RIYADH: At the lavish first edition of the Saudi Cup this past weekend in Riyadh, there was something that many attendees had not anticipated: Contemporary art and fashion.
For the world’s richest horse race — and one that has effectively put Saudi on the map for world-class sporting events — to host live artists and fashion designers has surprised many. And yet inside the posh environs of the Red Sea Pavilion was a display of works by an array of young Saudi and international creatives, the majority of which were women.
The Saudi Art Association and the Ministry of Culture staged live art events, including a digital caricaturist, calligrapher and two live Saudi painters, Fahad Al-Ammar and Basmah Alyami.
“This is the second year that I come here to paint and I am painting mostly horses for the occasion of the races,” said Alyami. “People in Saudi love horses but I also paint portraits of men, women and families.”
Salwa Abuljadayel, a communications specialist, said: “It’s all about art these day in Saudi.”
In support of that statement, the weekend showcased a range of live traditional Saudi performances coupled with breakdancing, performances of “Grease Lighting,” stilt dancers and even comedy acts with jugglers and acrobats. The scene was set for an international stage and one that the inaugural Saudi Cup garnered. There were close to 10,000 visitors over the weekend, hailing from across the Middle East and all over the world.
Also at the Red Sea Pavilion were the works of Saudi artist Nabila Abuljadayel, a prolific portrait artist who specializes in paintings on silk. Abuljadayel is known for her paintings of Saudi royalty and eminent members of society. She displayed special edition works at the Saudi Cup, revealing several of the Kingdom’s past and present leaders.
Abuljadayel displayed a copy of an original piece called “Our Path Is One.” She said it portrays “the first King of Saudi Arabia King Abdulaziz followed by the second King, King Saud, then King Faisal, King Khaled, King Fahad, King Abdullah and then King Salman, our current king all seated on different Arabian horses.” The idea behind the work is how “all of our kings have had the same philosophy and message and that we are continuing it now a step further with Vision 2030 by hosting such a great event for the first edition of the Saudi Cup.”
Another artist, Roksanda Ciurysek-Gedir, displayed two abstract works depicting natural areas in Saudi Arabia such as the Farasan Islands rendered in digital ink print on a brushed aluminium box with 300 hand-encrusted diamonds and a 24-carat gold leaf. An artist-in-residence for Fabergé, banker and movie producer, part of the proceeds of the sale of Ciurysek-Gedir’s paintings will go to planting mangrove trees in support of the UN Paris Climate Agreement and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Also taking place during the Saudi Cup was a fashion show by students from Princess Nora University. One of the judges was Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia.
“Prince Bandar’s mandate was to include Saudi brands and retailers on a global stage as the Saudi Cup illustrates just how important it is for us to maintain our identity alongside these major changes,” said Marriam Mossalli, founder of Niche Arabia, the Kingdom’s leading luxury marketing brand, which was also present at the races.
The fashion showcased at the Princess Nora University show revealed stunning abayas in a variety of cuts, fabrics and patterns.
To top it off were the colorful and vibrant handmade hats of Dubai-based milliner Evelyn McDermott. “They really wanted me to bring the European style here and didn’t want me to change anything to do with my designs,” said McDermott. “Everyone has been fabulously welcoming. Prince Bandar himself saw everything we were bringing beforehand. It’s been the most wonderful few days.”
She added: “Sometimes when a country opens up, it can mean the importation of many foreign industries.
“But with Saudi Arabia, we are utilizing the eyes of the world to export our culture and introduce ourselves for the first time, whether it be in fashion, art or music. Niche Arabia is proud to continue to be part of these global events happening within the Kingdom; and to curate Saudi retail toward an international audience.”