Saudi Arabia returns to prestigious Venice Biennale after 8-year absence

Al-Ghamdi's “After Illusion” installation will be displayed in the Saudi pavilion. (Supplied)
Updated 11 May 2019

Saudi Arabia returns to prestigious Venice Biennale after 8-year absence

  • The event has previously displayed the works of Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore and Marina Abramović
  • Saudi Arabia debuted their architects Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz in last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale

VENICE: Saudi Arabia is taking part in one of the world’s most prestigious art exhibitions after an eight-year absence.

The Kingdom has made its comeback for the 58th edition of the Venice Biennale that brings together thousands of artists, collectors, critics, curators, journalists, and art enthusiasts from around the globe.

The artist Zahrah Al-Ghamdi. (Supplied) 

Over the years the event has showcased the works of some of the biggest names in art including painters Pablo Picasso and Helen Frankenthaler, sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and conceptual artists Marina Abramović and Ai Weiwei.

Often referred to as the “Olympics of the art world,” the exhibition dates back to 1895, and Saudi Arabia first took part in 2011 when Makkah-born sisters and contemporary artists Shadia and Raja Alem collaborated to present “The Black Arch,” a dazzling steel installation based on personal narrative and “the duality between Makkah and Venice.”


The Kingdom enjoyed another debut last year at the Venice Architecture Biennale, when architects Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz explored the topic of vast, empty spatiality on Saudi land and its effect on the nation’s modern society through their project “Spaces In Between.”

Under the title of “May You Live in Interesting Times,” this year’s biennale is curated by Ralph Rugoff, the director of London’s Hayward Gallery, whose edition reflects the ever-changing current state of world affairs.

“In an indirect fashion, perhaps art can be a kind of guide for how to live and think in ‘interesting times,’” said Rugoff.

Hosting a total of 90 national pavilions at this year’s event, four other Arabic-speaking countries will be joining Saudi Arabia, namely Egypt, Iraq, Syria and the UAE. In addition, the biennale has expanded its programming by welcoming new participants Ghana, Madagascar, Malaysia and Pakistan.

The Venice Biennale opens to the public on May 11 and runs until November 24. Saudi Arabia’s pavilion (located in the Arsenale exhibition venue) will be fronted by Jeddah-based land artist and professor Dr. Zahrah Al-Ghamdi’s “After Illusion” installation, which has been curated by Saudi lecturer and artist Eiman Elgibreen.


Born in the Hijaz city of Al-Baha in 1977, Al-Ghamdi works with natural materials such as sand, clay, and leather to “reflect the memory of past traditional architecture of southwest Saudi Arabia and to explore this memory with emphasis on poetics,” the artist said.

Al-Ghamdi’s debut at the biennale came after her selection by the Saudi Ministry of Culture and the Misk Art Institute, a government initiative established in 2017 to encourage the arts in the Kingdom. 

“To be honest, when I used to read about the Venice Biennale and its unique concept, I felt so far away from the world of this event – it was like a dream,” Al-Ghamdi told Arab News.

“In recent years, I worked really hard and always hoped to achieve more through each work I would present. So, when I received the call from the Misk Art Institute to participate at the biennale, it was like a dream I never thought I’d dream.


“I was elated but simultaneously felt a great deal of responsibility, as I am not representing myself but my country and all its artists,” she added.

The other Arab pavilions include a trio of artists – Ahmed Chiha, Ahmed Abel Karim and Islam Abdullah – who are showcasing works inspired by the ancient Egyptian deity Khnum, a figure representing the source of the Nile.

Participating since 2007, Syria’s pavilion is titled “Syrian Civilization Is Still Alive,” and has displays of paintings and photographs by nine Syrian and foreign artists, reflecting on the themes of surrealism and abstraction.

Commissioned by the Ruya Foundation, Iraq’s pavilion presents “Fatherland,” revealing expressive and combative works by the Baghdad-born painter and war artist Serwan Baran.

Meanwhile, poet and filmmaker Nujoom Al-Ghanem has made history by becoming the first woman to have a solo presentation at the Emirati pavilion. Curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, the pavilion will take the viewer through Al-Ghanem’s site-specific video installation, entitled “Passage.”

Startup of the Week: Protein Laboratory: Making healthy eating fun and easy

Updated 17 September 2019

Startup of the Week: Protein Laboratory: Making healthy eating fun and easy

  • And with growing health awareness, many Saudis are switching over to more nutritious dietary habits

JEDDAH: An enterprising Saudi family is aiming to take the world by storm with its scientific approach to healthy eating.

The Bogari’s newly opened Protein Laboratory restaurant in Jeddah is the brainchild of brothers Ahmed, Hussain and Hassan.

The three doctors got the inspiration for their startup from hospital laboratories while studying in medical school, and with the help of their parents set about establishing their innovative culinary venture.

In recent years the health and fitness fad has become a flourishing business sector in the Kingdom, which has witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of gyms and fitness centers.

And with growing health awareness, many Saudis are switching over to more nutritious dietary habits. However, eating clean can be a challenge for those with busy, modern lifestyles who do not have the time to prepare meals.

Enter the Protein Laboratory, opened to add fun to the idea of healthy food. “We wanted to reintroduce the concept of healthy food to the Saudi health and fitness community,” Ahmed, 27, told Arab News.

“We believe that healthy food does not have to be boring and achieving your goal of fat loss can actually satisfy your taste buds and leave you happily full at the same time.

“We are planning to expand in Jeddah and Makkah to help more people achieve their fitness targets while enjoying tasty food, and we are aiming to be recognized globally,” he said.

The trio started planning their enterprise while studying at medical college but credit their parents’ support for helping turn their vision into a successful business launch.

Their father guided them in setting up the company and their mother took responsibility for the restaurant’s kitchen, playing a major role in developing recipes and supervising operations.

The brothers’ association with the field of medicine also helped them in their efforts. Ahmed was first inspired by hospital laboratories and the way researchers worked on minor details to get the best possible results.

“The long counters, glass walls, and test tubes are what I liked the most, in addition to the complete transparency of the place. It is exactly how I wanted our restaurant to be. Everything to be prepared and cooked just in front of the customer with a high level of attention to detail,” he added.

The idea behind the name Protein Laboratory was to ensure customers had the option to select, mix and create ingredients according to their taste or preference.

“Customers can order their meals according to their nutritional needs and preferences, starting with selecting the protein base, cooking method, side dishes, the sauce and portion of the meal’s components in grams.”

Ahmed said: “We use the healthiest cooking methods possible. We don’t use frozen meat; we blend our own spices and make sure everything is always made in the healthiest way.”

The brothers and their mother work like scientists. “We spent one year testing ingredients and creating healthy recipes. We had only one goal in mind: High protein in a healthy meal and a portion that could help us and others to stay healthy while still eating the food we desired with higher quality and better taste,” Ahmed added.

Their lab salad dish includes more than 20 organic ingredients high in protein, fiber and antioxidants. The restaurant’s burger has only 396 calories, and one of their best-selling desserts is a sugar-free banana pancake.

“We aim to make our prices within everyone’s reach,” Ahmed said.

One of the services offered by the restaurant is subscription to a meal plan drawn up according to the nutritional needs of the customer and delivered to their workplace or home.

Protein Laboratory is located in Helmi Kutbi Street, in Jeddah’s Al-Zahra district and can be followed on Instagram @proteinlabsa.