‘Exciting, overwhelming’: Officials and visitors hail Islamic Arts Biennale in Jeddah

The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Photo/Diriyah Biennale Foundation)
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The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Photo/Diriyah Biennale Foundation)
‘Exciting, overwhelming’: Officials and visitors hail Islamic Arts Biennale in Jeddah
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The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Photo/Diriyah Biennale Foundation)
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Updated 30 January 2023

‘Exciting, overwhelming’: Officials and visitors hail Islamic Arts Biennale in Jeddah

The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Supplied)
  • US art professors praise Saudi pride in national narrative

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.




The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Photo/Diriyah Biennale Foundation)

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.




The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Photo/Diriyah Biennale Foundation)

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.

FASTFACTS

• 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.




The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Photo/Diriyah Biennale Foundation)

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.




The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Photo/Diriyah Biennale Foundation)

“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.




The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Photo/Diriyah Biennale Foundation)

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.




The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Photo/Diriyah Biennale Foundation)

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.




The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Photo/Diriyah Biennale Foundation)

“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 inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Photo/Diriyah Biennale Foundation)

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.




The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is showcasing 280 rare and priceless artifacts. (Photo/Diriyah Biennale Foundation)

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.

 


Saudi Arabia’s traditional souqs exude Ramadan vibes

Saudi Arabia’s traditional souqs exude Ramadan vibes
Updated 26 March 2023

Saudi Arabia’s traditional souqs exude Ramadan vibes

Saudi Arabia’s traditional souqs exude Ramadan vibes
  • Bustling with tourists and residents, souqs are the beating heart of Saudi cities

RIYADH: Souqs are the best place to buy Ramadan essentials — food, decoration or fashion — and to experience the hustle and bustle of the holy month.

Souq, meaning market in Arabic, is a modern shopping destination but with an old-world charm.

May AlSheikh, reservoir geoscientist at Aramco, spoke with Arab News to explain the importance of souqs in the Middle Eastern culture.

AlUla’s Old Town is a serene marketplace with a beautiful view of mountains. (Supplied)

“Souqs are historical shopping and trading scenes that have been around for thousands of years. I strongly believe they remain an essential component for preserving culture and identity in Saudi Arabia, on the local scale, and the Middle East region as a whole,” Alsheikh said.  

Alsheikh believes the souq is a place where tourists can indulge in culture and get a taste of tradition.  

“I work in a company that is a cultural melting pot with people coming from all walks of life, and I always recommend my expatriate colleagues to visit souqs — they love it! It’s a great tourist attraction and a pleasant activity, where they enjoy the traditional ambiance while purchasing traditional goods and foods,” she said.

AlKhobar’s Al-Swekit Souq

One of the oldest souqs in the Eastern Province, Al-Swekit Souq, is a hub for affordable gold jewelry and abayas.  

AlUla’s Old Town is a serene marketplace with a beautiful view of mountains. (Supplied)

AlSheikh visits the Al-Swekit Souq during the month of Ramadan to buy all sorts of things for herself and the family.   

Souqs are historical shopping and trading scenes that have been around for thousands of years ... they remain an essential component for preserving culture and identity in Saudi Arabia, on the local scale, and the Middle East region as a whole.

May AlSheikh, Reservoir geoscientist at Aramco

“Shopping in Swekit market is fun, especially around this time of the year with the holy month of Ramadhan fast-approaching. The shops in Swekit usually sell a variety of traditional merchandise and local produce. I personally love buying abayas, spices and customary festive attire for myself and the kids,” she said.  

Jeddah’s Al-Balad Souqs

Al-Balad is Jeddah’s oldest neighborhood, founded in 7th century AD, and is home to a plethora of some of the oldest traditional markets: Souq Al-Badu‎, Souq Qabil, Souq Alawi, Souq Nada, Souq Al-Khaskeya, Souq Bab Al-Makkah and Souq Bab Shareef.

The souqs have a variety of shops to explore, selling gold, textiles, honey, spices and much more. Some of these markets have been around for decades and hold a special place in the hearts of locals.  

