PARIS: Jeddah is now at the forefront of the contemporary art scene in the Arab world, according to Nora Jumblatt, the president and founder of Lebanon’s Beiteddine Art Festival.
She recently visited Jeddah and AlUla to attend a number of art-related events, including an invitation by the Saudi Arts Council, and its president, Princess Jawaher bint Majid bin Abdul Aziz, to attend the opening of the seventh edition of 21,39 Jeddah Arts.
“This very fine exhibition was curated by Maya El-Khalil, a promising young up-and-coming curator,” said Jumblatt, who is married to Lebanese Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt. “Maya has been involved in the arts in Saudi Arabia for many years — and she also happens to be my husband’s niece.”
Commissioned by the Saudi Arts Council, the theme of this year’s event, which continues until April 18, is a call to action in response to the global environmental emergency, with a particular focus on the local context. In addition to the main exhibition, it also includes a number of panel discussions about the environment and sustainability.
Jumblatt was impressed by the quality of the works by local artists on display in Jeddah, and women in particular.
“There was a good number of Saudi and Arab women artists participating in the exhibition,” she said. “Among them was Zahra Al-Ghamdi, who was showcased at the Venice Biennale in 2019. I was thrilled to discover other artists such as Dania Al-Saleh, Maha Nasrallah and Muhannad Shono, to name but a few.”
She said that Jeddah was the perfect setting for the exhibition.
“The beautiful old town of Jeddah was part of the event and featured international artworks at Rubat Al-Khunji, an old house in Al-Balad, along with the Athr Gallery, which included a number of works by video artists,” said Jumblatt.
“The Jeddah exhibition has attracted a great deal of attention and was extremely well-attended, with more than 300 international visitors. I believe Jeddah has come to the forefront of the contemporary art scene in the Arab world, thanks to the outstanding commitment of Princess Jawaher and her exceptional board and team.”
Jumblatt also had time to see some of the other wonderful locations and attractions that Saudi Arabia offers visitors.
“Our three-day visit included a day at AlUla, the extraordinary desert landscape with very impressive rock formations,” she said. “The visit included stops at the Maraya Theater, the historical Hejaz train station, and the remarkable Nabataean site of Hegra, with its monumental rock tombs.”
She also had a chance to attend the opening of Desert X AlUla, the first international collaboration with Desert X in Coachella, California, an event that aims to connect desert communities and their cultures through contemporary art.
“The exhibition in AlUla was curated by Saudis Raneem Farsi and Aya Alireza, and artistic director Neville Wakefield,” said Jumblatt. “They brought together artists from Saudi Arabia and the region, featuring large-scale installations that merged perfectly with the spectacular landscape.”
“Desert X AlUla aims to create a sustainable dialogue between desert cultures and their respective environments. It was a truly unique experience which I had the privilege of attending with many friends from the art world and the film industry.”
The next Beiteddine Art Festival is due to be held this summer in Lebanon, and Jumblatt is hopeful it can go ahead despite the economic and political crisis gripping the country, and the resultant unrest.
“The Beiteddine Festival was established during the Lebanese Civil War in 1985,” she said. “Against all odds, it prospered and hosted some of the art world’s biggest names. It drew huge crowds of more than 30,000 people each summer to the magnificent Beiteddine Palace.
“We hope we can hold the festival this year despite the very difficult political and economic situation. We may have to settle for an abridged edition.”
Jumblatt was also open to the possibility of a collaboration between the Beiteddine Festival and an event in Saudi Arabia.
“We have a long experience in the performing arts and have collaborated with numerous international festivals,” she said. “Of course, it would be a new challenge to collaborate with Saudi festivals.”