Award-winning filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia discusses ‘Behind the Mountains’ set to screen at RSIFF

Award-winning filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia discusses ‘Behind the Mountains’ set to screen at RSIFF
Mohamed Ben Attia in Paris in 2016. (Supplied)
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Updated 02 December 2023
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Award-winning filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia discusses ‘Behind the Mountains’ set to screen at RSIFF

Award-winning filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia discusses ‘Behind the Mountains’ set to screen at RSIFF
  • The film heads to Saudi Arabia after screening at the Venice Film Festival this year
  • The director has won multiple awards at the Berlin International Film Festival and has been nominated for prizes in Venice and Chicago, among other festivals

DUBAI: Years ago, Tunisian filmmaker Mohamed Ben Attia was struck by an image he couldn’t get out of his head. It was a man running towards a cliff, and when he reached the edge, he started to fly. He knew there was greatness in it — a perfect image of freedom. He felt it could perhaps be the basis for his greatest film. But as he wrote and he wrote, nothing came of it. The emotions felt flat. It wasn’t that the idea wasn’t ready — he wasn’t ready himself.   

“I was maybe 20 years old at the time. I was childish and immature. Everything I wrote made little sense to me,” Ben Attia tells Arab News. “But when I finished my film ‘Hedi’ in 2016, the idea returned. Suddenly this idea of a man flying started appearing in my mind beside my own emotions — the rage I was feeling deep within myself. And then these feelings and that image started to blend.” 

At the start of December, “Behind the Mountains,” the result of that renewed inspiration, will screen in competition at the 2023 Red Sea International Film Festival, after receiving support from the Red Sea Fund while in production. The film made its acclaimed debut at the Venice International Film Festival in September, and as much as Ben Attia put his all into the making of the film, seeing audiences react to such a deeply personal and multifaceted movie can sometimes be painful.  




Ben Attia on set with Walid Bouchhioua, who stars as Yassine in “Behind the Mountains.” (Supplied)

“I hate this at times, to be honest. I know I’m supposed to love it, but it can be difficult when people get so confused by watching it, trying to figure out what it’s trying to tell them,” Ben Attia says. “This is part of doing cinema — a film cannot be loved by everyone. But it’s a very strange feeling with this film particularly, because it’s hard even for me to explain the meaning of the film, as well as for many to understand what drives this character to begin with.”  

“Behind the Mountains” begins simply enough, at least. Rafik is released from a Tunisian prison, four years after his mental health issues manifested as a violent outburst in his former workplace. He now believes he can fly, and kidnaps his young son to take him to a special place behind the mountains to show him that his vision is real.  

There are many potential interpretations of this tale, but it’s hard not to draw parallels to the story of Tunisia itself, even for Ben Attia. Almost exactly 13 years ago, the Tunisian Revolution began, culminating in the ousting of the Ben Ali government and the start of a still-ongoing redrawing of the Tunisian political landscape and a reorganization of the country’s society at large.  




Ben Attia on set with Majd Mastoura, who stars as Rafik in “Behind the Mountains.” (Supplied)

In a time of great upheaval, a world of possibility emerges. Suddenly, the future feels free — enough to make a man feel that he could fly, because perhaps he can. But is the anarchy of freedom a blessing? A curse? Both? And can anything truly change if people continue to impose the same mental shackles on themselves as they did before? It’s a complicated subject that has caused more than a few headaches, to put it lightly.  

“I would say that, since our revolution happened, the busiest people in our society have been the psychiatrists. Because it wasn’t just that things changed politically — it was also a revolution of the individual; a revolution of feeling,” Ben Attia explains. 

“The idea that this regime could change was impossible for us to imagine. So it gave us the feeling that anything could happen, even in our own lives. That’s why people started changing professions, getting divorced… That’s exactly where this film finds its characters — in moments where they come to their own realizations of possibility, their own understandings of how things can be different, for better or for worse.”  




