Saudi women making visible strides in art

Visitors look at art work by Saudi artist Manal al-Dowayan displayed at a Christie's exhibition in Dubai. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 March 2020

Saudi women making visible strides in art

  • Removal of restrictions creating opportunities for female artists, photographers and film-makers
  • Ministry of Culture has many new initiatives and is promising scholarships, museums and art galleries

RIYADH: As Saudi art moves into a new golden age, many artists, photographers and filmmakers are getting ready to show off their skills. With the Ministry of Culture working on several art-related initiatives and promising new artistic scholarships, museums and galleries, the future has never been brighter for local artists.

For Saudi female artists, however, the opportunities are even more astonishing. With many of the restrictions once imposed upon them lifting, Saudi women are sharing their thoughts on how this new era has affected and inspired them.

Danya Alhamrani is a managing partner in the Saudi company Eggdancer Productions, which focuses on producing documentaries. Along with partner Dania Nassief, the two were the first women in the Kingdom allowed to own and manage a company without a male business partner.

“For a very long time, we applied for grants and programs internationally because we didn’t have any here,” Alhamrani said. “We were ineligible for many of them because Saudi Arabia wasn’t on the DAC (Development Assistance Committee) list. But now with grants and competitions being made available by the government, we’ve been able to apply for those and have even received one.”

Alhamrani believes that the country’s new opportunities and burgeoning art scene are opening doors in an unprecedented way for filmmakers in Saudi Arabia.

“Hopefully, moving forward there are going to be more opportunities and more government support for filmmakers, especially when it comes to documentaries, which are all about preserving our heritage and culture and our stories. We hope that things continue to move forward,” she said.

Saudi photographer Jawahir Al-Sheikh recalls being told her whole life that her passion would never amount to a job. She told Arab News that, as this no longer seemed to be the case, she was finally able to convince her parents to give her a shot at becoming a professional photographer.

“I studied something I wasn’t passionate about at all in university because my family told me that photography wouldn't put food on the table. Now, the government itself is encouraging Saudis my age to come forward and apply for scholarships,” she said.

Al-Sheikh cited women such as Safeya bin Zagr and Tasneem Al-Sultan as inspirations and hopes that one day her name can be as well-known as theirs.

“These women paved the way for us and succeeded in an era when all the odds were against them. They walked so we could run. I am so grateful to them for inspiring me,” she said.


Local for local: Saudi businesses find inspiration close to home

Rawan’s Stationery offers mainly Arabic stationary items, agendas, cards for every occasion and Rawan Stationery-designed wrapping paper. (Supplied)
Updated 24 November 2020

Local for local: Saudi businesses find inspiration close to home

  • New brands discover lively demand for clothes and stationery that draw on regional designs

JEDDAH: Rather than aspire for globalized standards and designs, Saudi businesses have started looking inward to represent their surroundings and their cultures.
Surprisingly, the public has reacted favorably. On several occasions, business owners and founders were stunned to find their designs flourishing because people were invested in something that positively represented their identity.
Faisal Al-Hassan, a co-founder of Own Design, said that the most memorable encounter for the fashion brand was during last year’s brand pop-up in the MDL Beast Festival in Riyadh. “People were coming in to grab one of our pieces and they’d immediately leave. That really made us proud and happy seeing people from across the country are familiar with our brand,” he told Arab News.
Own Design started in 2009 when three young men from Alkhobar came together to make money out of their hobby. “We started Own Design as a small project with minimum funds. We were three kids with big dreams. None of us had any background in designing, I have a degree in public administration, but it doesn’t stop me from doing what I love.”
Seven years on, the founders finally moved from makeshift offices in their homes to a concept store in the city.
“Every quarter, we launch a line with a specific theme. Our latest, the Sadu, has been exceptionally popular,” he added.

People welcomed us because there was something different about our stationery. They found products and designs in their mother tongue, which wasn’t available before.

Rawan Khogeer, Owner of Rawan Stationery

It was approximately three years ago that Sadu fabric became trendy, and Own Design wanted to take that design and introduce it into pullovers and then hoodies.
According to the brand’s Instagram, Sadu is “an ancient tribal weaving craft that artistically portrays Arabian nomadic people’s rich cultural heritage and instinctive expression of natural beauty.”
Sadu fabric is known by its vibrant red, green, white and black colors and seemingly geometric weaving.
Own Design’s clothes are designed to represent culture, with lines such as ODxKings featuring popular photographs of Saudi kings on auspicious occasions or popular quotes by them throughout history to merge “national themes with modern apparel.”
The clothing brand has also featured designs coinciding with the Kingdom’s G20 presidency, titled O20 and G20.
“Our designing process is very collaborative; we sit and discuss ideas and each member adds to what’s been said or alters the design in a way the others didn’t think of,” said Al-Hassan.
The brand is known for various limited edition apparel. Their Sadu line manufactures 400 pieces in each color due to the long production process; once it sells out, customers usually have to wait a year when the next Sadu line is launched.
“We’re approaching volume three of the Sadu design, while also collaborating with a special brand on a limited edition product,” he said.
“We have bountiful ideas that we want to showcase to the world, not just Saudi (Arabia) — we want to reach out to other Arabs,” said the co-founder. “(We want) to see foreigners wearing products that have a story.”
Another local business, Rawan Stationery, was started in early 2018 by Rawan Khogeer, a graphic design graduate. “People welcomed us because there was something different about our stationery. They found products and designs in their mother tongue, which wasn’t available before,” she told Arab News.
The market catered mostly to English content in stationeries. The limited Arabic content that was available was also not as pretty in comparison, said the founder.
From a young age, Khogeer’s pastime activity was to visit stationers. She delighted at the start of every term, merely because she got to shop.
She was always fascinated by gift-wrapping paper and the patterns on them. Whenever she visited a gift-wrapping shop, she pledged to open her own shop in the future.
While completing a training program at a company, Khogeer received the news that her mother had suffered an accident. Unable to find a suitable get-well card, she designed one herself.
“I decided to make her a card specifically for her, something that suited her taste, but I chose silver and gold colors, and printers would only print big batches; I was faced with the choice to either change the colors or go ahead with a large print run,” she said.
Khogeer chose the latter, and when her mother saw the card she was elated and told her daughter to start selling them.
Khogeer then went around small gift stores and stationers with her design, while running an Instagram account to publicize her brand. She was also looking into collaboration with stationers in Kuwait and, when they encouraged her, she expanded into the Gulf region.
“Demand was growing and the designs were increasing, and I felt like I’d found myself through this craft. At the same time, other work opportunities, although great, didn’t feel as fulfilling, so I approached Entrepreneurial Institute for support, and I never regretted that decision,” Khogeer said.
It was an adventure visiting governmental entities, carpenters and painters to get Rawan Stationery looking how it does today and fulfilling Khogeer’s dream of establishing a stationery/gift-wrapping store.
“I always wondered why stationers abroad were so meticulous and had such lovely local content, in their own language. I wanted to give that to people here and I wanted to elevate the Arabic language,” she said.
What makes Rawan Stationery different is its originality. It offers mainly Arabic stationery items, agendas, cards for every occasion and Rawan Stationery-designed wrapping paper, and has found a ready market.
As for upcoming projects, Rawan’s Stationery has plans to expand to a second branch soon.