Ithra celebrates and reflects on a busy and award-winning 2021

Ithra celebrates and reflects on a busy and award-winning 2021
Ithra presented more than 7,000 programs and initiatives in art, knowledge, culture, creativity and society this year, and welcomed more than 500,000 local and international visitors. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 31 December 2021

Ithra celebrates and reflects on a busy and award-winning 2021

Ithra celebrates and reflects on a busy and award-winning 2021
  • The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture presented more than 7,000 programs and won five local and international awards this year

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra, presented more than 7,000 programs and initiatives in art, knowledge, culture, creativity and society this year, and welcomed more than 500,000 local and international visitors, the organization said.

In addition, about 4,000 male and female volunteers participated in the center’s local, regional and international events and activities, contributing 13,000 hours of work.

Ithra won five local and international awards in the past 12 months, including the 2021 Cultural Institutes Award in the private sector track by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture. Ithra was also recognized with three prestigious accolades from MarCom, one of the largest and most respected creative competitions in the world. Among 6,000 entries, Ithra achieved platinum in the ‘Team Achievement’ and ‘Pro Bono’ categories, and gold in the ‘Social Content’ category for its efforts on World Book Day.

The center was also recognized locally by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development with numerous awards, including the first volunteer unit to implement the national volunteering standard, the first center to introduce volunteering in the private sector, and a Gold “Mowaamah” certification, for the accessible ecosystem that the center provides to support those with special needs, in accordance with their required standards and needs.

Another research initiative that Ithra launched is its flagship digital wellbeing platform that highlights the researches and conversations related to digital wellbeing. Sync, a project commissioned with an extensive global study exploring the role and impact of technology on the daily lives of the general public. Canvassing 15,000 people in 30 countries, the results of the study inform Ithra’s Sync project, in addition to being a resource for all stakeholders, including the public, social researchers, content producers and providers, and policymakers. The project includes a yearly summit with international and local speakers which will inaugurate early 2022.

This year, Ithra also piloted its inaugural Creative Solutions program with over 1,000 local applicants, launched to boost Saudi’s creative economy through empowering digital content creation in immersive technologies.

Ithra’s annual flagship creativity festival, held under the theme Tools — Crafting Creativity, Tanween 2021 attracted more than 25,000 visitors over the course of three weeks. The festival featured international and local experts in 30 talks, 10 masterclasses, 7 workshops and 4 big experiences. One of the main features of Tanween was the Smartphone Orchestra, which sorted the public based on the data they provided themselves in this interactive and immersive activity. Another highlight featured mass drone swarms that interacted with the audience in one of the largest co-created drone/human light paintings ever made.

Currently on display at the first Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, Ithra Art Prize-winner Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s piece underlines the new Pan-Arab direction of the prize. This is the first year one of the most significant art prizes in the region is open to regional artists, while simultaneously representing a homecoming for the award which was presented at Art Dubai for its first three editions. Consisting of 19 canvasses nearly 20 meters long together, E Pluribus Unum – A Modern Fossil is described as a metaphor for modern times.

Ithra’s investment in the future saw the announcement earlier this month that the F1 in Schools program is coming to Saudi Arabia. Formula One’s global educational initiative will see some of the Kingdom’s brightest young minds join peers from 26,000 schools in 51 other countries as they showcase their creative skills and compete to reach the Aramco F1 in Schools World Finals in 2022. The world’s largest science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) challenge highlights Ithra’s mandate to champion creative potential and inspire innovation among Saudi talent and youth.

Challenging visitors to channel their creativity towards Islamic heritage, Ithra and the Abdullatif Al-Fozan Award for Mosque Architecture launched an opportunity for people to reimagine masjids during its recently concluded three-day conference The Mosque: Innovation in Object, Form and Function. The first conference of its kind, the three-day gathering featured global experts exploring the history, art and architecture of Islamic cultures and culminated in the announcement of the Mosque of the Future challenge.

