‘Exciting, overwhelming’: Officials and visitors hail Islamic Arts Biennale in Jeddah
US art professors praise Saudi pride in national narrative
Updated 30 January 2023
JEDDAH: After several years in the making, Jeddah’s Islamic Arts Biennale is offering visitors from across the Kingdom and around the globe ‘eye-opening’ access to Islamic art.
Themed “Awwal Bait,” or “The First House,” the event is taking place at the 1983 Aga Khan award-winning Western Hajj Terminal, which began accepting guests on the Jan. 23 launch.
The 118,000-square-meter space is housing five galleries, two pavilions and one grand canopy, 280 artifacts, as well as more than 50 new commissioned artworks from around the Muslim world.
Rakan Al-Touq, the vivacious vice chair of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, and also general supervisor of cultural affairs and international relations at the Ministry of Culture, hailed the event’s launch success.
Wearing a crisp white thobe and flashing a genuine smile, Al-Touq was visibly moved by how the event came together.
“We were super excited — this is a project a few years in the making, since 2019. It’s also been a passion project for me, personally. And we have a stellar group of people who came together for this project — a small but mighty team,” he told Arab News.
Al-Touq stressed the need for non-commercial experiences in which all hands are brought on deck to elevate concepts and cultures within Islamic art.
Bringing together never-before-seen priceless artifacts juxtaposed with freshly commissioned contemporary pieces within the space was like building a jigsaw puzzle from scratch, he added.
• Bringing together never-before-seen priceless artifacts juxtaposed with freshly commissioned contemporary pieces within the space was like building a jigsaw puzzle from scratch, said Rakan Al-Touq, the vice chair of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation.
• The Islamic Arts Biennale is also meant to serve as a global reframe of Islamic art as a discipline, with the diversity of curators at the Islamic Arts Biennale a notable achievement.
To create a cohesive and visually stunning space in which different areas and sensibilities were represented was quite a feat, Al-Touq said. Securing the iconic location to launch the world’s very first Islamic biennale was also significant to him and the team, he added.
Al-Touq said that the cooperation and support from the Saudi leadership, including Prince Badr Al-Saud, the minister of culture and governor of the Royal Commission for AlUla, has ensured the success of the monumental project.
The vice-chair’s praise went beyond the glamorous opening night ceremony, attended by many members of the royal family and public.
He took pride in the fact that half of the artists taking part in the event are Saudi.
“In 2019, we were planning for 2023 and the meeting point of doing something that is so, frankly, related to the identity of the Ministry of Culture and to Saudi Arabia, in a format that has never been done.
“To think about a biennale format for Islamic arts, that can bring together ancient history and current, and hopefully inspire future productions of art, just felt like the right thing to do.
We’re just really moved and we just feel like students, wide-eyed observing and learning, and taking it all in. It’s going to be amazing to take that all back into our classrooms.
Dr. Stephennie Mulder, Professor in Islamic Art at University of Austin, US
“The team and the Diriyah Biennale Foundation started looking at options of locations and how we ended up here at the Hajj Terminal is also an important thing,” Al-Touq said.
CEO of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation Aya Al-Bakree, Al-Touq’s co-pilot in launching the event, said: “We are keen for people to join the dialog and experience the sense of community that the faith can evoke through art.”
The Islamic Arts Biennale is also meant to serve as a global reframe of Islamic art as a discipline , with the diversity of curators at the Islamic Arts Biennale a notable achievement.
Jennifer Pruitt, assistant professor in Islamic Art History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, traveled from the US to the Kingdom to visit the biennale with her friend, Dr. Stephennie Mulder, a professor in Islamic Art at the University of Austin, US.
Although immersed in the Middle East through their work, the two had very few expectations but were cautiously optimistic about their first visit to the Kingdom.
Before basking in the works displayed at the Islamic Arts Biennale, they spent eight whirlwind hours in Madinah and managed to explore AlUla before arriving in Jeddah.
“It's been a really exciting and overwhelming experience. My friend and I are here together and we’re both professors of Islamic arts. We’ve read about this space — we’ve read about Saudi Arabia,” Pruitt said.
