How Misk festival is enriching creative arts in Saudi Arabia

‘Flicker’ by Donia Al-Shetairy. (Supplied)
Updated 16 November 2019

How Misk festival is enriching creative arts in Saudi Arabia

  • Third edition of festival dedicated to the creative arts in KSA and abroad held in Riyadh
  • Misk Art presents a fair-like setup of local and international exhibitions, workshops and discussions

RIYADH: “We wish to open new horizons toward understanding the artistic aspects surrounding us and use them to enrich the local creative content as well as the Saudi art scene,” said Reem Sultan, CEO of Misk, referring to Misk Art, a festival dedicated to the creative arts in Saudi Arabia and abroad.

Misk Art presents a fair-like setup of local and international galleries, art exhibitions, workshops and talks with the aim to empower local artists and raise community awareness about the power of creativity.

Titled “Experiment 0.3,” the third edition of Misk Art focused on how the act of experimenting through critique and research empowers creativity and the local art scene.

From Oct. 29 to Nov. 2, about 50,000 visitors visited a temporary space on King Fahad Road in the Al-Yasmin district of Riyadh.

Here they viewed works by more than 250 artists showcased amid the initiative’s various sections, including an art district, numerous specially curated exhibitions, art installations and the North East Zone, an outdoor area where bold ideas can be tested.

Among the 15 participants in Misk Art 2019 were Jeddah-based Hafez Gallery and Athr Gallery; Mono Gallery from Riyadh; Egyptian Galler Misr; Riyadh-based Hewar Art Gallery; Ella Art Gallery from Manama, Bahrain; Palette Gallery from Riyadh; Jeddah-based Nesma Art Gallery; Sharqia Arts from Riyadh and 6th Sense Gallery, also from Riyadh.

Hamza Bounoua’s ‘My World 2’. (Supplied)

Misk Art is organized by the Misk Art Institute, a platform founded in 2017 to support art and artists operating under the auspices of Misk Foundation, established by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Misk Art 2019 was comprised of four exhibitions and about 100 workshops. It also included the second edition of its Sculpture Symposium, which saw 21 works commissioned especially for the event by sculptors from 14 countries.

“Everything was chosen based on the event’s theme to showcase experimentation,” said Sultan. “We also formed committees of well-known artists that helped to select and filter the artworks, artists, workshops and exhibitions under our supervision.”

In one of the event’s principal installations, a multitude of dead trees covered in foil by artist Abdullah Alothman entitled “Tin Farm” (2019) explored notions of collectivity and individuality through the natural phenomena of trees.

“The Tin Farm consists of a myriad of diverse trees like many souls with frozen oxygen in their veins,” said Alothman. “I exhibit trees of tinfoil in order to enter a state of lucid dreaming and artistic fantasy where the branches of the trees extend to the sky.

“Similar to fingerprints — no two are alike — every tree, every branch, every strand of grass has its own unique murmur.”

“Through experimentation we discover possibilities; through experimenting you connect with your creative soul, your unique and authentic voice; explore different realms of art, venture into unfamiliar paths and break every rule!” read a statement on this year’s theme.

What was paramount, said Sultan, was “deepening the concept of research and experience in various fields of art.”

In “Land, Medium, Idea,” artist and curator Moath Alofi created three stations exploring land, material and thoughts.

“We created three rooms; one to show the audience how Google Maps allows us to explore Saudi Arabia and how through this tool the visitor can interact and find their own unique places in the Kingdom,” said Alofi.

“The second station explored the various materials from which art can be made and the third room is like a speed-dating station for art and thoughts — like a five-minute consultancy with the artist and with me.

‘Simple yet complex’ by Maisa Shaldan. (Supplied)

“It’s a place where visitors could ask questions, discuss and explore art creation.”

In another exhibition, entitled “Flow,” Saudi artists Fahad and Talal explored the work of late 20th-century artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat through a jointly created artwork that bridged different styles and ultimately asked the question: Where does one artist begin and the other end?

Perhaps, as the work demonstrated, experimentation is continuous and part of an ever-evolving cycle of inspiration and exploration.

“Contrast in Harmony,” a show curated by artist Lulwa Al-Homoud, known for her contemporary calligraphic works, similarly explored how a visual expression of harmony can be achieved by simultaneously merging contrasting elements.

“A sense of peace can be generated even through our differences,” said Al-Homoud.

Participating artists included Hala Al-Khalifa; German artist Wolfang Stiller; Egyptian Hazem El-Mestikawy; Bahraini artist Jamal Abdulrahim; Ismail Al-Rifa from Syria and silkscreen prints of Victor Vasarely (1906-1997), known as the father of Optical Art.

“Soujorn,” an exhibition curated by Kolood Al-Bakr and Abdulsalam Al-Amiri, investigates the necessity of different experiences and knowledge throughout life.

“One can never acquire knowledge without an experience or form an idea without a dialogue,” said Al-Bakr.

A sense of peace can be generated even through our differences.

Lulwa Al-Homoud, artist

“One of the factors that contributes to the quality of human life is to go through different encounters and experiences that will eventually assist in improving human growth.”

Part of the exhibition was the installation “Did you capture it?,” by videographer Tarfa Bint Fahad with music by Weirdsaudi.

The video explored how our lives have been shaped by the Instagram images we consistently seek to take and how by doing so often miss the smaller, and at times, more important aspects of our daily lives.