The conference complemented the ongoing exhibition Shatr Al-Masjid: The Art of Orientation. Featuring the largest collection of Islamic art masterpieces ever displayed in the Kingdom, it is the result of unprecedented partnerships on international and national level, including with the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities. In another first, this year marked the opening of Ithra’s most international art exhibition yet. Featuring 26 artworks by 20 artists, including site-specific installations and commissioned pieces created specifically for and at the center, Seeing & Perceiving explores how observers perceive artworks in different ways. Testament to Ithra’s support of local talent, Saudi open call winner Walaa Fadul’s piece Light Upon Light, a composition of six hologram fans and 3D holographic visuals, is exhibited alongside some of the biggest names in the contemporary art world, including Carsten Höller, Aisha Khalid and Robert Irwin.

Using contemporary art to serve a bigger purpose, Ithra partnered with environmental sustainability leader Arcadia Earth for its Terra exhibition. The exhibit harnessed the power of art to create memorable experiences while taking a localized view on global challenges such as water scarcity, air quality and plastic pollution. Another first in Saudi, the exhibition aligns with the Kingdom’s environmental goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

While Ithra’s two-day Learning Beyond conference highlighted best practices in the education sector by harnessing innovative, accessible and diverse resources to deliver a tangible impact on students’ development, the center also organized the scientific communication program PiCon in its first edition in conjunction with the celebration of the International Pi Day to provide an opportunity for innovators and those interested in science and technology to meetup with local and international speakers and experts, aimed to elevate the scientific movement for all ages.

Ithra also cemented its reputation as a leading Saudi film producer with roadshows at the 74th Cannes International Film Festival and at the Red Sea International Film Festival, the Kingdom’s first international film fair. Produced under the Ithra Film Productions banner, celebrated Egyptian screenwriter and producer Mohamed Hefzy’s Sea of Sands and Saudi award-winning independent filmmaker Khalid Fahad’s Valley Road are both scheduled for release in 2023. The feature-length documentary film Anti-Cinema, meanwhile, is currently in post-production and is expected to hit the international film festival circuit shortly. Winner of the Ithra Content Commission Initiative, Ali Saeed and Hassan Saeed’s film brings Saudi Arabia’s film history to the big screen.

Furthermore, Ithra is excited about the opening of registrations for Sea of Sands’ shadowing program, linked to the center’s commitment to nurture and develop talent across the Kingdom’s creative industries. The training program is designed to take Saudi’s film industry to the next level, and will see 10 aspiring filmmakers joining the production of the film and learn from well-established filmmakers and crew.


Special fun-filled activities lined up for young Jeddah Season visitors

The Blippi- branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts followed by a photo session. (Supplied)
The Blippi- branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts followed by a photo session. (Supplied)
Updated 6 min 17 sec ago

Special fun-filled activities lined up for young Jeddah Season visitors

The Blippi- branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts followed by a photo session. (Supplied)
  • Little Village zones feature favorite characters Peppa Pig, Blippi, L.O.L Surprise!

JEDDAH: A fun-filled agenda awaits children at the Jeddah Pier amusement park, one of the entertainment attractions at this year’s Jeddah Season festival of activities.

The specially created Little Village large play area offers games and events for youngsters through to June 28 in three activity zones featuring children’s characters Peppa Pig, Blippi, and L.O.L Surprise!

The Blippi-branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts, and the iconic Blippi appeared for a soft opening of the Little Village during which visitors took part in a meet and greet, followed by a photo session.

The L.O.L Surprise! activity corner gives girls the opportunity to wear their favorite dresses, enjoy hair and makeup sessions, and try out cooking, singing, and dancing, and special fashion shows let little fashionistas take a ramp walk.

Meanwhile, the Peppa Pig activity corner has a range of activities including painting classes and the chance to play in the cartoon character’s grocery store.

Fadi Yousuf, site manager of Hwadi Events, Jeddah Pier’s organizing company, said: “Packed with wonderful and imaginative activities, we aim to create memories that will turn the Jeddah Season into a world of unforgettable stories for children.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The specially created Little Village large play area offers games and events for youngsters through to June 28 in three activity zones featuring children’s characters Peppa Pig, Blippi, and L.O.L Surprise!

• Jeddah Pier, open daily from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., offers 39 entertainment attractions, seven diverse international experiences, and a roller coaster, among a host of other events. And musical parades including acrobats, and people dressed as trees, zombies, and track-suited monkeys are an integral part of the zone’s events.

“With the help of Spacetoon, we were delighted to bring the much-loved character Blippi to Jeddah and receive an amazing response from the fans.

