‘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
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‘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 and US defense ministers discuss ties during call

Saudi and US defense ministers discuss ties during call
Updated 52 min 29 sec ago
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Saudi and US defense ministers discuss ties during call

Saudi and US defense ministers discuss ties during call
  • During the call, they discussed ways to strengthen bilateral relations in the defense field

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Defense Prince Khalid bin Salman has received a phone call from US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Thursday.

The parties discussed ways to strengthen bilateral relations in defense matters.

Prince Khalid later said in a post on X: “We reviewed the defense relations between our two countries and discussed the latest regional and international developments.”

Prince Khalid traveled to Washington last month to meet with top Biden administration officials to discuss the war in Gaza and the prevailing security situation in Yemen.


How Saudi Arabia’s green initiatives seek to advance sustainability goals of water-starved Middle East

How Saudi Arabia’s green initiatives seek to advance sustainability goals of water-starved Middle East
Updated 07 December 2023
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How Saudi Arabia’s green initiatives seek to advance sustainability goals of water-starved Middle East

How Saudi Arabia’s green initiatives seek to advance sustainability goals of water-starved Middle East
  • Up to 83 percent of MENA population found to be experiencing water scarcity owing to impact of climate change
  • Most Saudi consumers consider government leaders more concerned than business counterparts about water shortage and climate change

DUBAI: The global research nonprofit World Resources Institute says approximately 83 percent of the population in the Middle East and North Africa region faces water stress owing to the impact of climate change.

Despite being judged the globe’s richest country in terms of natural resources, Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most water-scarce countries. While the global benchmark for absolute water scarcity is 500 cubic meters per capita annually, Saudi Arabia’s availability is only 89.5 cubic meters.

As long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns cause water bodies to dry up, Saudi Arabia and its neighbors face a common challenge, that of providing their citizens and residents a reasonably good standard of living in the world’s most arid region.

In efforts to drive change, Saudi Arabia is taking a leading role in global forums, leveraging its influence at the G20 intergovernmental forum and the Clean Energy Ministerial to highlight not only environmental concerns but also regional expertise.

Nowhere is that more evident than at the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference, or COP28, in Dubai where Jean-Francois Gagne, head of the secretariat at the Clean Energy Ministerial, stressed the importance of regional coordination in advancing ambitions to address climate change.

About 53 percent of Saudi consumers listed clean and safe water as a significant environmental concern. (AFP)

“Saudi Arabia has the advantage of being at the G20 table, allowing it to play a leadership role in bringing regional knowledge and environmental concerns to the international table. This is crucial because we need all regions of the world to move forward together,” Gagne previously told Arab News.

“When you have regional champions, it really helps making sure that there’s no one that gets left behind in terms of advancing our clean energy goals.”

In parallel, there has been a noticeable change in the Saudi public’s perception of the challenges posed by climate change in recent times.

The Ecolab Watermark Study, a global survey that measures consumers’ perception of water across 15 countries, indicates a high level of awareness by Saudi consumers, and both concern and optimism about overcoming climate challenges.

According to the study, which was launched in 2023, about 53 percent of Saudi consumers listed clean and safe water as a significant environmental concern, while 80 percent agreed that water scarcity can be effectively addressed.

Saudi Arabia currently relies heavily on groundwater and desalination plants to meet its water needs. (AFP)

“Saudi consumers are correct, and with a combination of strategies across government, business and industry, and adoption of smart water technologies, the management, conservation and security of water can be meaningfully addressed,” said Stefan Umiastowski, Ecolab’s senior vice president and market head of India, Middle East, Africa.

Saudi Arabia currently relies heavily on groundwater and desalination plants to meet its water needs, and with its fast-growing population and rapid industrial growth, demand is increasing.

Umiastowski pointed out that with the continued decline in groundwater levels and increased pressure on existing resources, an eventual water crisis cannot be ruled out.

“The good news is that sustainable water management practices and solutions are available and can be implemented quickly and effectively,” he told Arab News.

The Ecolab study found that despite a significant majority of consumers believing that water scarcity can be addressed, around 74 percent of them feel that businesses and manufacturers need clearer guidance and plans.

In fact, approximately three-quarters of Saudi consumers perceive government leaders as more concerned than business and nonprofit leaders about the necessity for water conservation and climate change.

“This insight on water stewardship from a consumer perspective indicates the need for both urgent and more visible action by business and industry to increase sustainability measures,” Umiastowski said.

Batoul Almutab, environmental, social and governance expert, and founder of Incora Consultancy, says there are indications of a change in how Saudi consumers view climate change as the Kingdom actively works to increase awareness and advocate for sustainable behaviors.

Almutab says this commitment is evident in the education system, where children are learning about sustainable practices as part of the nationwide school curriculum. She also believes that the younger generation of Saudis is far more likely to purchase items from brands that prioritize sustainability.