“Did you capture it?” is dedicated to those moments that often go missing in the constant bubble of social media snapping. As Tarfa captures life’s little details, Weirdsaudi composes a score of music that similarly adds back the forgotten sounds of those moments into our daily lives.

Art at the Misk Global Forum Art was of pivotal importance during the Misk Global Forum, which was organized by the Misk Initiative Center at the Misk Foundation and took place from Nov. 12 to Nov. 14 in Riyadh under the title “Work Reworked”

It will explore new trends and changes in the world of work in the presence or more than 140 entrepreneurs and 5,000 people from more than 120 countries.

Entitled “Presence,” the first art installation, is in the form of an interactive experience presented by Misk Art Institute to explore how one’s presence, in body and soul, influences the way they perceive the world around them.

The second, entitled “Brace,” also offered an immersive digital experience by artist Abdul Halim Radwi, showcasing through large display screens covering the room the sensation of painting.

In December, Misk Art Institute will be participating in Diriya Season with an initiative called Tajallat.

Now in its fourth edition, Tajallat is an initiative where 20 artists from all over the Kingdom are invited to take part in a live-drawing show inspired by the historic Al Turaif District, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Five Arab films that have won international acclaim

Updated 06 December 2019

Five Arab films that have won international acclaim

  • Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour’s 'The Perfect Candidate' is in the shortlist for an Oscar
  • A number of Arab productions are in the race for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar

CAIRO: The Oscars are just around the corner, and in January the shortlist for the coveted Best Foreign Language Film award will be confirmed.

Several titles from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been submitted for consideration, including Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “The Perfect Candidate.”

The entry, which tells the story of a Saudi doctor who takes on her country’s patriarchal system by running in municipal elections, is particularly significant as it is the Kingdom’s first Academy Award submission following the ban on theaters being lifted in 2017.

It is also the first to be supported by the Saudi Film Council, an organization launched at Cannes Film Festival in 2018.

Here is a look at other recent Arab titles that have achieved international acclaim, and why they are worth watching.


1. WADJDA — Saudi Arabia

“The Perfect Candidate” is not the first of Al-Mansour’s films to be submitted to the Oscars. Her critically acclaimed drama “Wadjda” became the first title to be submitted by the Kingdom in 2013 for the 86th Academy Awards. It marked the debut of a Saudi female filmmaker, with the film shot entirely in the Kingdom.

The story of a 10-year-old Wadjda, and her desire to buy a bicycle to race against a male friend, sheds light on traditions and women’s rights.

In an article for The Guardian newspaper, film critic Henry Barnes described “Wadjda” as a message that Al-Mansour wrapped “inside a love letter to her people.”


2. ESHTEBAK — Egypt

The Egyptian film industry has a good track record when it comes to titles receiving global acclaim, one of the most recent being “Eshtebak” (“Clash”), by director Mohamed Diab.

Set in a police van during a period of street protests and unrest in 2013, the film chronicles a time of political and social instability in the country, where a clash of ideologies and personalities unfolds between communities.

 Egyptian director Mohamed Diab's “Eshtebak” (“Clash”). (Supplied)

The resulting tensions and dilemmas are acted out by the people trapped in the van.

“Eshtebak” was selected as the opening film for the Un Certain Regard section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and screened internationally across Europe, and in Brazil and China.

The film was publicly endorsed by actor Tom Hanks in a letter to the director: “Your film will go to great lengths to enlighten many. Audiences will see that humanity is a fragile community, but we are all in ‘this’ together.”


3. AL-JANNA AL-AAN — Palestine

A Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Language Film — and nominated in the same category at the 78th Academy Awards — “Paradise Now” was described by its Palestinian director, Hany Abu-Assad, as “an artistic point of view of the political issue.”

The film digs deep into the human aspects of the Palestinian conflict, following the fictional story of two friends recruited by a terrorist group to become suicide bombers in Tel Aviv.

Palestinan director Hany Abu-Assad's “Al-Janna Al-Aan" (Supplied)

Armed with explosives, they attempt to cross into Israel, but are pursued by border guards and separated.

When they are reunited, one character decides against carrying out the bombing, and tries to convince his friend to quit as well.

“Paradise Now” was not Abu-Assad’s only Academy Award nomination. His film “Omar,” which won the Muhr awards for Best Film and Best Director at the 2013 Dubai International Film Festival, was also shortlisted for the same category at the 2014 Oscars.



4. CAFARNAUM — Lebanon

Directed by celebrated Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, “Capernaum” depicts the complicated life of undocumented migrants, refugees and workers in Lebanon through the story of 12-year old Zain, who lives in the slums of Beirut.

The film generated $68 million at the box office worldwide, more than 17 times its production budget, becoming the highest-grossing Middle Eastern and Arabic movie of all time.

Lebanese director Nadine Labaki's “Cafarnaum" (Supplied)

“Capernaum” won the Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival — it received a solid 15-minute standing ovation after its screening there — and was shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards.

Labaki’s other productions include “Caramel” and “Where Do We Go Now?”


5. THEEB — Jordan

This drama by Naji Abu Nowar starred non-professional Bedouin actors and focuses on events unfolding in the Wadi Rum desert in southern Jordan during World War I.

Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar's “Theeb" (Supplied)

In 2016, “Theeb” won internationally recognition by becoming the first Jordanian nomination to make it to the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.

It was also nominated for Best Film Not in the English Language at the 69th British Academy Film Awards, and won the Best Director award at the 71st Venice International Film Festival.


• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.