“Apart from enjoying the activities, kids will be able to purchase Blippi, L.O.L Surprise!, and Peppa Pig products onsite.”

Jeddah Pier, open daily from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., offers 39 entertainment attractions, seven diverse international experiences, and a roller coaster, among a host of other events.

And musical parades including acrobats, and people dressed as trees, zombies, and track-suited monkeys are an integral part of the zone’s events.

Jeddah Season will also be hosting a toy festival running until May 23 at Jeddah Superdome, the world’s largest geodesic dome without pillars, and kids who missed meeting Blippi at Jeddah Pier will get another chance at the festival.

More than 40 international toy brands are attending the event that will include stands and exhibitions, live shows, and performances of the Smurfs, Sonic, Peppa Pig, and other character favorites.

The annual Jeddah Season festival aims to highlight the city’s rich heritage and culture through a total of 2,800 activities in nine zones over the event period.

Being held under the slogan, Our Lovely Days, the second Jeddah Season follows on from the success of Riyadh Season that recorded more than 15 million visits over five months.

The festival season offers 70 interactive experiences, more than 60 recreational activities, seven Arab and two international plays, marine events, a circus, four international exhibitions, and a host of other services for families.

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Saudi artists shed light on the resurgence of analog photography

Analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers. (Supplied)
Analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers. (Supplied)
Updated 20 May 2022

Saudi artists shed light on the resurgence of analog photography

Analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers. (Supplied)
  • While analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers, there is still a shortage of labs and studios accessible to the public

RIYADH: At a time when one might view analog photography as an outdated craft, it is, in fact, becoming increasingly popular across the world, including in Saudi Arabia.

“Photos are the closest humanity has gotten to time travel,” said photographer Abdullah Al-Azzaz, whose has followed in the footsteps of his father, Saleh, who was also a photographer.

The newly established Bayt Al-Malaz — a creative space in the heart of Riyadh’s Malaz District — recently hosted an intriguing conversation about the significance and popularity of analog photography between Al-Azzaz and Princess Reem Al-Faisal, moderated by Sarah Assiri. The event was part of Bayt Al-Malaz’s “Moflmeen” discussion series.

HIGHLIGHT

While analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers, there is still a shortage of labs and studios accessible to the public. In Riyadh, the number of studios where film can be developed has fallen from four to just a single space — Haitham Studios. This is largely due to the financial cost of establishing such a studio and the turnaround time for film development.

The two photographers addressed the issue of why — when digital cameras are so ubiquitous and easy to use — analog is making a comeback.

“My photography revolves around permanence, praise, eternality, and the spiritual side of us. The individual is a soul and not a body,” said Al-Faisal. “For us, film represents the soul. We are all born with natural instincts, and film, in its natural form, is untouched. It represents the soul that transforms after birth in dealing with life, accumulations, and memories — bad and good. It’s a way of expressing humanity.”

Al-Azzaz said that, for him, it was more about the technique than the philosophy of it all. “The experience of developing in a darkroom is so enriching. It separates you from the world, totally quiet and dark. It’s just you and the photo. It allows you to reflect on the photo more and gives you more freedom in reimagining it,” he said.

Photo manipulation, he explained, is not exclusive to digital photography. Before the existence of Photoshop, images could be manipulated in the darkroom using retouching techniques and tools, including cropping, brushing, dodging, burning and masking.

To really understand the true art of photography, some would argue, it is important to learn its history. Digital photography is not a replacement for film, but another medium entirely. “In any art, not just photography, we have to have a cultural, historical, and technical awareness… we are all an accumulation,” said Al-Faisal. “We are a product of our society and a product of our time. We cannot claim we aren’t affected [by these things]. Whoever claims otherwise is delusional.”

While analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers, there is still a shortage of labs and studios accessible to the public. In Riyadh, the number of studios where film can be developed has fallen from four to just a single space — Haitham Studios. This is largely due to the financial cost of establishing such a studio and the turnaround time for film development.

The founder of the studio, Haitham Al-Sharif, explained the immersive nature of analog photography. “I chose film photography because I hated having no connection with my photos. With film photography, I take a max of 40 photos in a session. I can’t see them; I have to live in the moment, I have to listen and smell the streets, I have to talk to my subject if I’m taking their portraits, I have to listen to the music if I’m at a concert,” he told Arab News. “To me, that is art. That is the beauty of film.”

