Young artists throw spotlight on Saudi Arabia’s social transformation

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This year’s edition, curated by artist Zahra Bundakji, attempts to understand the societal reforms underway in the Kingdom and their implications on a collective and individual level. (Photo/Supplied)
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This year’s edition, curated by artist Zahra Bundakji, attempts to understand the societal reforms underway in the Kingdom and their implications on a collective and individual level. (Photo/Supplied)
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This year’s edition, curated by artist Zahra Bundakji, attempts to understand the societal reforms underway in the Kingdom and their implications on a collective and individual level. (Photo/Supplied)
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This year’s edition, curated by artist Zahra Bundakji, attempts to understand the societal reforms underway in the Kingdom and their implications on a collective and individual level. (Photo/Supplied)
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This year’s edition, curated by artist Zahra Bundakji, attempts to understand the societal reforms underway in the Kingdom and their implications on a collective and individual level. (Photo/Supplied)
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This year’s edition, curated by artist Zahra Bundakji, attempts to understand the societal reforms underway in the Kingdom and their implications on a collective and individual level. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 29 November 2019

Young artists throw spotlight on Saudi Arabia’s social transformation

  • The program aims to project innovative and original content of Saudi Arabia-based artists

JEDDAH: An exhibition by emerging artists throwing a spotlight on the social changes taking place in Saudi Arabia has been launched in the Kingdom.

Athr Gallery in Jeddah is hosting “In the Midst of It All,” the sixth edition of its Young Saudi Artists (YSA) initiative, showcasing the works of 23 talented newcomers to the country’s growing art scene.

The YSA program, which began in 2011, aims to project the innovative and original content of Saudi-based artists onto a regional and international stage.

This year’s edition, curated by artist Zahra Bundakji, attempts to understand the societal reforms underway in the Kingdom and their implications on a collective and individual level.

The art display is the result of an open invitation to Saudi nationals and residents living in the Kingdom, aged between 19 and 40, to participate in the YSA initiative.

As this year’s exhibition theme, Bundakji posed a commonly asked question among youth about art, culture, and entertainment, “who are you, in the midst of it all?”

Bundakji told Arab News: “When I was preparing for the exhibition’s theme, I went around asking people what matters, and almost everyone said it’s our identity. It was based on everything around us, and now everything is changing, so who are we?”

She said that the exhibition contained artworks that expressed personal experiences and memories of childhood, identity crises, tragedies, traumas, and inner conflicts in an attempt to “tell people 100 years from now who we were in 2019. Through bringing all of these people together, you have an idea of what people are going through and begin to see a pattern.”

Most of the exhibitors are not from an art-related, academic background and have never exhibited before.




The art display is the result of an open invitation to Saudi nationals and residents living in the Kingdom. (Photo/Supplied)

Aisha Zakia Islam, 27, a Saudi-born Bangladeshi multidisciplinary artist, is taking part with a series of elegies represented by henna patterns on X-rays belonging to her late mother.

“My work represents the process of accepting the loss, and turning something sad into something happier,” Islam told Arab News. “My mother loved henna, it was very ceremonial for her, and made her really happy. Working on this series was my mourning process.”

Islam said that henna becomes permanent on the X-ray, unlike the human skin, and trying to scrape it will remove the whole X-ray.

As an expatriate, she added that being able to present her artwork in Saudi Arabia and being exposed to the local art scene meant a lot to her. “Such initiatives usually target locals; I am glad to get this chance.”

Shaimaa Saleh, 24, a textile artist and printmaker based in Jeddah, explored themes of domesticity, family, memories, and time in her Athr display.

Her artwork takes its roots from “Majdolin,” a novel translated by Egyptian writer and poet Mustafa Lutfi Al-Manfaluti. It contains 22 pieces, each expressing a scene from the book and reflecting on the search for happiness.

“The text captivated me, and I couldn’t get over it. It lists scenes from our interactions with nature and people in our daily life as expected sources of comfort, happiness, and contentment.”

Using techniques such as embroidery, silkscreen printing and collage fabrics, Saleh’s art is inspired by her emotional experiences through everyday situations. The book’s text made her realize that she had misconstrued the source of happiness, and that it was “actually a journey, not a destination.”

She noted that the YSA initiative was important in introducing and giving space to young artists.

Mohammed Hammad, 36, a filmmaker and multidisciplinary artist, shared his experience of immigration and struggle with his fragmented identities in a video piece titled #Infinitesence83. His experimental short film presents an introspective examination of his immigration from Saudi Arabia and returning during the current socioeconomic change.

Through sound, film, and painting he highlights the stark contrasts between his country of birth, Saudi Arabia, and the European metropolitan cities where he was raised.