AlUla’s Old Town is a serene marketplace with a beautiful view of mountains. (Supplied)

“It is a lively, enjoyable, and unpretentious social activity where you see people from different backgrounds and economic classes shop and interact together. And, quite frankly, that’s the beauty of it! It breaks social norms, shrinks the social and economic classes’ gap, and promotes a healthy, inclusive society. In addition to that, souqs give thrive to small-scale businesses which feed into the overall economic growth,” AlSheikh said.  

Just make sure to put your bargaining hats on to show off some negotiation skills.

AlUla’s Old Town Souq

Julian Ryall, Japan correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, visited The Old Town Souq in AlUla, where community locals set up clothing shops, fruit stands, pottery and crafts, and cafes amid a beautiful view of the mountains.

“Any foreign visitor who comes to Saudi Arabia is going to want to visit a souq. It has to be one of the most important elements of a trip, as important as drinking tea on a trip to England,” Ryall said.

He added: “I loved the hustle and bustle of market, of the stall-holders calling out to passers-by, of being encouraged to haggle on prices and just the items that were available,” Ryall said.

“The local gold shop was the perfect place. I was embarrassingly bad at haggling so the owner took pity on me and gave me a discount anyway. I think I’ll tell my wife I did haggle the price down when I give her the earrings.”  

Riyadh’s Almaigliah Souq

Established in 1986, Almaigliah Souq is the first wholesales traditional market in Riyadh located next to Al-Masmak Fort.  

The complex consists of four buildings, each specializing in a genre of shopping: gold, women’s clothing, men’s apparel, and perfume.  

Almaigliah is best known for their great deals on the best Arabian ouds perfume, spices and women’s abayas.

For almost three decades, this souq has attracted tourists from all over the world and continues to be a retail destination for locals.  

 


Who’s Who: Abdulrahman K Justaniah, first Saudi to become a partner at global strategy consulting firm Kearney

Abdulrahman K Justaniah
Abdulrahman K Justaniah
Updated 26 March 2023

Who’s Who: Abdulrahman K Justaniah, first Saudi to become a partner at global strategy consulting firm Kearney

Abdulrahman K Justaniah

Abdulrahman K Justaniah is the first Saudi to become a partner at the elite global strategy consulting firm Kearney.

Justaniah joined in January 2022 while being part of the strategic operations practice and supporting the firm’s growth in the region. He has been part of many of the transformational projects in the Kingdom supporting clients as a trusted adviser.

Previously he had several public and private sector leadership roles. The most recent was vice-president of strategy and excellence at the Expenditure and Project Efficiency Authority in 2021.

The authority was established in 2017 to support Saudi Arabia’s efficiency, project execution, operations and maintenance for all spending through the public budget.

He joined the authority as the fifth employee during the startup and served in multiple leadership roles.

Before his vice-presidency role, he held the same position for strategy and shared services from 2020 to 2021, and was executive director of strategy and organizational excellence from 2019 to 2020.

He also worked as executive director of the strategic procurement unit from 2017-2019 and led the establishment of the strategic procurement unit to increase government efficiency, and led the organizational design, developed processes, and set up governance with more than 450 government entities across the Kingdom.

Before that Justaniah worked with Procter & Gamble as manufacturing director in Dammam from 2015 to 2017 and led part of Dammam’s manufacturing operations.

He has also worked with P&G as regional supply chain director/IMEA demand planning leader in Cairo, transition and startup director, market planning senior manager, project manager and supply planning manager.

Justaniah obtained a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran. He also completed leadership courses, pathways to leadership process, GROW Coaching, situational leadership and emerging leaders.

 


Installation of 120 areas for prayer, 12,000 Zamzam water containers at Grand Mosque

Installation of 120 areas for prayer, 12,000 Zamzam water containers at Grand Mosque
Updated 26 March 2023

Installation of 120 areas for prayer, 12,000 Zamzam water containers at Grand Mosque

Installation of 120 areas for prayer, 12,000 Zamzam water containers at Grand Mosque
  • Visitors to the Grand Mosque will be given the opportunity to learn more about the Prophet Muhammad following an initiative by the presidency to enrich the experience of those attending the site during Ramadan

RIYADH: The Grand Mosque in Makkah boasts 120 areas for prayer and 12,000 containers of Zamzam water to help ensure a comfortable visit for pilgrims during Ramadan.

