Saudi Arabia stages first ever Biennale for Islamic Art in Jeddah

Saudi Arabia stages first ever Biennale for Islamic Art in Jeddah
1 / 5
‘Amongst Men’ (2014/2023) installation by Haroon Gunn-Sali. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)
Saudi Arabia stages first ever Biennale for Islamic Art in Jeddah
2 / 5
The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is being staged at the Western Hajj Terminal in Jeddah. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)
Saudi Arabia stages first ever Biennale for Islamic Art in Jeddah
3 / 5
‘The Gravel Mosque’ (2023) by Beya Othmani , Ziad Jamaleddine and Iheb Guermazi. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)
Saudi Arabia stages first ever Biennale for Islamic Art in Jeddah
4 / 5
Mihrab and Qiblah Wall (2022) by Adel Al-Quraishi. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)
Saudi Arabia stages first ever Biennale for Islamic Art in Jeddah
5 / 5
The exhibition showcases many historical artifacts of Islamic significance. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)
Short Url
Updated 27 January 2023

Saudi Arabia stages first ever Biennale for Islamic Art in Jeddah

Saudi Arabia stages first ever Biennale for Islamic Art in Jeddah
  • Jeddah’s inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale celebrates the legacy of Islamic art in a place close to Makkah, the fountainhead and cradle of Islam

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia witnessed a historic moment with the opening of the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale, which presented historic and contemporary works of Islamic art from around the world.

On the evening of Jan. 22, the Western Hajj Terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah was filled with crowds of people waiting in eager anticipation. This was not the usual throng of pilgrims that use the terminal each year to travel to Makkah for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, but one awaiting the beginning of another voyage — a metaphorical one into the realm of Islamic art through the first-ever Islamic Arts Biennale hosted by the Kingdom. 

The crowd gathered under the impressive canopies of the Hajj Terminal, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which won the 1983 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

The biennial event, which includes many newly-commissioned and never-before-seen works of art, marked a historic moment not just for Saudi Arabia and the Diriyah Biennale Foundation that staged the event, but for the legacy of Islamic art, which has witnessed hardly any large-scale international exhibitions since the 1976 World of Islam Festival in London.

Jeddah’s inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale celebrates the legacy of Islamic art in a place close to Makkah, the fountainhead and cradle of Islam, while forging a dialogue between the past, present and future through contemporary artworks by 60 established and emerging artists from Saudi Arabia and around the world, and with over 60 new commissions and 280 historical artifacts. 




“The River Remembers” (2023) by Kamruzzaman Shadhin. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)

The effect is illuminating, mystical and enlightening in that this biennial, like its theme “Awwal Bait” which means “First House” in Arabic, celebrates the beauty and heritage of Islamic art in the birthplace of Islam.

“The Islamic Biennale, staged in this location at the Western Hajj Terminal, has meaning and anticipation for the future,” Saad Alrashid, a leading Saudi scholar, archaeologist and one of the curators of the event, told Arab News.

“Jeddah is the gate of the Haramain and has a deep history. There is an accumulation of strata of civilization in Saudi Arabia and throughout the ages this area was the crossroads of civilization between East and West and up to the North. Staging the Islamic Biennale here presents to the world the idea of connection between all Muslims and everybody that comes and goes from Saudi Arabia geographically, historically and politically.”

In the same vein, the theme “Awwal Bait” explores how the Holy Kaaba in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah aim to inspire Muslims both culturally and metaphysically to explore their sense of belonging and ponder the definition of home.

“At its core, the Biennale is about giving contemporary objects a home by giving them a lineage and giving historic objects a home by giving them a future,” Sumayya Vally, artistic director of the Biennale, told Arab News. 




“Letters in the Light, Lines we Write” (2022) by Muhannad Shono. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)

“Seeing the Biennale come to life through the voices and perspectives of our artists has been profound,” she added. “Each of them has boldly and sensitively taken on the opportunity of this platform to contribute to an emerging discourse on Islamic arts that we hope will continue.”