The lengthy process involved in analog photography can be intimidating and off-putting to amateur photographers. That’s why the development of the first digital camera in 1975 was so groundbreaking. Now, in an economy driven by content creation and visual media, content production is easier — and quicker — than ever before. But to some, the key difference lies in the creative experience itself. Some analog photographers suggest it is a way to truly connect with the moment, even if the results are not always what society deems ‘Insta-worthy.’

“When you can’t see the photo you aren’t forced to change it to make it the same as what the media thinks is good or what a magazine thinks is good. Film forces you to be patient and slow. It forces you to live in the (moment),” said Al-Sharif. “As a film photographer, you live in front of the lens as much as at the back of the lens. You become more connected to what you are photographing.”


Europe keen to advance level of partnership with Saudi Arabia: Envoy

EU Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Patrick Simonnet with delegates at the Europe Day reception in Riyadh. (Supplied)
EU Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Patrick Simonnet with delegates at the Europe Day reception in Riyadh. (Supplied)
Updated 20 May 2022

Europe keen to advance level of partnership with Saudi Arabia: Envoy

EU Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Patrick Simonnet with delegates at the Europe Day reception in Riyadh. (Supplied)
  • EU unveils first long-term strategy to shape future Gulf ties

RIYADH: The European Union’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Patrick Simonnet confirmed on Friday that the bloc is keen to boost its partnership with the Kingdom.

The EU unveiled its first long-term strategy to shape future Gulf ties on Wednesday, when the High Representative and the European Commission adopted a joint communication — “Strategic Partnership with the Gulf.”

EU ambassador to Saudi Arabia Patrick Simonnet cutting cake on Europe Day at Cultural Palace, in DQ Riyadh. (Supplied)

“At a time of insecurity and significant challenges to the rules-based international order, aggravated by Russia’s war on Ukraine, the European Union and Gulf countries stand to gain from a stronger and more strategic partnership stretching over a number of key areas. We need to work more closely together on stability in the Gulf and the Middle East, on global security threats, energy security, climate change and the green transition, digitalization, trade and investment. We also need to strengthen contacts between students, researchers, businesses and citizens,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said as he unveiled the plan.

The long-term strategy — the first of its kind between the two groups — will be pivotal to EU- GCC relations. We need each other. The EU and the GCC have a lot to gain in reinforcing the partnership.

Patrick Simonnet, EU ambassador to Saudi Arabia

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Simonnet said: “The long-term strategy — the first of its kind between the two groups — will be pivotal to EU-GCC relations. We need each other. The EU and the GCC have a lot to gain in reinforcing the partnership. That’s what we felt in different visits over the last 12 months. There was a realization that we had a common interest in stepping up our partnership. It’s about the economy, how we can better support our respective strategies, Saudi Vision 2030, and EU Green Deal.

“We have been importing fossil fuel from Saudi Arabia for a long time. We are going to continue, but we would like to switch to a more sustainable consumption of renewable energy. We know that the Gulf has enormous potential to export renewable energies, including green hydrogen. Saudi Arabia has made huge investments and is keen to be a global supplier of hydrogen, and it would be very useful for us to import this green hydrogen to achieve our own climate change targets. It would also be good for the Kingdom, for its own climate change targets. So there’s a very good match that we can have between us,” he continued.

“We can work together on the regional crisis, there is a great deal of alignment between our views on the Middle East peace process, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Lebanon… The strategy proposes that we work even more closely together on regional stability issues. Security cooperation is also very important. We wanted to have a strategy which was more political, more security oriented. We are negotiating the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), and if we can have a positive outcome (there), we could build on that to hopefully contribute even more to stability and security in the Gulf,” said the EU envoy.

“We are the biggest provider of foreign direct investment here, and the GCC is the second-biggest trading partner for the EU, so we will look at how to re-engage on the free trade agreement (FTA),” Simonnet added.

The joint communication also aims to improve cooperation in higher education and culture. One of the goals is to attract more Saudi students to Europe and European students or teachers to the Kingdom, he explained.

