Art in Saudi Arabia a portal for young people
International Women’s Day commemorates women’s achievements and promotes their rights. It is an occasion that celebrates the progress and development women have made in achieving their ambitions and dreams. It also celebrates how women have established a strong place for themselves in every field.
On this day, I want to write about my place, which I found in art, and the journey I went through until I found myself. Through my personal experience, I will explain the different stages I have gone through to reach my artistic passion, which is based on installation art and land art.
I traveled in 2007 to Britain on a scholarship from King Abdul Aziz University to pursue government-backed master’s and Ph.D. degrees. While studying abroad, my way of looking toward art changed. I learned that art went beyond the prowess that dominated my thinking.
I tried to take advantage of all the opportunities offered to me, from visiting exhibitions to artistic discussions. Throughout the seven years I spent studying abroad, I was on a journey to find my true artistic soul. How could I find myself through works of art?
I returned to Saudi Arabia in 2013 and began the search for my artistic place inside the Kingdom. I was surprised by the development of businesses that support art.
In 2014, I held my first exhibition at Athr Gallery in Jeddah, which launched my career. The “Calm Village” exhibition was about a village that turned into a cemetery when its inhabitants abandoned it. It was a temporary work of art, in the sense that, after the show, it disappeared and could not be kept except by photographing it. I was shocked to see that many of the audience, whether artists themselves or just art lovers, positively embraced my work. Afterwards, I started to believe that the direction of temporary art has a big impact, despite its discontinuity. I kept the show going despite some difficulties I encountered because my work at the beginning could not generate any financial returns.
I strongly believed that the messages I was directing through my work would have an impact, even if only in the long run. My work is not a mirror image of reality, but it expresses parallel feelings and emotions derived from my culture and environment, which reflect the truth but in a contemporary vision.
Since 2014, the Kingdom has been experiencing an artistic revolution that is reflected in the strong and deep government care and the attention accorded by the Ministry of Culture and the Misk Art Institute, as well as in the commercial institutions organizing a myriad of exhibitions.
Since I am a resident of Jeddah, I also cannot fail to mention the “21, 39” initiative organized by the Saudi Art Council and launched in 2014. It is an art event held during the month of February each year and attended by 200 visitors from outside Saudi Arabia. It sees the participation of a number of Arab artists from the Kingdom and other Gulf countries. It is a scene that introduces Saudi art to the Arab and international worlds.
The Saudi Art Council deeply influenced me as an artist by giving me the opportunity to show my work in the Gulf and also in international exhibitions.
The art movement in Saudi Arabia has witnessed a strong push forward through the inclusion of Saudi art in Arab and international exhibitions, but also through the cooperation of artists with one another and with the curators of art, and joint cooperation between art institutions such as Art Jameel, Alserkal Avenue and Art Dubai.
Many of my artist friends took part in these events in Dubai. These exhibitions allowed Saudi artists to be present on the world art scene. I represented Saudi Arabia at the 2019 Venice Biennale at a national pavilion located in the city’s Arsenale. Then we have the international event that is Desert X AlUla, which displays a collection of works of art in the AlUla desert and takes its cues from the land art movement, with the participation of a number of Saudi, Arab and international artists. This first site-responsive exhibition of its kind in Saudi Arabia has had a very strong impact on the level of art and its development in the Kingdom, connecting it with the outside world.
Art in Saudi Arabia has opened a portal for all young men and women, focusing on all artistic fields. This is reflected in the large number of students that the Ministry of Culture is sending abroad to study the different types of arts, including cooking, cinema, the visual arts, and film direction.
All of this strongly reflects the attention and care that the government and various businesses have accorded to art, as well as the desire of the Saudi artists and their passion for art.
Dr. Zahrah Al-Ghamdi is a Saudi artist and faculty member of the Islamic Arts Department at King Abdul Aziz University. Her most recent solo show, “Streams Move Oceans,” took place at Athr Gallery in Jeddah last year.