Staging the Islamic Arts Biennale was the result of a global effort. More than 18 local and international institutions, including the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, alongside artifacts loaned by other prestigious international institutions with an interest in Islamic Arts, such as Benaki Museum in Athens, the History of Science Museum at the University of Oxford, the Louvre in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The Biennale was curated by a multi-disciplinary group of specialists, including Omniya Abdel Barr, an Egyptian architect and Barakat Trust Fellow at the V&A, and Julian Raby, director emeritus of the National Museum of Asian Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

 

 

“It was challenging to find objects that have survived that were made in Makkah and Madinah,” said Abdel Barr to Arab News. “We searched within collections to see how we could create a conversation between historic objects while also keeping in mind the contemporary context and this was the most interesting part.”

Regionally, the Diriyah Biennale Foundation has secured loans for the exhibition from institutions such as the King Abdulaziz Library, the National Museum, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies and King Saud University — all in Riyadh — and Makkah’s Museum of Antiquities and Heritage, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques and Umm Al-Qura University. From the wider region, works have been loaned from the Al-Sabah Collection and Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah in Kuwait, the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, and the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, among others. 




 Ka'bah Door made by Shaikh Mahmoud Yousuf Badr for King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud in 1947. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)

The viewing experience is mystical, like a pilgrimage in itself. It begins in darkness with American Lebanese artist Joseph Namy’s commission “Cosmic Breath” presenting recorded calls to prayer from countries around the world played together, working as if in unison with the installation across the room by Saudi artist Nora Alissa, titled “Epiphamania: The First Light,” which depicts various black and white shots of pilgrims around the Kaaba shot impressively from beneath her abaya. Nearby is an Islamic astrolabe that is positioned towards Makkah. The trio of works mark the first example in the carefully curated show, demonstrating the dialogue generated from historic and contemporary Islamic works of art.

The structure of the Biennale is divided into four galleries and two pavilions that house artworks regarding daily Islamic rituals and Hajj. These sections intend to evoke both personal and collective emotions about the spiritual life of Muslims around the world. 

Large-scale, newly-commissioned works are found outside around the terminal’s expansive and evocative canopies, amid rays of sunlight and views of Jeddah that periodically include airplanes taking off high into the sky. The works outside communicate with nature and the Aga Khan award-winning architecture of the terminal itself.

Outside are also the pavilions of Makkah and Madinah, which present material from the Two Holy Mosques, Masjid Al-Haram and from the Hujra Al-Sharifa in Madinah. The focus here is on the initial journey that the Prophet Mohammad and his followers took from Makkah to Madinah to escape persecution. The objects on display, once again a mixture of historic and contemporary, shed light on the sense of universal belonging that ensues from the Muslim pilgrimage and journey home afterward.

Surrounding the pavilions are works by artists including Dima Srouji, Shahpour Pouyan, Moath Alofi, Reem Al-Faisal, Alia Farid, and Leen Ajlan. 




(AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)

Of note is Bricklab’s architectural installation “Air Pilgrims Accommodation 1958” inspired by Jeddah’s historic Hajj housing, which Vally describes as a site that “gathered people from all over the world to stay in one place — a place for cultural production and trade.”

“The idea emanating from the works outside is for them to generate invitations for gathering, for discussion and exchange,” Vally told Arab News.

This is reflected in Tanzanian artist Lubna Chowdhary’s “The Endless Iftar” which is a 40-meter-long table inspired by rituals of eating and gathering from around the world during Ramadan.

Also positioned outside is “My Place is the Placeless” by Iranian London-based artist Shahpour Pouyan, presenting three large-scale differently colored architectural domes that represent the three major traces in the artist’s DNA after he took a test that revealed his origins go beyond his native Iran to include Scandinavia, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East.