“I knew that people would be friendly and warm, which everyone has been, in fact. We were commenting on the fact that unlike any trip we’ve taken, we literally haven’t encountered anyone that has been rude or annoying.
“Really everyone has been exceptionally warm and forthcoming,” she told Arab News.
“We’ve been to a lot of Islamic art shows and I think I think we all … we both agree that this is kind of in a really high category of quality and ambition, and execution,” she added.
The pair’s trip to Madinah was eye-opening — something that they were happy to experience first before venturing to the biennale.
“It was really powerful to see people kind of streaming to this sacred spot in Madinah. It was incredibly moving,” Mulder told Arab News.
“What we teach in our classes, which is that the power of Islam is all of these people converging like that … that that the power is not in the relic or in the architecture, but in these places where people pray … and I think that was really embodied seeing all these people from all over the world streaming into Madinah,” she added.
Due to earlier periods of restrictions, Saudi Arabia had been absent from the center of the Islamic art world for a long time.
But the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the introduction of tourist visas as well as academic trips has sought to change that.
“For me, like Jennifer, I just wanted to come here and be a student, and learn and observe,” Mulder said.
“We have this feeling that we’re here at the moment … of a people really discovering and being proud of and being able to construct their national narrative collectively.
“And having the freedom to do that — maybe for the first time very openly, and with a kind of joy.”
Both professors said that the enriching experience has encouraged them to change the way they teach upon their return to the US.
Although a picture is worth a thousand words, the pair said that Islamic art archive images are often “sterile,” and fail to encapsulate the feeling of experiencing art in person.
The sensation of standing beneath a monument while the Adhan (call to prayer) reverberates cannot be replicated through archives, they said.
The two professors are also keen to work and collaborate with Saudi archaeologists.
“We’re just really moved and we just feel like students, wide-eyed observing and learning, and taking it all in. It’s going to be amazing to take that all back into our classrooms,” Mulder said.
“I’m going to teach differently now; it’s kind of been percolating for a few days. I was telling Jennifer, even to have photographs of things we didn’t know before.
“We’re both architectural historians — it’s really important for us to have a sense of space and how people move through it.”
The biennale is free of charge for all visitors. It is also hosting 117 education workshops and more than 25 panel discussions.
The public programming schedule, including talks and screenings, is updated in real time.
The Islamic Arts Biennale, launched to the public on Jan. 23, will remain open until April 23.
Tickets can be booked via the official Diriyah Biennale website and on social media channels.
The space is open for visitors to roam the grounds and exhibits between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and Thursdays, and between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Fridays.
Mexican art makes a big impact at Boulevard World in Riyadh
Visitors can also see a replica of the Chichen Itza pyramid — an archaeological site which is a popular tourist attraction — in the Mexican subzone, along with unique artifacts and sculptures from different civilizations
Updated 30 January 2023
RIYADH: Mexican artisans are highlighting all their creative skills at Boulevard World in Riyadh.
The site, which is Riyadh Season’s largest zone, is showcasing the cultural diversity of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the US in 10 specially designed areas.
Boulevard World offers a unique experience through the location’s restaurants, arts markets, cable car rides, games area and daily shows.
Mexican women can be viewed skillfully applying distinctive art to pottery to highlight their country’s rich artistic identity.
Meanwhile, other talented people, sporting Mexican hats, showcase dolls inspired by famous cartoon characters.
Visitors can also see a replica of the Chichen Itza pyramid — an archaeological site which is a popular tourist attraction — in the Mexican subzone, along with unique artifacts and sculptures from different civilizations.
Viewers of the American area can watch live Hollywood shows while being served the country’s signature dishes.
The Moroccan subzone puts its focus on history and culture, including a traditional wedding and a puppet show.
A lion show, dancing, dragons and folk music all give a taste of Chinese culture in that country’s subzone, while the French area boasts several highlights, including a silent show and the Eiffel Tower piano, making it one of the most popular attractions at Boulevard World.
The Indian subzone has been created to attract visitors with its diverse sights, sounds, and smells. Dance and music are central to the experience, and there is a film of the country’s most striking architecture, including the Taj Mahal.
