RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Culture opened its first cultural center, Fenaa Alawwal, on Thursday in Riyadh.
The new arts and culture center is located in the former headquarters of the Kingdom’s first commercial bank — Alawwal Bank — in the Saudi capital’s Diplomatic Quarter. It is one of Riyadh’s most-recognizable landmarks, with traditional geometric patterns typical of Saudi Arabia around its cylindrical edifice.
Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan and various other dignitaries from the cultural and diplomatic sectors attended the opening ceremony, which was marked by a light show.
The ministry established Fenaa Alawwal as part of its efforts to fulfill the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 and to “encourage culture as a way of life.” It is intended to be a cultural and creative hub which will offer a wide range of cultural activities, including exhibitions and workshops, and bring together a diverse community of thinkers, creators and leading talents.
The center includes a library dedicated to art books, and a restaurant and cafe called Circle 3 by Acoustic.
Explaining the center’s mission, director Rola Alghrair told Arab News: “Fenaa Alawwal will gather diverse minds in a unique space that inspires cultural exploration and discovery through creative and artistic activities.”
She added: “From next year, our programs aim to directly involve embassies; from ideation to implementation, all activities will be the product of cross-cultural collaboration and exchange.”
The center’s opening exhibition is “The Memory Deposit,” which runs until Feb. 28. Entry is free from Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Inspired by the building’s former role as a bank, the exhibition explores the history of Saudi currency and features work from six contemporary artists based on from milestones of Saudi heritage, identity and culture depicted on the Kingdom’s coinage and banknotes.
Saudi artist Saddek Wassel, whose work is part of the show, told Arab News: “My artwork shows a man sitting on a rock, contemplating nature and (his surroundings). This artwork is in close dialogue with the historical depth behind the place that hosts it — the sculpture garden at the Fenaa Alawwal Culture Center — because this center has a history. It is also about a man contemplating the history and background of his people and his country.”
Argentinian artist Carola Zech contributed a mirrored work called “Us” to the show. “It is meant to be an interactive work,” she said. “People can move through most of the parts and then can build different spaces, but they are collective social spaces because when you interact with one of these, other people can interact with you. It is a work without hard limits. You construct the limits.”
The landmark building that is now Fenaa Alawwal first opened in 1988 and was recently placed under the custody of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, in line with Saudi Vision 2030’s National Transformation Program, of which culture is an essential component.