“I lived most of my life outside Saudi Arabia, and the video includes footage from my journey abroad in different countries and continents over the last seven years,” Hammad told Arab News.

“It is narrated by voice messages from my mother who used to send me a lot of messages updating me about the family, praying for me, and asking me to come back. And I’m finally here with her.”

Hammad said that he liked the idea behind the exhibition because it focused on personal experiences and inner crises. “Most of my art is expressive, it represents internal experiences and sometimes indirectly addresses social issues through self-reflection. In the past, exhibitions used to impose a certain topic on the artists, and my style was usually not in sync with their style.”

In September, the Athr Gallery invited artists from all disciplines to apply to take part in the YSA initiative. The program is designed to help young artists conceptualize their work and develop their projects, while allowing them to exhibit in a professional context, collaborate with a curator, and expose their work to criticism as well as to the marketplace.

“It is pleasant how the public and artists reacted to the initiative; we received over 200 applications, our biggest-ever number of applicants,” said Mohammed Hafiz, the gallery’s co-founder.

“There are two things we did differently this year. We appointed an independent curator and a partly international committee to select the artists,” Hafiz told Arab News. “We believe in supporting and stimulating the creative market. However, everyone has to take charge and responsibility for their future.

“Therefore, during the exhibition, artists get to engage with the public and professionals, including critics, the media, and other galleries. This is an opportunity to interact with the world as artists.

“Some of the artists will end up being represented by us in YSA; those who are no longer presented by YSA might be picked up by other galleries or decided to change their path. Some YSAers decided to become film directors or graphic designers because when they went through the process, they realized that this was not their preference,” Hafiz added.

The exhibition, which will also introduce the works of 110 Saudi-based artists in a gallery context, runs until Jan. 15, 2020.


LA Italian eatery Madeo delights the palate in Riyadh Season pop-up

Updated 15 December 2019

LA Italian eatery Madeo delights the palate in Riyadh Season pop-up

  • Despite minor setbacks he faced while setting up, Vietina considers the experience to be a positive one

RIYADH: Renowned Italian restaurant Madeo has opened up in Al-Murabba for Riyadh Season. 

The pop-up has started brightly, and head chef Gianni Vietina invited Arab News to sample the menu and chat about his experience.

Vietina, in Saudi Arabia for the first time, said that he loved the location he had set up in, and was very happy to be opening up in the Kingdom. 

“The location is gorgeous. At night, with all the lights on, the music going, it’s very nice.”

Despite minor setbacks he faced while setting up, Vietina considers the experience to be a positive one and that the response was even better than he had expected. 

“Like anything new, you have quests, you have problems. Up to now, we’re doing pretty good. We are up and running. We’re comfortable now, which is a shame as we’re leaving pretty soon,” he said.

He added that he would repeat the experience in a heartbeat if he could: “They were nice enough to ask me to stay in Saudi a little longer, but I can’t. I need to go back home. But I would love to come back.”

He said that while he was not planning to open up a permanent restaurant in Saudi Arabia, he would not rule it out completely.  “I’ve been offered options, and friends have offered to show me locations while I’m here, but I can’t do it right now, I just opened a new restaurant two months ago,” he said.

“I chose the dishes that I know that most of the Saudis that visit my restaurant in Los Angeles like.”

Gianni Vietina, Head chef of Madeo

The pop-up’s menu contains most of what the original restaurant offers, including his ever-popular penne madeo and spaghetti bolognese, with the chefs using a combination of imported and locally sourced ingredients. 

“I chose the dishes that I know that most of the Saudis that visit my restaurant in Los Angeles like,” he told Arab News.

For the pop-up, Vietina has stuck to using halal and alcohol-free ingredients. 

“It was challenging at the beginning. But the bolognese at Madeo doesn’t contain pork, and I realized after we tried cooking without wine that almost nothing changed. I actually prefer it,” he said.

Madeo is a favorite of Saudis visiting Los Angeles, with Vietina going so far as to describe the restaurant as a “Little Riyadh” on most evenings between July and September. 

He even recognizes some of the customers who have come into the Riyadh pop-up, and always stops over to greet them.

Upon sampling the menu, it’s easy to see why the food at Madeo has remained popular all these years. 

The eggplant parmigiana is a perfect blend of crusty cheese and silky smooth eggplant, with hints of basil and rosemary. 

The bolognese is rich, meaty and decadent, without being too heavy and greasy. And the penne madeo, which Vietina has been eating since his childhood, is a timeless classic of crushed tomato, basil, finished off with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano for a creamy, rich flavor.