How an art residency program is fueling the creative Saudi spirit

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Ahad Alamoudi is trying to push the boundaries of the historical representation of Saudi Arabia. (Supplied/The New Museum Website)
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Moath Alofi, artist and explorer, based in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. (Supplied/The New Museum Website)
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Ahaad Alamoudi, I was told ice wouldn’t melt in heat. (Supplied/The New Museum Website)
Updated 06 October 2019

How an art residency program is fueling the creative Saudi spirit

  • A Jeddah art gallery is sending six Saudi artists to five cities for inspiration and self-challenge
  • Program is part of Athr Gallery's effort to promote exchange between artists and local communities

JEDDAH: From New York to Paris and from Barcelona to Beirut, Saudi artists are being given a great opportunity to further their knowledge and experience, as well as explore new ideas. Jeddah’s Athr Gallery, a strong supporter of contemporary art, is sending established Saudi artists to cities around the world for inspiration and self-challenge.
The art-residency program, entitled “Out of Place,” began as an open invitation to all Saudi-based artists during Athr’s 10th-anniversary exhibition.
“The title refers to the notion of home and comfort zones, both of which get shaken when artists root themselves in a new city and environment for a residency program,” Alia Fattouh, director of Athr Gallery, told Arab News.
The program began in this autumn and will continue until  winter next year. The residencies’ duration varies between three and six months.
The main goal of an art-residency program is to inspire and broaden the horizons of those taking part, by allowing them to experience art and culture in different contexts.
It allows artists to interact with curators, critics and other artists via workshops, seminars, discussions, exhibitions and collaborations. These experiences help artists develop their practice, approach, production, aesthetic and conceptual framework.
Being embedded in a fully developed art scene is critical to the success of a residency experience.
“By being based in these cities — Paris, Berlin, Beirut, New York and Barcelona — the artists have the opportunity to sit down with different art professionals, learn how to present their work and receive constructive feedback about their practice,” said Fattouh.
During the residency, artists and art practitioners are encouraged to visit as many museums and independent spaces as possible, and to be exposed to art in all its forms, be it performance, theater or public art.
Fattouh says the successful residency applicants were picked by a gallery committee based on their portfolio, the depth and originality of their work, the intellectual capital behind their practice, and the execution of an idea. Then they were selected by the residency house in each location.
Athr is keen to increase the number of residencies in order to enhance the local art scene and highlight home-grown talent. “We’re looking into making it an annual program,” Fattouh said. “Stay tuned.” Athr’s mission is to “foster a thriving creative art scene in Saudi Arabia and to nurture artists.”
“The gallery has acted as a bridge between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world, and is behind the launch of many artists’ careers,” she said.
“So the residencies are only an extension of this work in creating international awareness of Saudi art and vice versa.” Ahaad Alamoudi, a 28-year-old Saudi artist, recently completed a two-month residency with Residency Unlimited in New York.

“It was amazing and added a lot to my experience. I learned a lot on many levels,” said Alamoudi, who is now back in Jeddah. The residency program, which ran between July and August, addressed participants’ needs and demands with its focus on network support, project production assistance and public exposure.

Residency is a new idea in the Saudi art scene. It’s a great chance to learn more.

Moath Alofi, Artist

“It was nice to be exposed to a new city, discover the art scene there, and meet different types of artists and curators who were part of the residency,” Alamoudi said.
“I had meetings scheduled with different people from the industry, including curators, artists and designers, and collaborated with one of the residents to produce a video artwork.”
She was able to exhibit three of her video works in the New Museum of Contemporary Art as part of a daily screening series. A longer video piece was exhibited in the museum’s weekly cinema event.
Alamoudi, who aims to alter the historical portrayal of the Kingdom through her work, considers the present time an exciting one for Saudi artists.

“There’s a lot of art emerging from Saudi Arabia, and many powerful artists are addressing important, sensitive topics intellectually,” she said.

The changing social landscape in Saudi Arabia is Alamoudi’s primary source of inspiration. In her four-hour video work “I was Told Ice Wouldn’t Melt in Heat,” she addressed the current changes in Saudi Arabia with a male performer who braves the harsh desert weather in a bid to prevent 250 blocks of ice from melting.
By the time the video ends, the ice has melted completely. “In this piece, I’m trying to stretch the moment of change out and trying to make sense of it,” she said.
Alamoudi is optimistic about the youth-driven revival of art and culture in Saudi Arabia. “The emerging art scene is powerful, young and very strong. It’s surely the foundation for a stronger future,” she said.


