Saudi Arabia to create ‘Woven’ cultural legacy at 4th London Design Biennale

Saudi Arabia to create ‘Woven’ cultural legacy at 4th London Design Biennale
Saudi Arabia's Architecture and Design Commission participated in the annual exhibition with a large-scale interactive display. (Twitter/@ArchMOC)
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Updated 09 June 2023

Saudi Arabia to create ‘Woven’ cultural legacy at 4th London Design Biennale

Saudi Arabia to create ‘Woven’ cultural legacy at 4th London Design Biennale
  • Sadu-style, 50m tapestry creation allows visitor input
  • Ruba Alkhaldi and Lojain Rafaa are designers, curators

LONDON: Saudi Arabia is participating in the 4th London Design Biennale with a pavilion entitled “Woven” created by two leading female designers.

Over the course of the 25-day biennale, which kicked off on Thursday, a 50-meter-long tapestry will be woven by visitors to the Saudi Pavilion, based on the traditional “Sadu” weaving practice.

This is the first time that the Kingdom, which is being represented by the Architecture and Design Commission — part of the Ministry of Culture — has participated in the annual exhibition with a large-scale interactive display.

“We had an invited call for participation to allow many of our designers to have an opportunity to be part of showcasing their work,” which “shows how now there is a legacy that we are building on,” Dr. Sumayah Al-Solaiman, CEO of the commission, told Arab News.

“The traditional arts of weaving, for instance, it’s also very future, forward-looking in the sense that it’s a collaborative design piece where every thread that is now put into the woven canvas is some sort of a timestamp of what is important in our future. And allowing all the participants who would like to be part of this to have a voice and tell us what is important to them,” she added.

The installation has been designed and curated by leading Saudi designers Ruba Alkhaldi and Lojain Rafaa, and consists of a large loom and visual displays. Participants have a choice of weaving one of five different color threads, each representing innovation, nature, spirituality, knowledge and wellness.

Al-Solaiman said one of the commission’s aims was to showcase the richness of Saudi culture. “If we look at the traditional art, traditional architecture and how all of that is influencing our cultural renaissance at this time, it’s an amazing time for us to have this multiplicity of voices coming in and showcasing that.”

She said the response has been “resoundingly positive,” and they were excited to see the outcome as it would give them a more historical view, while also creating a legacy that they would display at future venues.

Al-Solaiman said that the work had to follow the theme of this year’s biennale, which is “The Global Game: Remapping Collaborations.”

“When you remap collaboration, thinking about the past, the present, but then also the future, I think this work really brings all of those together.”

The commission’s strategy is aligned with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan and is responsible for regulating and uplifting the architecture and design sector, she said. This includes community engagement, talent development, gross domestic product contribution, diversification of the economy, research, and celebrating the products of Saudi architects and designers nationally and internationally, she added.

Alkhaldi, who is a design innovation strategist, said she focuses on how design could drive future innovation. The collaborative interactive installation was a platform where the participants’ thoughts and perceptions about the future “will be bonded and connected through what we call the fabric of humanity.”

Alkhaldi said that they were inspired by the Sadu craftspeople because it was led by powerful nomad women in the desert who had limited resources and created multiple ways to assemble and create fabric.

“That fabric, at the end, extended value to affect us socially, culturally and even on the level of architecture and art — it’s included in tents, in houses and part of our culture till now.

“It was a symbol of revolution and we wanted to recreate that sense of revolution within the experience in the London Design Biennale,” said the 34-year-old from Dammam in the Eastern Province.

Alkhaldi added that they were also inspired by Vision 2030 which focuses on creating an innovative community in Saudi Arabia and encourages people to share their thoughts and opinions, and the installation was meant to show their welcoming nature.

“We’re trying to tell people that we are welcoming our opinions, our thoughts and let’s interlace it together to shape the future globally, not just locally,” she added.

She said there was positive feedback from people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds, interacting and sharing stories about their culture and weaving techniques.

Victoria Broackes, director of the biennale, said the theme of remapping collaboration was about bringing countries, nations and cities together — and also different disciplines and ideas, to find new ways of working.

“The exhibits that we have here from Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Dubai visibly show how these ideas do not come from one type of discipline, they come from a multitude of different people and types of people working together,” she added.