JEDDAH: The sixth edition of the Saudi Art Council’s annual contemporary art fair — 21, 39 — presents work from 25 prominent local and regional artists, alongside that of a number of European artists.
This year’s headline exhibition, “Al-Obour,” opened on Feb. 6 and will run for three months at Gold Moor Mall, headquarters of the Saudi Art Council in Jeddah.
The exhibition includes installations, sculptures, photographs, videos, paintings, and projections all created by three generations of artists. The participants were encouraged to let their imaginations run wild.
“In Arabic, ‘Al-Obour’ has many definitions, but in English we can say it means ‘the passing,’” the exhibition’s curator, Dr. Effat Fadag, told Arab News.
“In the sixth edition, we wanted to make sure that generations came together under one roof.”
The exhibition took six months to put together, she said. “We went through the whole country to find the artists.”
One of the most prominent artists featured is Saudi artist Khalid Zahid.
His unusual yet beautiful installation consists of rollercoaster tracks twisting and turning across the floor of a room, on which sits a single-seater cart.
“I wanted to portray the process of life through my piece by comparing it — from beginning to end — to a rollercoaster ride,” Zahid explained.
There is a religious element to the piece: The cart was influenced by the patterns of a mosque’s minbar, while the tracks and their supports are decorated with words from the Holy Qu’ran, including “Life” and “Play.” The installation took around six weeks to construct on site.
Another striking piece from “Al-Obour” is Saudi artist Nora Al-Mazroa’s display, which consists of a number of sculpted porcelain motion sickness bags.
“I have collected motion sickness bags when traveling, and I wanted to do something with them,” she explained.
She came up with the idea of inviting people to rid themselves of negative emotions and energy, instead of bottling them up. “There was a lot of experimenting with materials,” she said.
“I started out dipping the paper bags in paper clay, but then (decided) to imitate the bags using porcelain. It took me almost two months to finish the whole project.”
Elsewhere Lebanese artist Ali Cha’aban created a mashup of old and new for his piece — “12 a.m. Class” — which consists of three sculptures made of folded carpet.
The centerpiece, which resembles a paper plane in flight, represents the mind of a critical thinker, Cha’aban explained, and how the flow of thought glides uninterrupted “out of the box.”
It is countered by the second sculpture, a plane standing upright, with a broken tip. This is the mind of a traditionalist, unable to free his mind from the limitations of society, restricting his ideas and ultimately causing them to stall. One of the artist’s interpretation would be that such a mindset does not fit in with today’s progressive thinking.
The third component of “12 a.m. Class” resembles a scrunched-up paper ball, and represents the wasted potential of youth, and ideas that never see the light of day.
Cha’aban explained why he gave the piece a name related to education. “The first word in the Qur’an is ‘Iqra,’ which means read,” he said.
“So our very foundation is built on education. I took the word ‘read’ from its physical format to a more metaphysical format, to reason and understand.”
Meanwhile, Saudi-based Dutch painter AlJohara kept things simple yet captivating with her vibrant blue-and-gold depiction of Mount Arafat.
“Whenever we stand in front of a mountain, it inspires us and demands respect,” she said.
“We have this urge to reach the top, but reaching the top isn’t important. Seeking the right path is.”