Saudi art museums ‘desperately needed,’ says curator

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Sculptor and art collector Talal Altukhaes says, ‘I serve my country by contributing to the spread of art, and the love of art.’ (AN photos by Thaer Alfuraiji)
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Sculptor and art collector Talal Altukhaes says, ‘I serve my country by contributing to the spread of art, and the love of art.’ (AN photos by Thaer Alfuraiji)
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Sculptor and art collector Talal Altukhaes says, ‘I serve my country by contributing to the spread of art, and the love of art.’ (AN photos by Thaer Alfuraiji)
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Sculptor and art collector Talal Altukhaes says, ‘I serve my country by contributing to the spread of art, and the love of art.’ (AN photos by Thaer Alfuraiji)
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Updated 08 February 2020

Saudi art museums ‘desperately needed,’ says curator

  • Art scene in the Kingdom, with artists getting support from government and private sector, shows potential for growth

RIYADH: There is no doubt that the art scene in Saudi Arabia is taking off at last, with many artists finally feeling like their years of hard work are being recognized. With unprecedented support from government institutions like the Ministry of Culture, and private organizations like Art Jameel, Saudi artists are finally getting their moment in the spotlight.

Saudi sculptor Talal Altukhaes is one of them. Apart from being known internationally for his work in sculpture, he is also a keen art collector who has organized and managed several art exhibitions both inside and outside the Kingdom.

After a private tour of his studio and gallery, Talal met with Arab News to discuss the country’s burgeoning art scene, the extent of his contributions, and what he hopes to see happen to the country in the near future.

Altukhaes grew up fascinated by the work of his uncle, the renowned sculptor Ali Al-Toukhais. “He is my uncle, and also my mentor. Not only did I love him as my uncle, but I was also a fan of him and his work. He was so happy when I told him I was ready to make my first sculpture in 2009, he said he’d been waiting for it,” he said.

Growing up in Dawadmi, a town “smack-dab in the heart of Saudi Arabia” which recently unveiled several key archeological sites that could date back to the early Umayyad or Abbasid eras, Altukhaes was inspired by the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. He and his uncle have both channeled their love for their hometown into their art, taking rough local stones that would generally be considered less glamorous than marble and turning them into stunning works of art.

Though his favorite medium to work with is marble, Altukhaes has made sculptures from metal, ceramic, and even rocks which he has collected himself from all over Saudi Arabia. “I have rocks here from Dawadmi, from Madinah, and even some I collected from Neom before it became famous,” he said.

However, despite his renown as a sculptor, he is also known for his love of visual arts as a whole. After spending the first five years of his career showcasing his sculptures at 180 different events, he decided to devote more time to developing the local art scene.

To that end, he established his studio, Noqtah. Named for the Arabic word for the dot used to differentiate between letters, Altukhaes, who once wished to become a calligrapher, felt like it was a good way to pay tribute but also express his personal art style.

BACKGROUND

• Saudi sculptor Talal Altukhaes grew up fascinated by the work of his uncle, the renowned sculptor Ali Al-Toukhais.

• Altukhaes, despite his renown as a sculptor, is also known for his love of visual arts as a whole.

• After five years showcasing his sculptures at 180 different events, he decided to devote more time to developing the local art scene.

“I practiced calligraphy for 12 years before I realized that I was never going to reach the level of skill that I wanted. When I moved on to sculpting, every sculpture that I’ve ever made has been inspired by the shapes of the Arabic language, and its points or dots,” he said.

Inside his studio, Altukhaes has built a private gallery to house his art collection, which contains priceless artworks by the likes of Safeya Binzagr (the only Saudi artist to have her own museum) Ahmed Felemban, Fatimah Al-Nemer, Othman Alkhuzaim, and countless others. Though the gallery is not open to the public yet, he has hosted tours for several visiting dignitaries and ambassadors and lent some of the artworks out for showcasing in galleries from across the world.

Altukhaes said that he would love to see more museums dedicated to Saudi art in the country. “We desperately need it. It would give Saudi art so much credibility and so much importance. Saudi art is relatively new, we can’t compare our 50 or 60-year-old history with 500 and 600-year-old histories like those of Europe, so we started our journey late. But we have so much potential here. I can’t wait for more museums devoted purely to Saudi art to open here,” he said.

However, Altukhaes said he was happy that the art scene in Saudi Arabia has changed so much in the past few years, and that more opportunities are made available every day. “With all of the attention on Saudi Arabia at the moment, with so many foreigners and foreign representatives visiting, we can show them just what Saudi artists are capable of,” he said.

Though he has arranged several exhibitions in collaboration with the US Embassy in Riyadh in the past few years, he hopes to see more appreciation from other foreign embassies and galleries. 

“I’ve had the German ambassador, the Taiwanese ambassador, and many others visit my studio to view my collection. This is my role, to present just a small fragment of Saudi art to the world,” he said.