A still from “Behind the Mountains.” (Supplied) 

Ben Attia has changed a lot, too. Over the last decade, his work has captured the attention of the film community cross the world. 2016’s “Hedi” won the Best First Feature award at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival and was co-produced by the renowned Dardenne brothers. His next film, “Dear Son,” was selected for the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, and was the Tunisian entry for the Best International Film category of that year’s Academy Awards.   

Part of what has kept him grounded as his star rises is his second career, the one he rarely talks about.  

“I have a strange life, to be frank. While I’m doing all of this, I’m also a chef in my family’s Italian restaurants in Tunis. I get my ideas for films when I’m working in my kitchen. It gives me balance in my own life when I have these dual identities. It takes the pressure off. When I was just doing nothing, no ideas came. I have to work in the restaurant — I have to be making pasta fresca to get a little bit inspired. It allows me to see things I couldn’t have in any other circumstance,” says Ben Attia.  

But while the kitchen is where the ideas start to flow, art is still an act of self-therapy, especially as it can often contain complex and contradictory ideas that everyday linear thought often can’t. 




A still from “Behind the Mountains.” (Supplied)

“We are living in strange times, especially with what’s happening in Gaza and everywhere else,” Ben Attia says. “It’s not just our region of the world, it’s also about the identity of the Arab people and our relation to the Occident. As an artist, that fills us with contradictions — today I think something and tomorrow I think something very different. But thankfully, we are not making science, we are making cinema. We’re still discovering what the truth could be, and what our future could be.”  

At each screening of “Behind the Mountains,” Ben Attia gets different interpretations from the audience of all the things it may be saying. And with every question, he has more time to consider what he thinks about both the work and the world he’s living in — and he hasn’t quite worked it out. But that’s the beauty of cinema, as he says, and when his next film idea comes to the boil back in his kitchen, he’s ready to see where his inspiration takes him next.  

“I’m giving myself boundaries: first, just follow the promotion of this film just to understand better what I did and how, and why I did it. Even if that hurts, it’s good to do, and it’s good to react to what happened with this film,” he says. “Even now, I have a vague idea — I have another image I’m getting ready to pursue. But I’m in no rush. I want to take my time and see if it’s still there in a few months, and if that’s the case, then I’m ready to start for sure on the right foot.” 


‘Dune: Part Two’ filmmaker, cast talk shooting in ‘magical’ Abu Dhabi

‘Dune: Part Two’ filmmaker, cast talk shooting in ‘magical’ Abu Dhabi
Updated 28 February 2024
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‘Dune: Part Two’ filmmaker, cast talk shooting in ‘magical’ Abu Dhabi

‘Dune: Part Two’ filmmaker, cast talk shooting in ‘magical’ Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” sci-fi epic will return for round two when it hits cinemas in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East on Feb. 29.

Ahead of the worldwide release of “Dune: Part Two,” the film’s director and cast members Josh Brolin and Dave Bautista visited Abu Dhabi – where they shot extensively in the Empty Quarter – for a regional premiere.

Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve poses for photographers in the Abu Dhabi desert. (Photo by Mohammed Fawzy/Arab News)

Villeneuve told Arab News: “The surprise we had every morning when we were waking up and seeing the way the sunlight was hitting the sand dunes a different way with the mists surrounding us, it was always magical.”

The UAE capital’s desert landscape was used to mimic the planet Arrakis, where most of the movie’s story unfolds.

“I was also really impressed by the logistics of the crew from Abu Dhabi. They created roads and paths in the desert to allow us in the areas that I wanted to go,” he said.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

US actor Brolin said: “Because we were so far away, we were two-and-a-half hours outside of Abu Dhabi in the middle of nowhere. You feel insignificant when you show up, you know, you feel it’s very consuming.

“And there’s something about the humility that creates, whereby the time you leave, you’re like crying and you don’t want to leave. I feel the same way now, just showing up here. Again, it just all comes back. It was a really powerful place.”