“In fact, 62 percent of Gen Z shoppers opt for sustainable brands, with 73 percent willing to spend more for sustainable products,” she told Arab News.

“While we have yet to have a collective cultural awakening, the generations to come will spearhead this shift.”

Despite the many initiatives aimed at addressing the question of water scarcity in Saudi Arabia, Almutab believes there is room for improvement.

Effective and sustainable water and waste management will be a significant step forward in addressing key environmental issues, said Daymion Jenkins. (AFP)

“The country is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. It has both limited freshwater resources and high consumption rates,” she said.

She lists the primary causes of water scarcity in the Kingdom as rapid population growth, increased urbanization and extensive agricultural activities, which have all put a strain on available sources.

Fortunately, according to Umiastowski, water consumption can be reduced, reused, made more efficient and better secured.

“From consumer, to business, to industry, to government, actions and solutions are possible. Awareness is certainly increasing, and implementation has started, but needs to be accelerated quickly,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced in September this year plans for the Kingdom to establish a global water organization based in Riyadh.

This initiative demonstrates the Kingdom’s dedication to worldwide cooperation in addressing water scarcity issues and advocating for responsible management practices.

Saudi Arabia has also made significant commitments to addressing global water supply challenges. The Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones has launched the Voluntary Commitment to Water Sustainability initiative, which is aligned with the country’s focus on enhancing water security for economic and social progress.

“These initiatives send clear signals that Saudi Arabia is dedicated to tackling domestic water security challenges, and leaning on global lessons learned about how to effectively manage the source and quality of groundwater supplies, to ensure resilience in a period of rapid social and economic growth,” Daymion Jenkins, director of earth and environment at Canadian consulting firm WSP’s Middle East branch, told Arab News.

The Water Act, part of Saudi Vision 2030, also sets out a range of key actions to address challenges. This includes central ownership and licensing for the use and exploitation of water resources, as well as the preparation of a national strategy and emergency management plan for supply.

“As these policies and guidance develop, there will be a coherent plan to managing the risks associated with water integrity and supply. There is significant technical work required to develop these strategies, which are critical to address potential water scarcity in the Kingdom,” said Jenkins.

Saudi Arabia has also made significant commitments to addressing global water supply challenges. (AFP)

He points out that at least 40 percent of Saudi Arabia’s water supply comes from groundwater, and in certain instances the reliability of these sources is critical.

Moreover, excessive extraction of groundwater could diminish their yield, causing problems for regions heavily dependent on this scarce resource to meet the needs of densely populated urban areas, agricultural lands and industrial zones.

“Aquifers, which store and supply these groundwater sources, include shallow water bodies which have the capacity to recharge, and ‘fossil’ water supplies, which are isolated within deep geology and are finite resources,” said Jenkins.

INNUMBERS

• 89.5 cubic meters Saudi Arabia’s water availability per capita annually.

• 53% Saudi consumers see water scarcity as a concern.

• 73% Gen Z shoppers willing to spend more on sustainable brands.

A good case in point is Saudi Arabia’s northeast, he said, where water supply mainly comes from groundwater.

A fuller understanding of these aquifer systems and the implementation of effective management practices will contribute significantly to aligning extraction rates with recharge rates from elevated areas, he said. This alignment would, in turn, sustain their long-term viability and positively impact overall water security, he added.

In this context, Jenkins says it is important to note that waste management forms the foundation of many environmental initiatives.

80 percent of Saudis agreed that water scarcity can be effectively addressed. (AFP)

Programs aimed at reduction, recycling, efficient utilization of waste for green energy generation, and the promotion of a circular economy, where materials are reused beneficially, are crucial components of this agenda.

“Saudi Arabia has stated objectives to divert 82 percent of waste from landfill, with significant recycling, composting and waste-to-energy targets,” he said. Effective and sustainable water and waste management will be a significant step forward in addressing key environmental issues, he added.

All things considered, there is little doubt that Saudi Arabia’s government is actively pursuing multiple measures and unconventional initiatives to combat water scarcity.

These efforts encompass stringent regulations and standards governing usage, the promotion of applicable technologies and practices, and substantial investments in research and development aimed at fostering innovative solutions for water management.

“Saudi Arabia has the right tools to address the water scarcity problem effectively,” Umiastowski said. “And with continued investment in research and innovation, public awareness and education, and collaboration with international expertise, it can become more water secure.”


Stephen Amell reflects on filming ‘Arrow’ at Jeddah’s 2023 Comic Con Arabia

Stephen Amell reflects on filming ‘Arrow’ at Jeddah’s 2023 Comic Con Arabia
Updated 07 December 2023
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Stephen Amell reflects on filming ‘Arrow’ at Jeddah’s 2023 Comic Con Arabia

Stephen Amell reflects on filming ‘Arrow’ at Jeddah’s 2023 Comic Con Arabia
  • Green Arrow cannot be left out of any convention that revolves around comic book superheroes, and the actor playing him and the character of Oliver Queen talked to Arab News about his experience of shooting the series

JEDDAH: The actor Stephen Amell was the superstar of the 2023 Comic Con Arabia, which recently took place at the Jeddah International Exhibition & Convention Center.