He also hopes to conduct workshops for Saudi artists and sculptors in the future. After a successful trial with 30 students from Princess Nourah University’s art and design program, he is looking forward to a repeat experience. “At this point in my career, I don’t have the time or the funds, but it’s definitely on my mind,” he said.

However, if he wants people to know one thing, it is this: “Serving your country can be done in more than just (one) way. I serve my country by contributing to the spread of art, and the love of art. Almost all of the work I’ve done in that regard has been nonprofit and completely voluntary.

 “We need to appreciate Saudi art and Saudi artists, and show the whole world what they can do.”


Gem of history, Diriyah is ‘gateway’ to future of Saudi Arabia

Updated 1 min 15 sec ago

Gem of history, Diriyah is ‘gateway’ to future of Saudi Arabia

  • Danielle Atkins: ‘If you want to see Vision 2030 in 2020 just come to my office. DGDA really does embody Vision 2030 in 2020’

One of Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects and most beloved sites is the home of the founding fathers, Diriyah. 

In one year, it has played host to Russian President Vladimir Putin, numerous delegates and was the prime location for Formula E, but behind all the glitz and glamour, a team of Saudis are working hard to make it a major tourist destination.

Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA), is going local with its employees — 278 out of 355 are Saudi, with 45 from Diriyah. The employees feel a sense of pride, nurturing their county and showcasing its history.

Established in July 2017, the DGDA aims to preserve the culture of Diriyah, celebrate its community, and make it a landmark that celebrates Saudi Arabia. 

 

FASTFACTS

  • Diriyah Gate Development Authority was established in July 2017 to preserve Diriyah’s culture, celebrate its community and make Diriyah known globally as a landmark that celebrates Saudi culture and history.
  • Diriyah highlights the architectural, diplomatic and artistic legacy of Saudi Arabia.
  • Diriyah is home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif, a mud-brick city that stands as the birthplace of the first Saudi state.

Considered one of the Kingdom’s most important historical sites and the capital of the first Saudi state, Diriyah is home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif, a mud-brick city that stands as the birthplace of the first Saudi state.

 “Diriyah has a special place in my heart because it’s the home of my forefathers. It’s an honor for me to add to their legacy and to improve upon this cartel of history that is so full of meaning,” said Princess Al-Johara Al-Saud, the DGDA’s branded content and collaboration officer, to Arab News. “I am privileged to be part of a team that’s sole focus is to give Diriyah its proper place as the jewel of the Kingdom.” 

Merging past, present, and future, “Diriyah is the gateway of the future of Saudi Arabia,” said Danielle Atkins, chief of marketing and communications officer at the DGDA. She said that the team were all young and Saudi, and “if you want to see vision 2030 in 2020 just come to my office. The DGDA really does embody Vision 2030 in 2020.”

Al-Johara was one of Atkins’ first hires. “I feel empowered and supported, working alongside so many prominent women in the marketing team,” she said. “We all feel so proud to be contributing to the preservation and promotion of Diriyah, under the umbrella of Vision 2030 and the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. His mission to enable women in Saudi Arabia has driven us to push forward and to play an instrumental role in making the vision a reality in 2020.”

Behind the Scenes: the ladies taking a commemorative photo in Diriyah. (AN photo)

 The marketing team at DGDA, headed by Atkins, is composed of 31 employees, 18 of whom are women. Atkins’ goal is to empower Saudi women and to have them as confident leaders taking the reins.

 One of the DGDA’s initiatives is its graduate program. Launched in November 2019, 19 people enrolled, 79 percent of whom were females. The students are expected to complete the program by November 2020, with the possibility of joining the DGDA as full-time team members.

 Haifa Al-Ruwaished is currently in the graduate program, and being from Diriyah, she says it was an honor to be able to work alongside passionate and enthusiastic members serving both her county and country.

 Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of the DGDA, said: “This is such an inspiring time for Saudi youth, especially women, and we are proud to play our part. We are passionate about giving back to the communities of Diriyah and knew that we needed to start with the talent of tomorrow. The graduates from Diriyah that have become part of the DGDA are already stars and I’m confident they will take important roles in shaping the future of the Kingdom. We are especially proud that a majority of the graduates who have joined are women.” 

 “As a local from Diriyah, I am honored to join the entity that is tasked with benchmarking my county as the premier culture and lifestyle hub in the heart of Saudi Arabia,” said Munirah Binhalwan, executive assistant to the chief of marketing and communications officer. “Being part of the team that is making history and breaking ground fills my heart with joy, as I am finally honoring my community.” 

 The positive work atmosphere and teamwork amongst the members of the DGDA is setting an example and providing a platform for growth to many of the members.

 “It’s an honor to be a part of the change that’s developing Diriyah as a county. To work hand in hand with everyone. We are learning and experiencing new things that are furthering our knowledge and expertise,” Maram Al-Nemer, media production senior officer at the DGDA, told Arab News. 

 With a goal set to help change the Kingdom’s perception in the world, a quite ambitious goal, Atkins believes her role is to act as a catalyst to “show what a unique and special place this is and also to see the young women in my team become confident leaders. That’s what success looks like for me.”