Dave Bautista as Rabban Harkonnen in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

Bautista, who previously worked with Villeneuve on “Blade Runner 2049” as well as “Dune: Part One” — which won six Academy Awards in 2022 — noted that living in the world of “Dune” had given him the opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s top filmmakers.

He said: “As a performer, my favorite thing about ‘Dune’ is working with Denis and working with my amazing co-stars. I think Denis has a knack for bringing out the best in me as a performer.

“And so, I always look forward to that because I still have that chip on my shoulder where I want to prove that I can be a great actor. I can’t prove that to myself if I don’t have someone like Denis that’s bringing out the performance in me.

“This is why I like to work constantly because I want to become better and better. And I’m an on-the-job learning actor. I’d love to learn from my peers or learn from great directors.

“So, I feel like I’ve become a stronger performer every time I complete a job, especially when I get to work with people, at such a high level, this stuff brings out the best in me,” Bautista added.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Zendaya as Fremen warrior Chani in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

Brolin, who plays Gurney Halleck – a mentor and friend to lead star Timothee Chalamet’s Paul Atreides in the film – was more taken by the sci-fi elements of the flick, having grown up devoring similar stories.

He said: “I think that early on, when I grew up on a ranch, I read (US author and screenwriter) Ray Bradbury and (American writer) Isaac Asimov and it just exploded my brain, and I was so happy that I didn’t have to live always in the reality of what was happening around me.

“So, it’s great to be able to go back into it because I read ‘Dune’ when I was probably 16. And it was just along those same lines. It was like a graduation return of the ultimate kind of experience and to be able to be given the opportunity to kind of lose yourself.

“But I don’t feel like it’s a losing yourself. I feel like you are finding parts of yourself that you wouldn’t know you know, through a story like this,” Brolin added.

“Dune: Part Two” is the conclusion to Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 novel. The film follows Atreides as he seeks to unite the native Fremen people of Arrakis against the tyranny of House Harkonnen, who murdered his entire Great House.

The film also stars Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Javier Bardem, Florence Pugh, Austin Butler, Christopher Walken, and Lea Seydoux in key roles.


‘Culture is not unipolar,’ Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister of Culture says

‘Culture is not unipolar,’ Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister of Culture says
Updated 28 February 2024
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‘Culture is not unipolar,’ Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister of Culture says

‘Culture is not unipolar,’ Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister of Culture says

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia's evolving cultural landscape is nowhere more visible than in AlUla. 

“Culture is not unipolar, nor should it be. It is shaped by interaction and evolving dialogue,” Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister of Culture Rakan Altouq stressed after the conclusion of the first AlUla Future Culture Summit. 

Altouq spoke to Arab News on Wednesday and outlined what the future holds for the Kingdom’s culture sector. “This is an incredibly exciting time for Saudi Arabia,” he said. 

Organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla, the summit, which was not open to the public, unfolded this week from Feb. 25 to 27 in Daimumah, nestled in the heart of AlUla’s oasis. 

Altouq described Daimumah as a “microcosm of AlUla, where contemporary art, nature, and heritage converge,” underscoring its significance as a venue for the event.

Themed “Cultural Landscapes,” the summit served as a platform for innovative arts, cross-cultural dialogue, and creative expression. (Supplied)

Explaining the choice of location, Altouq emphasized the historical and cultural importance of AlUla, saying: “AlUla is an area of immense historical and cultural importance. Having the inaugural Future Culture Summit here was an important way to match content with context.”

Themed “Cultural Landscapes,” the summit served as a platform for innovative arts, cross-cultural dialogue, and creative expression. 

Altouq said: “The concept of a cultural landscape evokes the dynamic interplay between human creativity, tradition and heritage, and the natural environment.”

Highlighting the intrinsic connection between culture and environment, Altouq described AlUla as a cultural landscape, emphasizing the deep bond between people and their natural surroundings.

The selection of “Cultural Landscapes” as the theme aimed to spotlight this symbiotic relationship, Altouq said.