● Ahaad Alamoudi at Residency Unlimited in NYC.

● Rund Alarabi at International Studio & Curatorial Program in NYC.

● Mohammed Alfaraj at Can Serrat in Barcelona

● Moath Alofi at Beirut Art Residency in Beirut.

● Badr Ali at Bethanien, Berlin.

● Abdulmohsen Abdulaziz at Al Mansouria Atelier in Paris.

The contemporary art movement in Saudi Arabia is the topic of a book entitled “Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom” by Sean Foley, a professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University.
Foley borrows the American political scientist Sidney Tarrow’s term “rooted cosmopolitans” to refer to young Saudi artists who are globally connected yet nationally oriented.

Foley says such artists are “distinguished by their linkage of the ‘global with the local’ and the use of ‘domestic and international resources and opportunities’ to realize significant change at home.” Their ability to create art that is “recognizably Saudi while still adhering to global norms” is the unique characteristic of the Kingdom’s evolving art and culture scene.
This inclusivity and openness is leading to a higher level of cultural dialogue between Saudis themselves, and between the Kingdom and the rest of the world.
Moath Alofi, a prominent Saudi artist who is preparing to begin his three-month residency in Beirut, said Saudi Arabia is a “very good medium for creativity.”
He added that the Kingdom has the potential to be a regional cultural hub for young local and non-local artists to flourish and grow in their career paths in different forms of art.
The upcoming stint with Beirut Art Residency will be the second residency in Alofi’s career.
He intends to make it an educational journey, to pick up new skills and hone his artistic talent. “It’ll give me time to focus on my art,” Alofi said.

“Residency is a new idea in the Saudi art scene. It’s a great chance to learn more. The experience depends on what the artist’s aims are and what the residency’s orientation is.”
He has been an artist, explorer, and culture and heritage researcher for the past five years. His photographic and documentation works focus on urban, architectural, human and cultural transformations. Alofi is inspired by the wide and diverse geography, history and culture of Saudi Arabia.

“There’s so much to discover in this country,” he said.
Both inside and outside the Saudi artistic community, there is a common complaint that limited access to sound artistic education deprives the field of informed criticism. However, Alofi sees this as a blessing in disguise.
“We might have missed an essential part of the journey, which is artistic education, or critical artistic skills, on the personal and social levels. But this (gap) has created a unique genre, which is tough and highly experimental,” he said.
“Saudi Arabia surprises me with new, unexpected, exceptional places. It gives me a lot of material to work with. There’s a lot of untapped creativity in the Kingdom. There’s a lot of potential.”

Global stars shine at Saudi leisure forum

Updated 33 min 25 sec ago

Global stars shine at Saudi leisure forum

  • “It (Saudi Movies) will bring Saudis closer to the world and the world closer to Saudi,” Shahrukh Khan 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia took another step toward establishing its place on the global entertainment map with a major industry event in Riyadh on Sunday.

The Joy Forum19 brought together entertainment promoters and pioneers from around the world, along with global stars such as Indian actor and film producer Shah Rukh Khan; Hong Kong martial artist, actor, film director Jackie Chan and Belgian actor and martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The event was organized by the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), which signed several important agreements on the day, including a financing guarantee program for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Participants are ushered in on the first day of the Joy Forum19 event in Riyadh. (AN photo by Noor Nugali)

“Our message is for both, locally and internationally. Me and my generation suffered a lot, we had lots of time on our hands,” GEA chairman Turki Al-Sheikh said at the event.

“Today you are witnessing things we have never had in Saudi Arabia. We have 300,000 visitors to our events, and our sales have hit 80 percent.

“Saudi Arabia has never seen anything like Riyadh Season, we have over 400 sponsors, which is unprecedented.”

Al-Sheikh announced that the authority had named a stadium after singer Mohammed Abdo, the “Artist of Arabs,” and another after Abu Baker Salim, the father of Khaleeji music. 

READ MORE: Three MoUs signed at opening day of Joy Forum19 in Riyadh

Drunken master

The actors expressed what it meant to be movie stars and how wide-reaching their influence could be.

