreciate the support we had from these partnerships. In a short period of time we managed to prove how powerful the scene is, hence the acceptance of these grand institutions to support us.”
On MAI’s upcoming projects, Al-Tuwaijri promised a number of impressive acts such as Art Dubai in March, followed by the Venice Biennale: the first Saudi pavilion, a first for the Kingdom.
France’s former Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, spoke to Arab News about the importance of such events. “Saudi Arabia is a fabulous country, rich in art and culture. I hope to establish Arab artists in France, and vice versa, bring French artists here. After all, art is universal. This is my third time in Saudi Arabia, and the art scene is exciting, changing and is very creative. The atmosphere is marvelous. People are living, and they’re kind and open.”
Fatima Al-Banawi, actor and the brains behind The Other Story, told Arab News: “I started The Other Story in 2015, when I began asking people to write down their stories, anonymously and handwritten.”
Al-Banawi set out looking for people in small companies, universities, cafes, bazaars, festivals and places where she could connect with people. She approached people openly about the purpose of her project: to engage on a human level, which is why the stories are anonymous and handwritten. She wished for people to connect with these stories rather than judge based on name or occupation or race, to connect outside a person’s background.
“They’re very intimate, and I wanted them raw and imperfect, taken on the spot, because that’s human nature and we tend to forget,” Al-Banawi said.
“The moment I see people crying, connecting, hugging, I feel like the project is going somewhere,” she said.
She hopes to publish The Other Story by April, with seven different themes with additional biographical introduction followed by people’s letters. “I’ve written so much in it, by connecting the stories about family, love and relationships, travel and the universe, art and career, self-reflection and growth, loss, growth and resilience and moments in life.”
Other featured exhibitors include: Basmah Felemban, Destination Jeddah, Kartt & Co, Radwan Brothers, Thinktank, Mazin Maimani, Sarah Taibah, Design Magazine, Nur Taibah, Zahra Dar, Omar Hashani, Shoes & Drama, Zainab Almashat, WTD Magazine, Tribe Magazine, Finjan by Daveeda Shaheen, Raheem Bukhari, Abeer Bajandouh and Sarah Ali.