The summit drew 150 prominent figures from the global cultural sector including  Lise Macdonald, president L’Ecole School of Jewelry Arts, Laurent Le Bon, Centre Pompidou president, and German curator and museum director Klaus Biesenbach. 

“The Future Culture Summit has effectively brought together cultural leaders from all over the world,” he commented. “They have come to share their experiences and ideas but also to be exposed to a vibrant and growing cultural sector in Saudi Arabia that is really reimagining how we think about cultural institutions, the role of emerging technologies, and ways to ensure these institutions serve their communities.”

Altouq expressed enthusiasm for Saudi Arabia’s cultural transformation and said: “This is an incredibly exciting time for Saudi Arabia. Nowhere is the Kingdom’s transformation more evident than in its cultural sectors, which are not only opening up new areas of the economy but enriching the lives of citizens and helping to build a vibrant society.” 

“The Future Culture Summit is part of the wider project to facilitate new avenues of exchange and collaboration between Saudi Arabia and the international cultural community,” he added. 

With a focus on expanding culture’s role in advancing and fostering positive change, the summit offered a diverse program of panel discussions, immersive performances, workshops, and guided exploration of AlUla’s rich cultural and physical landscape.

During “The Future of the Culture Scene: A Factor of Success,” Abdullah AlRashid, Director of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), asserted the need for doubt and reflection in sustaining a successful cultural future, whilst Jason Harborow, Vice President of Culture of RCU, advocated for looking beyond the numbers and KPIs to focus on how to extend and expand reciprocal human bonds and learning.

In another panel, “Landscapes: Cultural Development and Environment,” speakers explored the connection between cultural infrastructure and the environment, exploring the integration of art in the landscape. Akiko Miki, International Artistic Director of Benesse Art Site Naoshima & Director of Naoshima New Museum of Art, said: “The journey to a site is part of the experience - taking time and experiencing time itself is something very important for our human activities.” 

Alongside the performances, panels and keynotes the summit featured a range of workshops led by leading cultural institutions, exploring topics such as the integration of blockchain in museums, rethinking landscapes as mediums of cultural expression, and fostering cross-cultural collaboration.


Model Loli Bahia builds ties with Louis Vuitton

Model Loli Bahia builds ties with Louis Vuitton
Updated 28 February 2024
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Model Loli Bahia builds ties with Louis Vuitton

Model Loli Bahia builds ties with Louis Vuitton
  • In-demand model is currently in Paris for the city’s fashion week

DUBAI: French-Algerian model Loli Bahia is cementing her relationship with the prestigious luxury brand Louis Vuitton.

This week, the fashion house unveiled its latest campaign for the Spring/Summer 2024 collection, featuring the 21-year-old burgeoning star.

In the promotional clip, Bahia showcased the brand’s pieces accessorizing with a vibrant orange Dauphine bag crafted from supple leather.

Complementing the statement accessory, she donned an oversized blazer dress adorned with multiple buttons, accentuated with white stockings and heels.

This is not Bahia’s first collaboration with the brand.

In March 2023, she walked the Louis Vuitton show during Paris Fashion Week.

Loli Bahia has previously graced the runways for Louis Vuitton. (Getty Images)

She graced the catwalk in a white suit that featured ripped trousers — secured with a thin black belt — and a blazer that was unbuttoned from the center. She donned closed-toed black heels and an off-white purse.

Bahia, who is signed to Women Management Paris, made her runway debut in 2020 at Louis Vuitton’s Fall 2021 show.

She also starred in the Parisian luxury house’s advertising campaign for Fall 2021.

The model is currently in Paris for the city’s fashion week.

On Tuesday, she made a striking debut on the runways walking for Saint Laurent. Dressed in a sheer knee-length beige gown featuring a sophisticated turtleneck, she added a touch of flair with a vibrant red belt adorned with a gold buckle and oversized bangles.