“It’s about human interconnectedness in an effort to break down ethnic labels and identities,” Pouyan explained to Arab News. 




"Wave Catcher" (2023) by Basmah Felemban . (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)

Like the other works on show, Pouyan’s work reflects not just on Islamic culture but on its universality, its ability to connect beyond the Middle East and offer a unifying force that goes beyond religion, nationality and culture.

As Alrashid states: “Islam is a communication of knowledge and culture.”

He added: “Since the 2030 Vision we sense that we are more welcoming just like the Makkans in the past welcomed visitors during Hajj.

“We are showing the whole world how they can enjoy Islamic art,” he said. “The Biennale is not just an exhibition or something from the past — it continues through culture, through integration with the multiculturalism of Muslims.”

Perhaps the most powerful theme of the exhibition is the idea of Islam and its art across the ages as a physical and metaphorical unifying element that continues to connect diverse cultures and people throughout the world. It is also a way, as Vally stressed to Arab News, “to define what it means to be Muslim from our own perspective, through our own art and culture to the rest of the world and to show how Islam has the power to unite us all, even non-Muslims, through its history, traditions and spiritual practices.”


KSrelief Masam project clears 675 mines in Yemen

KSrelief Masam project clears 675 mines in Yemen
Updated 07 February 2023

KSrelief Masam project clears 675 mines in Yemen

KSrelief Masam project clears 675 mines in Yemen

DUBAI: Nearly 675 mines planted by the Houthi militia in Yemen have been dismantled in the Fifth week of 2023 by King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief)’s Masam project.
The mine-clearing team removed a total of 384,980 mines planted by the militia across Yemen since Masam project started, Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

Overseen by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, special teams destroyed hundreds of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, unexploded ordinances and other explosive devices.

The KSrelief project, also known as Masam, is one of several initiatives undertaken by Saudi Arabia on the orders of King Salman to help the Yemeni people.

More than 1.2 million mines have been planted by the Houthi militia, claiming the lives of hundreds of civilians.

The Saudi project trains local demining engineers and provides them with modern equipment. It also provides support to Yemenis injured by the devices.


KSRelief continue its efforts to aid people in need

KSRelief continue its efforts to aid people in need
Updated 07 February 2023

KSRelief continue its efforts to aid people in need

KSRelief continue its efforts to aid people in need

RIYADH: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center’s (KSRelief ) humanitarian efforts in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria continue with securing food parcels for people in need.
In Afghanistan the center distributed 650 food packages to families affected by the floods. And in Pakistan another 600 food parcels were distributed.
The agency has also extended its help to the Syrian people displaced in Jordan, in support to the education of Syrian refugees it distributed 3,262 school bags to students in Amman.


Saudi king, crown prince offer condolences to Erdogan after Turkiye quake

Saudi king, crown prince offer condolences to Erdogan after Turkiye quake
Updated 07 February 2023

Saudi king, crown prince offer condolences to Erdogan after Turkiye quake

Saudi king, crown prince offer condolences to Erdogan after Turkiye quake
  • Prince Mohammed also offered his condolences to the families of victims and wished the injured a speedy recovery
  • Major earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, killing more than 2,600 people on Monday

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman offered their condolences to Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and people after an earthquake rocked the country on Monday.

“We send to you, the families of the victims, and the Turkish people our sincere condolences and sympathy,” King Salman said. “We reiterate our stand with you in this painful event.” He wished the injured a speedy recovery and the missing a safe return.

The major earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, killing more than 2,600 people and flattening thousands of buildings as rescuers dug frantically for survivors.

Prince Mohammed also offered his condolences to the families of victims and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

He added that the Kingdom stands with and supports Turkiye in the face of the natural disaster.

Erdogan thanked the crown prince and said he appreciates the Kingdom’s support in these difficult circumstances.

Multi-storey apartment buildings full of residents were among the 3,400 structures reduced to rubble in Turkey, while Syria announced dozens of collapses, as well as damage to archaeological sites in Aleppo.