Green Arrow cannot be left out of any convention that revolves around comic book superheroes, and the actor playing him and the character of Oliver Queen talked to Arab News about his experience of shooting the series.

“Arrow” first aired in 2012 on CW and ran for seven seasons. The final season was aired in 2020. The series tells the story of a young man called Oliver Queen returning home after being stranded on an island for five years, and how he becomes the night vigilante of Star City.

FASTFACT

Amell recalled what he missed most about filming the DC series. ‘I miss the crew, the set, the atmosphere, and everything about Canada. I mean, my daughter was also born there, so I miss everything.’

Amell recalled what he missed most about filming the DC series. “I miss the crew, the set, the atmosphere, and everything about Canada. I mean, my daughter was also born there, so I miss everything.”

What Amell hated most while filming the series was being exhausted from shooting all night, then going home to find his daughter waiting to play with him, but him not having much energy left to do so.

“Sometimes we pulled an all-nighter shooting and finished at 7 a.m.,” said the actor. “My daughter was born and growing during that time. And going back home after staying up shooting all night was really something I don’t miss.

“You know kids wake up around that time of the day,” Amell said. “When I arrived home, my daughter would try to get me to play with her, which I did, but all I could think about was going to bed and sleep. It was really hard for me to ignore the urge to sleep,” he said, laughing.

Oliver Queen went through many hardships before becoming the Green Arrow. The young man would go on solo missions, relying on no one but himself. Little by little, he came to understand the importance of having people around him, making him learn the valuable lesson, “You can’t do it alone.”

“We need people around us all,” Amell said. “Arrow was fooled by the idea that he could do it on his own. But he needed help, which he got, and that made him, and me, realize that we can’t do it alone.”

Amell told Arab News that he had enjoyed discovering the beauty of Jeddah with his sister, who lives and works at KAUST and was at Comic Con. He previously mentioned his sister living in Jeddah in a video he posted on Instagram about his appearance at the annual pop event.

Amell is starring next to his cousin Robbie Amell in the second part of the film “Code 8: Part II,” which is due for release on Feb. 28 next year.

 

 


Saudi Air Force jet crashes on training mission, 2 crew members killed

Saudi Air Force jet crashes on training mission, 2 crew members killed
Updated 07 December 2023
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Saudi Air Force jet crashes on training mission, 2 crew members killed

Saudi Air Force jet crashes on training mission, 2 crew members killed
  • Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Maliki said crash occurred during routine mission at King Abdulaziz Air Base in Dhahran

RIYADH: A Saudi Arabian Royal Air Force F-15SA fighter plane crashed during a training mission in Dhahran on Thursday, killing two members of the crew on board, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Maliki, spokesman for the ministry, said that the plane crash occurred at 12:50 p.m. on Thursday during a routine mission at King Abdulaziz Air Base in Dhahran, Saudi Press Agency reported.

Al-Maliki added that an investigation committee had begun probing the causes of the accident.

He offered condolences to the families and relatives of the pilots.


Saudi rights body organizes dialogue session for International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Dr. Hala bint Mazyad Al-Tuwaijri interacts with participants in Riyadh. (Supplied)
Dr. Hala bint Mazyad Al-Tuwaijri interacts with participants in Riyadh. (Supplied)
Updated 22 min 37 sec ago
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Saudi rights body organizes dialogue session for International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Dr. Hala bint Mazyad Al-Tuwaijri interacts with participants in Riyadh. (Supplied)
  • Human Rights Commission reviews integration of government agencies’ efforts to empower persons with disabilities

RIYADH: The Human Rights Commission organized a dialogue session for International Day of Persons with Disabilities at its headquarters in Riyadh.

The session was attended by commission head, Dr. Hala bint Mazyad Al-Tuwaijri, and representatives of several ministries and government agencies.

The discussion focused on the Kingdom’s efforts to support persons with disabilities and the importance of integrating efforts between authorities to empower people and protect their rights.

Before the dialogue session, Al-Tuwaijri inaugurated an accompanying exhibition in which relevant sectors and civil society organizations participated, in addition to several talented and creative persons with disabilities.

At the beginning of the dialogue session, Al-Tuwaijri honored the parties and creators participating in the exhibition for their contribution.

The dialogue session discussed several topics, including challenges facing people with disabilities, and the importance and role of (creating) an appropriate environment for them in various fields.

Dr. Hessah bint Fahd Al-Mashaan, director general of special education at the Ministry of Education, highlighted the importance of integrating the roles of the parties related to persons with disabilities to ensure the continuity of their education and improve outcomes in collaboration with their families.