World-renowned Saudi artist returns to Hijazi roots for exhibition project

Sarah Al-Abdali's work on display at the house of her great-grandfather at Al-Balad district of Jeddah. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 14 March 2019
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World-renowned Saudi artist returns to Hijazi roots for exhibition project

  • Sarah Al-Abdali has grand designs for historic Jeddah property built by her great-grandfather

JEDDAH: An internationally celebrated Saudi artist has returned to her roots to stage an exhibition in a historic building close to her heart.

Sarah Al-Abdali, whose source of artistic inspiration is her identity as a Hijazi, has taken part in prestigious festivals around the world including Venice and London.

But now the 30-year-old is working on a project to turn “an architectural masterpiece,” built by her great-grandfather in the old Al-Balad district of Jeddah, into a museum and gallery. She currently has an exhibition of her work on display there.

Jeddah-born Al-Abdali was only 17 when she stumbled across the distinctive Bait Sharbatly property while out for a walk in Al-Balad. She told Arab News that her great-grandfather’s house was different than all the others in the area.

“I was bewildered as to why I didn’t know about such heritage,” said Al-Abdali. “It’s an architectural masterpiece. It inspired me to question everything and started my career as an artist. So, I thought it would be amazing to hold my exhibition in there.

“We are working to make the house into a museum with collections that will highlight the history of the property and how it was built. It wasn’t a residential house and for some time it served as the Egyptian Embassy,” she added.

Al-Abdali originates from Hijaz in the western region of Saudi Arabia and draws inspiration from the land, architecture and heritage of the area for her art work. Her exploration of the Arabic language, culture and philosophy and how to weave it into art and illustrations, has been the key to her unique take on life. 

“I see my journey as an artist as starting from my identity as a Hijazi,” she said. “I constantly question myself and explore the identities, history and heritage of Hijaz.”

Al-Abdali has participated in international art festivals such as Rhizoma in the 55th Venice Biennale (2013) and #cometogether by Edge of Arabia East of London (2012), and she has also exhibited in high-profile venues including the Saatchi Gallery and the British Museum, both in London. 

Many of her paintings are centered around women, depicting her imagined scenes of times gone by.

Al-Abdali said: “Looking at the history of Hijaz, I am fascinated by the strength of its women. They have strong characters, even in my own family, and I think that portrayal comes out naturally in my art.

“I focus on highlighting the social structure of Hijaz. Usually art related to Hijaz highlights either spirituality or architecture, but you never find out about the people who live there, their characters and their stories.

“More than anything I try to tell the stories of those people. I am fascinated by the tales I was told about Hijazi women throughout history.”

Al-Abdali also creates her own paints and pigments and works with natural materials. “If I am using ceramics, I use handmade ceramics. I like to merge traditional techniques with the modern way, and experiment with my materials while maintaining the traditional essence of the work.”

She added: “My work mostly focuses on the human touch and lost traditions. I have studied Islamic arts and feel a responsibility to continue that art in a very traditional, contemporary way.

“Most of my work is about the power of detail, working with basic materials and highlighting the craft of the artist which is a concept highly lacking in the contemporary art scene internationally and locally.”


Arab coalition working to protect region’s security, says spokesman

Coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki at a press briefing. (SPA file photo)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Arab coalition working to protect region’s security, says spokesman

  • Houthis want to disturb peace, says coalition spokesman
  • Stockholm peace agreement under strain

RIYADH: The Arab coalition supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government is committed to protecting regional and global security, a spokesman said Monday.

Coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki was asked at a press briefing about Houthi militias threatening to target the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“This is their way to disturb peace,” Al-Maliki replied. “Previously the Houthis targeted Riyadh with a ballistic missile, violating all international laws by attacking a city that has more than 8 million civilians. We take all precautions to protect civilians and vital areas. The coalition works to protect regional and international security.”

Al-Maliki said Houthis had targeted Saudi border towns several times, the most recent incident taking place in Abha last Friday.

But the Saudi Royal Air Defense Force had shot down a drone that was targeting civilians, he added.

He said four Saudi nationals and an Indian expatriate were injured in the attack because of falling debris.

The drone wreckage showed the characteristics and specifications of Iranian manufacturing, he said, which proved Iran was continuing to smuggle arms to the militias.

He warned the Houthis to refrain from targeting civilians because the coalition, in line with international humanitarian law, had every right to counter such threats.

He said the coalition was making efforts to neutralize ballistic missiles and dismantle their capabilities, as the coalition’s joint command would not allow the militia to possess weapons that threatened civilian lives and peace.

Al-Maliki reiterated that the Houthis were targeting Yemeni civilians and continued to violate international laws. 

He also urged Yemenis to try their best to prevent children from being captured by Houthis, who were using them as human shields and child soldiers.

His comments came as the UN tried to salvage a peace deal that was seen as crucial for ending the country’s four-year war.

The Stockholm Agreement was signed by the Yemeni government and Houthi representatives last December.

The main points of the agreement were a prisoner exchange, steps toward a cease-fire in the city of Taiz, and a cease-fire agreement in the city of Hodeidah and its port, as well as ports in Salif and Ras Issa.

Militants triggered the conflict when they seized the capital Sanaa in 2014 and attempted to occupy large parts of the country. An Arab coalition intervened in support of the internationally recognized government in March 2015.

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since 2015.

Earlier this month US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that President Donald Trump’s administration opposed curbs on American assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

“The way to alleviate the Yemeni people’s suffering isn’t to prolong the conflict by handicapping our partners in the fight, but by giving the Saudi-led coalition the support needed to defeat the Iranian-backed rebels and ensure a just peace,” Pompeo said at a news conference in Washington.