Last week, she opened the Versace runway during Milan Fashion Week in a black mini-dress, complementing her ensemble with a bold pop of color courtesy of a fiery red purse.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Loli bahia (@lolibahiaa)

She took to Instagram to express her excitement. “OPENING VERSACE… my best walk for now so proud,” she wrote adding a video of her walk.

Bahia is one of the most in-demand models in the industry, becoming a runway fixture in just a few months after a breakthrough Spring 2022 fashion season, where she walked in 65 shows.

She has walked for a host of prestigious labels, including Chanel, Tory Burch, Givenchy, Lanvin, Schiaparelli and Valentino.

Bahia also fronted campaigns for Saint Laurent, Tod’s, Isabel Marant, Courreges and Max Mara in addition to starring on the cover of Vogue Italia.


Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada leads the show on ‘Shogun,’ FX’s new historical drama

Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada leads the show on ‘Shogun,’ FX’s new historical drama
Updated 28 February 2024
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Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada leads the show on ‘Shogun,’ FX’s new historical drama

Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada leads the show on ‘Shogun,’ FX’s new historical drama
  • The historical drama is now available to stream in the Middle East on Disney+

DUBAI: “Shogun,” FX’s latest adaptation of James Clavell’s 1975 bestselling novel set in 1600s feudal Japan, is a far cry from the popular 1980s mini-series, told predominantly from the point of view of its Western protagonist John Blackthorne (played then by Richard Chamberlain, and now by Cosmo Jarvis).

While Jarvis’ Blackthorne gets ample screen time in the new iteration of “Shogun,” now streaming on Disney+ in the Middle East, co-creators and husband-wife duo Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo were keen to center the story around its Japanese characters.

Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne ‘Shogun.’ (Courtesy of Disney+)

“Shogun” follows the story of Lord Yoshii Toranaga, played by producer Hiroyuki Sanada, as he fights for his life against enemies on the Council of Regents who unite against him. When a mysterious European ship is found marooned in a nearby fishing village, its English pilot, John Blackthorne, comes bearing secrets that could help Toranaga tip the scales of power and devastate the formidable influence of Blackthorne’s own enemies.

In the meantime, Toranaga’s and Blackthorne’s fates become inextricably tied to their translator, Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), a mysterious noblewoman and the last of a disgraced line.

Talking about the relevance of the book and why they wanted to revisit the story now, Marks told Arab News: “This book has such a great legacy that so many movies, television shows and other stories have taken from it over the decades since it came out. So, how do we tell something new? And, fortunately, when you open up the book, you realize Clavell is already playing with some of these very modern ideas of how we encounter other cultures, how we encounter ourselves within those cultures, and he’s doing so with really great sensitivity. As we began to talk about that, we realized this is a story that has to be told again, already 50 years later, because it seems like we’ve forgotten a lot of its lessons.”

Kondo said: “It almost feels like it was meant to be told again, in that it felt weirdly and unexpectedly modern — it felt timeless. And so, here we are a few generations later.”

Hiroyuki Sanada plays Toranaga, a Japanese lord loosely modeled on Tokugawa Ieyasu, the military ruler who helped to unite Japan in the early 17th century after a long period of civil war.
(Courtesy of Disney+)

Playing the central Japanese character in the show is Sanada, who plays Toranaga, a Japanese lord loosely modeled on Tokugawa Ieyasu, the military ruler who helped to unite Japan in the early 17th century after a long period of civil war, introducing a period of peace that lasted for more than 200 years.

Sanada, who broke into Hollywood with the 2003 film “The Last Samurai,” is also a producer on the show and was keen to bring his years of experience working in Japanese films to Hollywood.

And to make sure he could play the part when he was in front of the camera, it was important to Sanada that all matters of production were taken care of in advance.

“I made sure to prepare everything beforehand before I sit in front of the camera,” Sanada told Arab News.

“So, first of all, we tried to get the Japanese crew who are specialists for Samurai movie-making, then we got specialists for the wigs, costumes, props, master of gesture, master of tea ceremony, everyone. So, we had a good team for each department to make the show authentic as much as possible. And we also had a rehearsal training for the young actors and extras. So, before starting shooting, I prepare everything. So, when I was on set as an actor, I felt freedom, relaxed. It was fun. It felt like a reward,” he added.

