Saudi Arabia’s cultural renaissance inspiring new generation of artists

Saudi Arabia’s cultural renaissance inspiring new generation of artists
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The ‘From earth’ exhibition, which opened on Sept. 26, features artworks by emerging and established Saudi artists. (Supplied)
Saudi Arabia’s cultural renaissance inspiring new generation of artists
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‘Tamr Hasawi,’ 2022, Abdullah Al-Shaikh. (Supplied)
Saudi Arabia’s cultural renaissance inspiring new generation of artists
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‘Nature’s Window,’ 2022, Mishari Al-Dossari. (Supplied)
Saudi Arabia’s cultural renaissance inspiring new generation of artists
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‘Nature’s Window,’ 2022, Mishari Al-Dossari. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 September 2023
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Saudi Arabia’s cultural renaissance inspiring new generation of artists

Saudi Arabia’s cultural renaissance inspiring new generation of artists
  • Latest Ithra exhibitions champion emerging talents, promote creative growth, sustainability

RIYADH: A key part of Saudi Arabia’s visionary social and economic plan has been to build a creative economy.

Public and private institutions are spearheading the Kingdom’s move away from reliance on hydrocarbons by encouraging the country’s majority youth population to engage in creative activities.

Among them is the Saudi Aramco-sponsored King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) — meaning enrichment in Arabic. ­The term reflects the company’s stated vision to create a cultural institution for, “social progress through education and cross-cultural exchange.”

In 2008, on Aramco’s 75th anniversary, the late King Abdulaziz spoke of his wish to establish a world-class center that would present the arts, culture, science, and technology to inspire creativity and push the country into a new knowledge economy.

The monarch’s son, as King Abdullah, progressed his father’s vision and in 2016 the late rulers’ ambitions came to fruition.

Situated in Dhahran on the site of the first commercial Saudi oil field, Ithra opened in 2016. Since then, it has built on Saudi Aramco’s long patronage of the arts — the Saudi petroleum and natural gas company for decades staged art exhibitions on its premises — to promote creative thinking.

The center aims to encourage aspiring young artists in Saud Arabia and throughout the Arab world through its exhibitions, the most recent concentrated on sustainability and the natural environment.

The “From Earth” exhibition, which opened on Sept. 26, features work by emerging and established Saudi artists, while “Net Zero” has been displaying pieces by two Saudi and 17 international artists since Sept. 16.

The former shows a collection of 32 specially commissioned items including paintings, digital and sound art, installations, and works incorporating physical elements from the country’s natural landscape.

The exhibition was staged in collaboration with the Dammam Culture and Arts Association to further encourage artistic development and diversity in the Kingdom.

Ithra’s head of museums, Farah Abushullaih, told Arab News that as well as serving as a platform for art production, the center had become a hub for empowering talents.

She said: “It promotes art and culture in Saudi Arabia, builds bridges of communication with emerging and professional artists, and in addition provides a base for communication, and establishes common grounds for future partnerships, which contributes to the development of the art sector as a whole.”

While the works on display in “Net Zero” express the spirit of sustainability, those featured in “From Earth” focus specifically on Saudi artists’ relationship to their natural heritage and their love for their land, depicting a range of tangible and intangible perspectives.

Yousef Al-Harbi, director of Dammam Culture and Arts Association, said: “The exhibition carries many concepts, symbols, and connotations that have influential and motivational aspects.

“Earth is the concept, idea, and symbol, which artists choose to explore as it encourages them to passionately excel creatively, as well as pay tribute to their own roots to progress forward.

“The artists use the earth as an inspiration to promote a sense of belonging to the land and its details which are reflected within, and which they carry wherever they go.”

One piece, “The Sound of the Earth” by Moath Al-Hazmi, aims to capture the sound that emanates from diverse natural landscapes in the Kingdom by placing a recording in designated boxes, with descriptive aluminium plates, that visitors can listen to with headphones.

The plate “Earth Sound,” for example, has recordings of the sound of the sea at Saihat in Al-Qatif.

Al-Hazmi told Arab News: “My work deals with the sound fingerprints of various elements and this work concerns the sound fingerprints of terrains throughout Saudi Arabia by recording their sounds at different times to reflect the nature of a specific place.

“Many of us live in large cities and perhaps some have never been able to travel to the eastern and western parts of the Arabian Peninsula. It was from here that the question arose about the sounds of these places.

“The work is an invitation to deal with the land — a medium we are all familiar with — a bit like street painting but using the earth in a new and innovative way by making audio content from five selected Saudi terrains,” he said.

Saudi artist Bader Al-Essa uses photography, video, writing, and installation to explore and document the history of people on the Arabian Peninsula.

His exhibit, “Maqam,” features two black-and-white photographs reflecting the mihrab or Islamic praying niche in the wall of a mosque or religious school. Shade and shadow are incorporated to explore the abstract historical depth of the architectural structure, and its importance to society and to the land.

“‘Maqam’ embodies an image of the old mihrabs in the Najd region, representing the deep spiritual connection of local communities with their environment through the use of sustainable natural components to move to the worlds of supplication and closeness to God,” Al-Essa told Arab News.

Other elements of the artist’s photographs include a prayer mat and the triangle motifs found in old architectural designs to evoke a feeling of connection and familiarity.

Mohammed Al-Faraj, from Al-Ahsa, and Zahra Al-Gamdi, are taking part in “Net Zero” with works based around Saudi nature and heritage to raise awareness of environmental issues.

Abushullaih said: “We want to build a new generation of artists. Hopefully with the newcomers that are being exhibited for the first time here in Ithra, some of them are established already, there’s a nice blend between emerging and established artists.