People at the location have worked round the clock on the third Northern expansion to make the mosque as safe and as hospitable as possible for visitors during the holy month.

The General Presidency of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque has prepared some 120 areas for prayer at the site. New additions to help visitors include several allocated doors for entry and exit.

Walid Al-Masoudi, the director of the General Administration of the Third Saudi Expansion at the Grand Mosque, said that the specially allocated doors would facilitate the arrival of worshippers and aid them on their way to prayer rooms on the ground and first floors, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

He added that the roof level will be used for the first time, and in the event that the internal areas of the Grand Mosque are filled, the northern and western courtyards and parts of the service buildings will be utilized as they have the capacity to accommodate more visitors.

Al-Masoudi said that in coordination with the specialized agencies and authorities, some 26 elevators had been installed.

He added: “All the praying areas of the mosque have been provided with 22,000 carpets and over 12,000 containers of Zamzam water.”

Visitors to the Grand Mosque will be given the opportunity to learn more about the Prophet Muhammad following an initiative by the presidency to enrich the experience of those attending the site during Ramadan.

 


Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visits Madinah

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received by Madinah governor Prince Faisal bin Salman and other key officials. (Supplied)
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received by Madinah governor Prince Faisal bin Salman and other key officials. (Supplied)
Updated 26 March 2023

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visits Madinah

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received by Madinah governor Prince Faisal bin Salman and other key officials. (Supplied)
  • Crown Prince visited Quba Mosque and performed the Tahiyat Al-Masjid prayer

MADINAH: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Madinah and performed prayers at the Prophet’s Mosque, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

The crown prince was greeted on arrival by Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, president of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, and other imams and officials of the mosque.

He also visited Quba Mosque and performed the Tahiyat Al-Masjid prayer (a way of greeting the mosque). He was accompanied by Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman and other key officials.

 

 


Bisat Al-Reeh festival returns to Jeddah for 22nd year

Bisat Al-Reeh festival returns to Jeddah for 22nd year
Updated 26 March 2023

Bisat Al-Reeh festival returns to Jeddah for 22nd year

Bisat Al-Reeh festival returns to Jeddah for 22nd year
  • More than 170 exhibitors from 15 countries including Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon, Turkiye, Egypt, London, India and Jordan are taking part

JEDDAH: One of the biggest festivals in the Islamic world dedicated to women is holding its 22nd event in Jeddah as part of the Kingdom’s Ramadan Season.

The National Charity Foundation for Home Health Care, also known as We Care, is holding its ‘Bisat Al-Reeh’ event for six days starting on Monday at the Jeddah Superdome under the slogan “Everlasting Goodness.” 

The annual exhibition this year has two days for families and four dedicated exclusively for women to promote their creativity in fashion, jewelry and furniture and nurture young talent.

Bisat Al-Reeh is held under the patronage of Princess Adelah bint Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and in the presence of Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan.

More than 170 exhibitors from 15 countries including Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon, Turkiye, Egypt, London, India and Jordan are taking part. Uzbekistan will also be represented for the first time. 

We Care said Bisat Al-Reeh encourages entrepreneurs to exchange knowledge and experience with elite society members and promotes the display of various related industrial sectors.

Proceeds have supported We Care charitable programs and activities in home healthcare and hospitals.

Princess Adelah, the chairwoman of the foundation’s board of trustees, told Arab News at last year’s event: “The foundation works for noble goals, as today it serves ten different regions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“Its goals fall within providing home health care in addition to providing patients’ psychological and social needs and supporting them with medical equipment and supplies, as well as enhancing the functional capabilities of the patients and supporting them until they regain their independence.”

Ramadan Season also offers a series of cultural experiences and events in Riyadh, Jeddah and Makkah organized by the Saudi Ministry of Culture.

The season aims to celebrate areas of the Kingdom’s historical and cultural heritage that relate to the holy month.