Makkah governor inaugurates Hira Cultural District project
Prince Khalid Al-Faisal inaugurated project; first phase to include Revelation Gallery, Holy Qur’an Museum, and more
Updated 30 January 2023
MAKKAH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal inaugurated the Hira Cultural District project on Sunday in a ceremony held at the district’s headquarters at the foot of Mount Hira in Makkah.
The Hira Cultural District aims to enrich the religious and cultural experience of visitors, especially at sites that hold historical importance for Muslims.
Saleh bin Ibrahim Al-Rasheed, CEO of the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites, praised the unwavering support of the Makkah governor for the project.
Al-Rasheed said that he is hopeful the project will succeed in its objectives as part of Saudi Vision 2030.
The project is implemented by Samaya Investment Co. in cooperation with other competent entities. It consists of the Revelation Gallery, the Holy Qur’an Museum, and various cultural elements and services.
The district seeks to be a suitable family place with a hall dedicated to children, where they can enjoy various entertaining and educational activities. Visitors will also be able to have a good time at the Hira park, enjoying nature, cafes, restaurants, and other facilities.
The Revelation Gallery will highlight the revelations made to the Prophet Muhammed through an advanced technical presentation. The visitor can enjoy a real-dimension model of Hira cave where he is believed to have received the first revelation of the Holy Qur’an.
The Revelation Gallery aims to acquaint visitors with the history and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad’s mission, through presentations from the pre-Islamic era to the present.
The Holy Qur’an Museum introduces the sacred text, spreads its message and universality, and depicts its impact on the lives of Muslims through a wide system of modern technologies and distinctive collectibles, in addition to displaying a collection of precious manuscripts.
Work is also underway to execute a road equipped with signs and safety measures for those wishing to climb the mountain to reach the cave.
The district seeks to be a suitable family place with a hall dedicated to children, where they can enjoy various entertaining and educational activities.
Visitors will also be able to have a good time at the Hira park, enjoying nature, cafes, restaurants, and other facilities.
This is the first phase of the Hira Cultural District project, executed under the direct supervision of the Royal Commission for Makkah City and the Holy Sites, in cooperation with Makkah province, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Tourism, the Municipality of Makkah, the Pilgrims Service Program and the General Authority of Endowments.
It aims to develop the site in a manner befitting its historical status, and the status of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the cradle of Islam and home of various holy places and historical sites.
Saudi Health Ministry launches child vaccination e-certificate
Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said that the Ministry of Health has seen an increase in influenza cases this season
Updated 30 January 2023
RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Health has launched the child vaccination e-certificate as an alternative to the paper certificate card, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Monday.
This initiative is part of the digital transformation within the health sector, facilitating health services for citizens and allowing them to keep track of critically-important vaccinations.
Parents can register their children’s vaccinations through the documentation clinic in health centers or self-register through the Sehhaty app so they can easily refer to it at any time.
The ministry created Sehhaty to provide health services to individuals in the Kingdom. The app allows users to access health information and obtain several health services offered by various authorities in the health sector.
Last month, the Ministry of Health urged citizens and residents to take the flu vaccine, saying that it is effective and safe and helps to reduce pressure on the nation’s hospitals and clinics.
Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said that the most effective way to confront influenza is to take the vaccine.
Al-Aly said that the vaccine is 80 percent effective, which would help reduce the strain on the health system, particularly through reduced admissions to intensive care units. Booking can be done through the Sehhaty app, he added.
Al-Aly said that the Ministry of Health has seen an increase in influenza cases this season. He said the flu may cause severe complications that can lead to death.
He added that millions of people worldwide contract the flu every year, with many of the most vulnerable being hospitalized. Those most at risk include children under the age of five, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, respiratory illnesses including asthma and heart disease.
Al-Aly urged members of the public to avoid crowded places, wash their hands thoroughly, not touch their eyes and mouths directly, use tissues when sneezing or coughing, and wear a mask.
He said people with the flu display various symptoms including shivering and sweating, a temperature of over 38 C, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, persistent cough, and runny nose.