How tech solutions are shaping Saudi Arabia’s clean energy transition  

How tech solutions are shaping Saudi Arabia’s clean energy transition  
Updated 07 February 2023

How tech solutions are shaping Saudi Arabia’s clean energy transition  

How tech solutions are shaping Saudi Arabia’s clean energy transition  
  • Adopting sustainable approaches to energy will be critical to achieving net zero, experts tell Arab News at LEAP23
  • Kingdom can maintain its energy leadership through development, sustainability and innovation, says Saudi official 

RIYADH: Technology could provide the sustainable solutions required to combat climate change and drive forward an inclusive clean energy transition, experts said on the sidelines of the LEAP23 Conference in Riyadh on Monday.

Governments and businesses worldwide are responding to rising global temperatures by pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. However, many experts believe these commitments can only be realized through the adoption of new technologies.

At the second edition of LEAP, a four-day annual tech convention, climate scientists rubbed shoulders with industry leaders to explore how technology can help mitigate, or even reverse, the effects of climate change.

Dr. Gasem Fallatah, deputy program director of the Oil Sustainability Program at Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Energy, believes an equitable energy transition can be achieved through inclusiveness with collaborative approaches between governments and industry.

Gasem Fallatah, from the Ministry of Energy’s Oil Sustainability Program. (AN Photo)

“The key word [for energy transition] is inclusiveness,” Fallatah told Arab News on the sidelines of LEAP23.

“We need to consider that when we are moving towards that transition and allowing every nation, geography, and economy to go for what is best suited for them, yet deliver on what you are supposed to deliver.

“In Saudi Arabia, inclusiveness is vital because we cater for all sources of energy: We are not tilted to one form or another. We are very much balanced when it comes to providing energy within the energy mix that we have got, but very much, also, committed to where the transition is and delivering on it.

“And this is why working with an Oil Sustainability Program allows us to find ways and means to continue to utilize our resources in a sustainable way that will enable us to make sure that we are taking advantage of our resources. Yet, we are also meeting our commitments to an energy transition that the world is morphing towards.”

FASTFACTS

• The Saudi and Middle East Green Initiatives integrate environmental protection, energy transition and innovative sustainability programs to achieve a green future.

• Under the umbrella of the two initiatives, Saudi Arabia aims to leverage its expertise, champion scientific innovation, and share best practices with the world.

The program’s focus on three domains — development, sustainability, and innovation — places the Kingdom in a position to move quickly in its energy transition process.

In terms of innovation, the program has been very active in driving new technologies, either by improving the technology readiness level of these applications or scaling it when it is ready for application.

Fallatah added: “We are very active in understanding trends governing or driving the energy ecosystem as we are adamant about not letting go and finding every opportunity to help sustain oil, but also to keep that leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when it comes to that transition.

“We have the legacy of a number of years and we would like to maintain that leadership by contributing to that transition. How do we do it? We do it through development, working on sustainability, but also working on innovation.”

Saudi Arabia has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060. The country has undertaken $1 billion in climate change initiatives as part of the Saudi Green Initiative, which seeks to establish a regional carbon capture and storage center, an early storm warning center, and cloud-seeding programs as part of its efforts to create a greener future.

Youngsters call for action on emissions. (AFP)

The Saudi Green Initiative includes plans to plant 450 million trees and rehabilitate 8 million hectares of degraded lands by 2030, reducing 200 million tons of carbon emissions with additional initiatives to be announced in the years to come.

Saudi Arabia has launched and built several major renewable energy projects, taking advantage of its natural potential in solar and wind. It aims to generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030, with the remaining 50 percent coming from natural gas.

The Kingdom also aims to become a world leader in hydrogen power and is investing in nuclear energy.

Although achieving a net-zero economy within 30 to 40 years may sound daunting, dozens of renewable energy breakthroughs are on the horizon, with many now making their way onto the market, as firms make their own net-zero pledges and invest in clean energy technologies.