“The journey has been rewarding and inspiring as has the community development and education surrounding such shows.”


Saudi FM Saudi meets US Senate Republican

Saudi FM Saudi meets US Senate Republican
Updated 08 December 2023
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Saudi FM Saudi meets US Senate Republican

Saudi FM Saudi meets US Senate Republican

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with US Senator Lindsey Graham, the foreign ministry said.
Prince Faisal stress the necessity of a ceasefire to bring the killing to an end and to avoid a further escalation that could have dangerous repercussions for regional security.
The Saudi diplomat discussed the situation in Gaza with the Republican politician and stressed that all efforts be made to ensure that humanitarian relief corridors  be secured to ensure the safe delivery of aid.
Israel is conducting a deadly assault on the enclave, which Palestinian officials said has killed 17,000 people.  Israel has vowed to eradicate the Hamas militant group that attacked settlements near Gaza on Oct. 7, which resulted in 1,200 people being killed and around 240 hostages taken.
Prince Faisal also discussed with Graham the need to create conditions for the return of stability to Gaza and the restoration of a path to peace to ensure that Palestinian people obtain their legitimate rights.
The meeting was also attended by Saudi ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar.


International Philosophy Conference begins in Riyadh

International Philosophy Conference begins in Riyadh
Updated 08 December 2023
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International Philosophy Conference begins in Riyadh

International Philosophy Conference begins in Riyadh
  • Mohammed Alwan: “In light of a world that has become full of this relativism, and crowded with means and mechanisms of communication, the urgent need appears to be to study the philosophical meanings behind transcultural values

RIYADH: The third Riyadh International Philosophy Conference, which is organized by the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, began in Riyadh on Thursday and runs until Dec. 9.

Boasting the theme “Transcultural Values and Ethical Challenges in the Communicative Age,” the event has broad participation from specialists in philosophy and those interested in its modern applications.

This time the conference seeks to examine and discuss the mutual relationship between cross-cultural values and the ethical issues associated with them in light of the communicative world with its new conditions.

It also aims to explore the ways in which different cultures can interact and communicate, while at the same time preserve their unique values and identities.

It will also discuss issues from an original philosophical perspective, examining the reflection of human values on the nature of current philosophical perceptions, and exploring the depths of philosophy and its ability to address various cross-cultural issues and values through its multiple paths.

Mohammed Alwan, CEO of the commission, said at the opening of the conference: “In light of a world that has become full of this relativism, and crowded with means and mechanisms of communication, the urgent need appears to be to study the philosophical meanings behind transcultural values.

“This is in addition to insight into the reflection of these meanings on our lives, and on interaction and exchange between one culture and another, in a way that achieves a sublime scientific renaissance and builds the foundations of cooperation and solidarity between the scientific and academic communities towards a bright human future.”

He added that the conference presented the sciences of philosophy to be accessible to everyone, bringing together those seeking knowledge, old and young, academics and amateurs, to present philosophy to them in various forms.

He said: “This comes as part of a series of innovative activities that showcase the essential presence of philosophy in culture, arts, and daily life. Here are our children, the philosophers of tomorrow, children and adolescents, as guests of rich programs designed especially for them.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is full of promising research and intellectual potential, and the annual Riyadh International Philosophy Conference is a pioneering step to support these remarkable capabilities, in order to achieve the nation’s scientific and intellectual leadership, and knowledge exchange between it and the world.”

The conference, which has been held annually in Riyadh since 2021, seeks to build strategic partnerships with all concerned parties from the governmental, private and non-profit sectors, in addition to building bridges between them based on common intellectual and cognitive foundations.

In addition to creating an annual dialogue space through which developments in the science of philosophy and its modern applications are discussed, it provides multidimensional and multi-horizon philosophical content directed at all societal groups.

It also aims to build a communication bridge between institutions active in the field of philosophy in different countries of the world, and to advance scientific and academic research.

 

 


Saudi Arabia, France discuss economic cooperation, global aid

Saudi Arabia, France discuss economic cooperation, global aid
Updated 08 December 2023
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Saudi Arabia, France discuss economic cooperation, global aid

Saudi Arabia, France discuss economic cooperation, global aid
  • KSrelief, business and trade officials hold talks with visiting French parliamentarians, industry leaders
  • 40 French and 90 Saudi Arabian companies participate in Riyadh conference

RIYADH: Leading government and business representatives from Saudi Arabia and France held discussions on economic cooperation, global aid initiatives and human rights at a conference in Riyadh on Wednesday.

Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor-general of the Kingdom’s aid body KSrelief, briefed Amelia Lakrafi, chair of the French-Saudi Parliamentary Friendship Committee, on the nation’s efforts worldwide.

Al-Rabeeah, who is also an adviser at the royal court, said KSrelief has implemented 2,625 projects in 94 countries worth over $6 billion, and spent a further $483 million in various sectors, in cooperation with 175 international, regional and local partners, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Meanwhile, the Kingdom’s Human Rights Commission President Dr. Hala bint Mazyad Al-Tuwaijri, had discussions with Lakrafi and her delegation on ways to improve cooperation.

Officials from Saudi Arabia’s National Industrial Development and Logistics Program also held talks with French representatives at the conference titled “France 2030 and Vision 2030: Toward Energy and Industry Transformation.”

The conference — attended by Industry and Mineral Resources Minister Bandar AlKhorayef and France’s Ambassador Ludovic Pouille — showcased over 40 French companies, 16 governmental entities from both sides, and 90 Saudi Arabia firms.

The expanded collaboration between Saudi Arabia and France will include skills training and support for startups.


Saudi and US defense ministers discuss ties during call

Saudi and US defense ministers discuss ties during call
Updated 08 December 2023
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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.”