Jackie Chan recalled that when he was a new actor, he often acted like a drunken fighter until he realized that he has a responsibility towards younger fans. 

Jackie Chan: no longer a "drunken master". (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)

“All over the world I keep drinking and fighting (in films).  I realized that I made drunken master cool — so I stopped,” he said. One of Chan's most popular movies was the 1978 action comedy martial arts film "Drunken Master".

“When you’re 20 you don’t have this inner thought — anything that makes the audience laugh you do, but later on especially (when I went) to Africa so many years ago — they started doing the drunken style — the children look up to me. So, I realized we have a responsibility to the children so all those years I corrected those actions: no dirty comedy words or action,” he said.

He attributed his awareness in being responsible for the content he produces to the fans. “I’m really thankful to the fans in making me a good actor.”

Chan spoke about his experience in acting martial arts in both the United States and Asia. “I realized we have two different markets one for America another for Asia. They are totally two different things.”

The safety measures the US takes for stunts is very impeccable making sure of the wellbeing of the actor comes first. However, in Asia it’s a different story, “In Asia when I want to do a stunt, I roll, jump (and then go to the) hospital, he said laughingly.

“It’s so difficult sometimes in the USA so many rules- Jackie Chan movies: NO RULES!” he said and received applause from the audience.


Good start

Jean Claude Van Damme gave a shout out and a big thank you to all his “brother and sisters from Saudi Arabia,” He said he got a royal treatment fit for “Kings and Queens”. He went on to reveal that his hotel room at the Ritz Carlton Riyadh was so big he could easily “roller-skate” in it.

Jean Claude Van Damme: "Let's do a movie together". (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)

“I’m honored to be invited here. I know it’s your first time to do this event, but I know it will have a very bright future and I hope next year you will invite more people,” he said.

He said he may not be a “good talker” but expressed his joy at being in Saudi Arabia saying. “I’m happy to be here and I hope to have more connection later with the audience.”

Van Damme remarked how that in every country in the world you have treasure actors and movies with different cultures, “In the Middle East I don’t know what the taste will be, but I know they love American, Asian and Indian movies. They have a broad taste. (Saudi Arabia) should do a movie with all of us together!”


Crossing barriers

Sharukh Khan emphasized the importance of every country telling their story through movies; “As long as we are telling the story in whatever language it doesn’t matter. Cinema crosses all barriers.”

Shahrukh Khan: "I'd audition for a Saudi movie". (AN photo by Noor Nugali)

With the opening of Saudi Arabia to the world and Cinemas, he said, “I can’t wait to talk about the Saudi films...It will bring Saudis closer to the world and the world closer to Saudi.”

“The stories that you tell should talk about goodness and people should be engaged with the content and it should bring them together. People want to laugh and sadly have to cry, to be entertained and to feel.”

Sharukh noted that Saudi Arabia has started to make movies and he’s watched the King Faisal movie, "Born a King". 

“You’ll always find gems in all movie industries and I think there’s are gems in Saudi and as a matter of fact one of the things I’d like to do is audition for a Saudi movie … Please give me an opportunity!” he said, eliciting a thunderous applause from the audience.

Red carpet

Abdulaziz AlMuzaini, co-founder and CEO of the Saudi Arabian Myrkott Animation Studio; gave a heartfelt thanks full of gratitude to King Salman and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying: “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have dreamed of this moment or this panel.”

Some of the celebrities invited to the event walk the red carpet. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)

Lebanese actor Wahid Jalal, who was the voice of Long John Silver in Treasure Island, came onstage for the opening of the event. “Children love heroes and they try to imitate them,” he said. 

He also delighted the crowd by performing Silver’s famous laugh.

Some of the celebrities who walked down the red carpet were American actor Jason Momoa, star of Aquaman; Amr Adeeb, Balqis Fathi, Yusra, Boosy Shalabi, Lojien and Aseel Omran, Mohammed Hamaki, Nawal AlZoghbi, Talal Salama, Ahlam Al-Shamsi, Hussain AlJismi, Suad Abdulla, Ibrahem Alharbi, Tariq Alali and Abdulnaser Darweesh.

The gala dinner hosted 500 guests and was a private event, but the red carpet captured the essence of where Saudi is moving to culturally.