Another goal, according to Simonnet, is “visa-free travel to Europe” for all countries. “We are very much aware that visa liberalization could help the exchanges between both sides,” he said.

He added: “I met Saudi travel bloggers a few days back. It was interesting to discuss all the hidden gems in Saudi Arabia in terms of tourism, the places where we could bring a lot more tourists, and the same thing in Europe — there are many more destinations in Europe that could be discovered by Saudi tourists, so visa liberalization is important.”

In future, according to the joint communication, there will be more regular meetings at ministerial levels between EU and GCC foreign ministers and ministers of energy.

“Europe is proposing to step up the game of relations,” said the envoy, adding that the EU will increase its diplomatic delegations in the region, expanding on its existing delegations in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait.
 


Saudi Arabia sends 25 tons of dates to Kyrgyzstan

Saudi Arabia sends 25 tons of dates to Kyrgyzstan. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia sends 25 tons of dates to Kyrgyzstan. (SPA)
Updated 21 May 2022

Saudi Arabia sends 25 tons of dates to Kyrgyzstan

Saudi Arabia sends 25 tons of dates to Kyrgyzstan. (SPA)
  • KSrelief distributed 700 food baskets in Somaliland, benefiting 40,200 individuals, and 400 food baskets to people in Sarkhrud, Afghanistan, benefiting hundreds of families

BISHKEK: Saudi Arabia has sent 25 tons of dates to Kyrgyzstan as a gift. The dates were delivered by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center at an event attended by Saudi Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Ibrahim bin Radi Al-Radi and other officials.

Recently, KSrelief also delivered 50 tons of dates to the Maldives.

Maldivian Islamic Minister Dr. Ahmed Zahir Ali thanked the Saudi government for the gift, noting that it reflected the close ties between the two countries.

The gifts are part of the humanitarian aid programs provided by the Saudi government to a number of countries, with the aim of benefitting vulnerable families in different regions of the world.

KSrelief also distributed 700 food baskets in Somaliland, benefiting 40,200 individuals, and 400 food baskets to people in Sarkhrud, Afghanistan, benefiting hundreds of families.

The center is also continuing to roll out its water supply and environmental projects in Yemen’s Hajjah and Saada governorates. In one month, more than 15 million liters of water was pumped into tanks across the two regions.

KSrelief has implemented 1,997 projects worth nearly $6 billion in 83 countries since its inception in May 2015, in cooperation with 175 partners.

The areas that have benefited most from the center’s projects are Yemen ($4 billion), Palestine ($369 million), Syria ($327 million) and Somalia ($216 million).

 


Saudi aid agency reviews project to protect women in Yemen

KSrelief reviews project to protect women in Yemen. (SPA)
KSrelief reviews project to protect women in Yemen. (SPA)
Updated 21 May 2022

Saudi aid agency reviews project to protect women in Yemen

KSrelief reviews project to protect women in Yemen. (SPA)
  • The center’s humanitarian work is carried out with the cooperation of 175 partners, including UN organizations, as well as local and international NGOs

RIYADH: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center recently took part virtually in a final conference to review a project aimed at protecting and empowering women and girls affected by gender-based violence in Yemen.

The center was represented by Mubarak bin Saeed Al-Dossari, director of the branches department at KSrelief, who said that projects offered by the center had helped 114 million women in 73 countries, at a total cost of almost $534 million.

He said that the center’s humanitarian work is carried out with the cooperation of 175 partners, including UN organizations, as well as local and international NGOs.

Projects and programs offered by the center are customized depending on the beneficiaries and their individual circumstances, Al-Dossari said.

Since its establishment in 2015, KSrelief has been a leading center for relief and humanitarian work, conveying the Kingdom’s values ​​to the world, he added.

Al-Dossari expressed the center’s pride in cooperating with UN Women to ensure knowledge-based sustainability in areas in which they provide protection and empowerment, especially in conflict situations.

Dina Zorba, UN Women representative in Iraq and Yemen, thanked KSrelief for funding the project, as well as designing seven training manuals in accordance with international standards aimed at raising the efficiency of women’s support and protection centers.

The project aims to establish centers for the protection and empowerment of women, and train workers to provide protection programs for women affected by gender-based violence in the governorates of Aden and Taiz.

It also seeks to develop resources, training materials and guides to ensure knowledge-based sustainability.