For the transition to remain technically and economically feasible and beneficial, policy initiatives must steer the global energy transition toward a sustainable energy system.

The LEAP Conference attendees watch a demonstration. (Supplied)

Sustainable transition strategies typically consist of three significant technological changes: Energy savings on the demand side, generation efficiency at the production level, and fossil fuel substitution by various renewable energy sources and low-carbon nuclear.

Large-scale renewable energy adoption includes measures to improve the efficiency of existing non-renewable sources, which still have a substantial cost-reduction and stabilization role.

Experts warn that failure to act on emissions and the energy transition would be catastrophic.

“There will be no jobs on a dead planet. If we want prosperity for our people, we need to ensure prosperity in a land that thrives,” Dr. Paul Toyne, Grimshaw SD practice leader and expert adviser on environmental and sustainability goals, told Arab News at LEAP23.

“We do know that climate change is one of the largest or biggest threats to our planet and to our livelihoods, but we also know that if we solve climate change, we don’t necessarily solve the other issues that happened. So once we have a climate crisis, we also have a biodiversity crisis.”

Although governments are looking into ways of transitioning from oil and gas to renewables, Toyne stresses that the process will take some time, even with the right planning and investment.

He said: “We need to make our cities resilient to climate change and recognize that it will get worse, and adapt to create resilience.

“If we tackle the climate change solution with technologies and we flip over to renewables very quickly and restore the equilibrium in terms of carbon pollution, how do we restore the other ecosystems that we need?

“All of these economies and sectors need to go through a self-correction, which needs to be driven by the right policies and governance and financing of regenerative sectors.

“This takes us into a space of the unknown, but as a society we have more tools at our disposal, digital tools and breakthroughs in science, to provide solutions.”

Putting the world on a path to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050-60 requires a substantial increase in capital-intensive clean energy assets.

The four-day annual tech convention in Riyadh is in its second year. (Supplied)

Some believe this could hamper the energy transition process due to cost, but climate finance professionals such as Gerhard Mulder, CEO and co-founder of Climate Risk Services, believe this is not necessarily the case.

“There are upfront costs to a transition to a low-carbon economy, and numbers that are being thrown around in the trillions and, yes, in that sense it is very costly,” he told Arab News.

“However, if you look at electricity, for example, in more than half of the world, solar and wind are already more cost efficient than most fossil fuel-powered forms of generation.”

At a time when many countries face macroeconomic crises, due in part to the disruptions caused by the conflict in Ukraine, Mulder believes innovations will help stabilize energy, even in times of volatility. Indeed, by transitioning to low-carbon economies, “we’ll have more stable societies,” he said.

“The key word is building resilience and that means you are preparing yourself for an unstable future, preparing for unpredictable events, so that you can manage multiple scenarios,” he added.

Although the climate challenge at times feels insurmountable, Mulder claims he has never felt as optimistic about humanity’s response as he does today.

“When I first started working [in the climate field] many denied the science,” he said. “Today, nobody can. Many said that it’s a future problem, but the problem is here already. We have a finite amount of time, which is the bad news, but this is the decade we need to do it.

“There’s plenty of money available and plenty of technology available to invest in disruptive technologies, and we can already do so much with existing technologies by creating new markets so we can scale up the process.”


Logitech survey unveiled at LEAP23 reveals hybrid working creates an uneven playing field

Logitech survey unveiled at LEAP23 reveals hybrid working creates an uneven playing field
Updated 07 February 2023

Logitech survey unveiled at LEAP23 reveals hybrid working creates an uneven playing field

Logitech survey unveiled at LEAP23 reveals hybrid working creates an uneven playing field
  • 59 percent of those polled agreed their input would be valued more if they were physically attending a meeting
  • However, 52 percent of respondents said they would prefer a hybrid or fully remote work arrangement

RIYADH: Logitech on Monday announced the results of its hybrid meeting survey at LEAP 2023. 

