Saudi art show dazzles despite snowstorm in Washington

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Updated 23 March 2018
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Saudi art show dazzles despite snowstorm in Washington

WASHINGTON: Three inches of snow fell on Wednesday, and the cherry blossoms shook with the weight. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for Washington to slow down — possibly even shut down — and enjoy a good snowstorm.
Keith Nahigian, one-time head of the Trump transition team, whose eponymous firm is escorting the new nonprofit Misk Arts Institute around town, had the awkward task of trying to explain to the delegation from Saudi Arabia that their well-laid plans for an evening art party at the Kennedy Center might go awry.
“It’s hard to explain that people here are afraid of the snow … they can shut down the government,” he said.
The delegation was a little confused, he reported. It snows in Saudi Arabia, but maybe not in the cities. And how can a government … shut down for a day? Kingdoms don’t. Can democracies?
As it turns out, no one needed to worry. Official Washington, at least the large part of it engaged in the Middle East, turned out in force, in snow boots, sipping mocktails as they jammed the art exhibit.
The Misk Arts Institute — an as yet amorphous but large new arts initiative supported by the Crown Prince — is launching a five-city tour, with stops in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston.
Saudi Arabia is the story of the week in Washington. They garnered some protests — giant security guards hauled small women in fuchsia who were protesting against the war in Yemen from the exhibit. On Wednesday evening, they drew a large panoply of well-to-do Middle East Institute members, professors, aid workers, business people and youngsters looking for their first step up on a career ladder that suddenly looks more promising now than it did under the previous administration, when Obama decided the best policy in the Middle East was as little as possible contact.
But there was substance beyond the Saudi story. Saudi Arabia, following in the path laid out by the Emirates with Art Dubai, plan to use high culture to establish their credentials in the world.
The Misk Arts Institute’s message: Art and innovation, especially by youth, are exploding in Saudi Arabia. The Misk Art Institute is likely to provide crucial support to many artists, including women who see the opportunity to make their narratives central as the arts grow in their country. “Now is the time to invest in driving schools in Saudi Arabia!” shouted one American woman over the crush.
The artwork in the popup display at the Kennedy Center, with work by 33 artists, included mural paintings by women artists from southern Saudi Arabia, commissioned by the Foundation, and Ahmad Angawi’s gaint ball of microphones, looking large and cutting edge under the low light.
On an evening when the other hot topic of conversation was whether to delete Facebook, that piece of art seemed less about Saudi Arabia and more about the world.


Sharqiah Season features interactive Van Gogh show at Ithra

A Vincent Van Gogh interactive exhibition opened at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) as part of the 17-day Sharqiah Season in the Eastern Province. (Supplied)
Updated 15 min 9 sec ago
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Sharqiah Season features interactive Van Gogh show at Ithra

  • The initiative is lin line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program

DAHRAN: The story of Vincent Van Gogh has been brought to life in an interactive exhibition at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), through mesmerizing images projected on the walls and the voice of Lebanese actor of Jihad Al-Atrash.
Al-Atrash, who is famous for his role in “Grendizer” in the Arabic cartoon channel Spacetoon, narrates the story in Arabic, while Van Gogh’s famous paintings, such as “The Starry Night” and “Sunflowers,” fill the walls.
“It’s not only entertainment, it’s also cultural and educational,” said Khalil Itani, project manager of the exhibition, which is part of Sharqiah Season, a 17-day festival that’s taking place in the Eastern Province.
“There will be an English voiceover soon. The 30 minutes and 40 seconds describes the important timelines of Van Gogh, his struggles and achievements, his thoughts. He was an awakened and spiritual person, but he was very sad; no one understood him. Also, the voiceover explains each phase of his life and the most important paintings of his, and explains these paintings and their story, and the techniques and colors.”
Itani told Arab News that many artists have visited the exhibition. “It’s very inspiring too for artists to know how he lived — this is the added value of the Van Gogh exhibition in Ithra.”
Raghad Al-Blowi, a 20-year-old Saudi visitor, said that Van Gogh was one of her most cherished artists, and her favorite painting is “The Starry Night.” Commenting on the Arabic narration, she said: “It makes visitors really get into it in Arabic more. Locals can understand and learn about Van Gogh.”
Colombian visitor Audrey Rincon said that she also enjoyed the exhibit. “It is different from the usual exhibitions, because the paintings are displayed in an interactive and creative way. And he is my favorite painter. I love the colors he used in his paintings, and ‘Sunflowers’ is my favorite painting.”
Sharqiah Season is organized by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage in collaboration with the General Entertainment Authority, General Sports Authority and General Culture Authority. The initiative is in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program, which aims to improve the quality of life for Saudis by providing enriching cultural pursuits and shows.
The festival, which began on March 14 and runs until March 30, has seen more than 80 entertainment and sporting events take place across nine different cities.