The survey, polling more than 500 white-collar workers, examined the state of current working arrangements, the impacts of hybrid work on meetings, and the challenges that business leaders and employees face in this new way of working. 

As employees returned to physical office spaces, the report revealed that 52 percent of respondents would prefer to work either in a hybrid or fully remote work arrangement. 

“The Kingdom is placing great emphasis on digital transformation in line with Saudi Vision 2030 to unlock its vast economic potential. Furthermore, as companies prepare for the future of work, technology will be the game changer, closing the gap between traditional and hybrid workplaces and creating a smarter, more agile, and creative local workforce,” said Loubna Imenchal, head of enterprise business at Logitech, Africa, Middle East, Turkey and Central Asia. 

The hybrid meeting survey revealed that 39 percent of respondents who have joined a hybrid meeting virtually felt that they had fewer opportunities to build rapport with other participants. Additionally, 59 percent agreed that their input would be valued more if they were attending the meeting physically instead of virtually, and 40 percent felt less included as compared to in-person meeting participants. 

While 73 percent of respondents agree that hybrid meetings would be more productive if all participants had an equal chance to speak and contribute, 61 percent of those who participate in hybrid meetings in-person shared that they tend to engage more with participants that are in the same room. 

Respondents said that technical issues are the most significant challenges with hybrid meetings, with connectivity issues (43 percent) and poor audio quality (40 percent) ranking amongst the top concerns. 

In addition, 34 percent of respondents also shared that having to repeat themselves due to participants not being able to hear them clearly also was an issue they experienced during hybrid meetings. 

Other common issues such as participants not paying attention (30 percent), poor video quality (29 percent), participants being late (33 percent) and getting talked over by other participants during meetings (29 percent) were also cited as challenges in hybrid meetings.

To improve on these issues, organizations in the Kingdom must ensure that employees have access to critical technology, including network connectivity and video conferencing devices. Video collaboration technology should be a part of organizations’ digitalization plans to be successful in the future of work.  

In fact, the survey revealed the critical role of video conferencing technology in solving the meeting equity problem. More than 7 in 10 respondents (62 percent) agreed that hybrid meetings are more engaging when video conferencing systems with high-quality audio and video output are used. 

Organizations should implement enterprise-grade tools and solutions to bridge the gap in hybrid meetings such as meeting room devices, personal collaboration devices such as headsets and webcams to ensure overall quality and experience of video meetings. 

In today’s increasingly hybrid-based work environment, there are several key aspects companies must consider to enable seamless collaboration, foster engagement, and place virtual meeting participants on equal footing with their counterparts in the conference room:

Equip: Provide teams with enterprise-level equipment such as in-room video conferencing systems, webcams, microphones, and earbuds. This enables organizations to build a consistent, reliable experience that is natively integrated with its ecosystem of choice. Video conferencing systems also provide remote participants with a full view of everyone in the office meeting room through multiple cameras with different perspectives, placing them in the best seat in the room and help them feel more included, leading to more engaging, collaborative meetings.

Simplify: With employees constantly switching between in-office and home work environments, creating an easy employee experience by ensuring that the home office closely resembles their office set-up will emerge as a top priority for organizations. Companies will have to identify pain points for both in-office and virtual meeting participants when setting up internal hybrid meeting systems, considering factors such as usability and complexity of equipment and meeting set-ups. 

Empower: Fostering meeting equity requires facilitators and organizers to take an active approach to empower and encourage engagement from virtual participants. They have to practice active facilitation, minimize visual and audio clutter, and minimize side conversations.

The mix of remote and in-person participants, especially in hybrid work arrangements, create unique challenges for companies wanting to run inclusive and participative meetings. Nevertheless, modern video conference technologies such as those from Logitech allow meeting organizers to make the world of work more equitable and productive.