Anna Sawai as Lady Mariko in ‘Shogun.’ (Courtesy of Disney+)

And this authenticity is exactly why co-creators Marks and Kondo were ecstatic to have Sanada join the team.

“The thrill of getting to have Hiro onboard, not just as our star, but, really, as a resource, as a producer on the show, was what made the difference between a show you’ve seen before and a show you’ve never seen before,” said Marks.

“In our early conversations with him, we asked him: ‘You’ve been working in Hollywood for 20 to 25 years, what have we gotten wrong? And how can we change the way that we work in order to improve upon that?’ And, from the very beginning, he would just sort of say, here’s who you need to hire on this show, you need a cultural adviser, you need a language adviser, a historian, a Japanese playwright, period pros who can add a little bit of modernity, but also make something feel like it’s a touch classical as well. And these are all things for us as Americans coming into this, you know, that are far over our heads. And so, without having Hiro, we wouldn’t have been able to reach for the level of authenticity that we were after.”

For Sanada, who began acting at the age of five and trained in martial arts soon after, “Shogun” is a chance to introduce the rest of the world to Japanese culture, but sans the Western gaze.

“I think this is a great novel — a great story to introduce our culture to the world. Earlier, our audience can see feudal Japan through Blackthorne’s blue eyes. But this time, it is more like a novel. We tried to create the script, like not only blue eyes, but put more Japanese lens on the script and then go deeper for each character or details,” said Sanada.


Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale
Updated 28 February 2024
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Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale
  • Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale celebrates work from around the world
  • Many pieces being shown for the first time in public

RIYADH: Work by several of the best artists from the Kingdom’s Eastern Province will be among the offerings at this year’s international Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale in Riyadh.

Among them is Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, who has been a force in the Saudi art world for many decades. He has also written several books on the subject, including his 2000 work, “The Journey of the Saudi Fine Arts Movement.”

At the exhibition, which has the theme “After Rain,” his series of ink drawings, titled “Palm, Bow and Fragments” (1990-91) is on show for the very first time.

Mohammad Al-Faraj. (Supplied)

Born in 1954 in Al-Ahsa, Al-Soliman told Arab News he created the collection during the Gulf War, more than 30 years ago, and that the paintings reflected the unfolding chaos that engulfed neighboring Kuwait.

“I lived with the side effects of the Kuwaiti conflict and its liberation. I started organically, I didn’t know it would become a series,” he said.

“I’ve always loved drawing since I was young, I would scribble daily, it is part of my life. At school, I was good at art only, nothing else.

Mohammad Al-Faraj. (Supplied)

“Since 1970, I have been making art. And this series on display at the biennale — some in color, some not — I rolled them up and put them aside. This is the first time anyone has seen them displayed, even my family at home didn’t see this. The curators came to my studio and selected them,” he said.

Another Eastern Province artist whose work is on show is Nabila Al-Bassam, who founded the Arab Heritage Gallery in Alkhobar in 1979. She also is also showcasing previously unseen works at the event.

“I was invited to join the biennale and said yes because I am an artist and I have a lot of artwork and no one has seen it,” she told Arab News.

Armin Linke and Ahmed Mater. (Supplied)

“I have my own gallery. It was one of the first in the Kingdom and it’s still working, so I’m very happy about it. But I don’t really exhibit a lot of my own work, I exhibit other people: Saudi artists and others who draw about the Middle East.”

Al-Bassam is a mixed-media artist who uses traditional textile-making processes to produce and create multi-layered collages. She said she was delighted to be among the artists on show.

“What stood out to me at the biennale was the works of Saudi women artists, I really was surprised,” she said.

Nabila Al-Bassam. (Supplied)

“I’ve seen many beautiful works. The installations, the hangings — very, very interesting, made out of metal and things like this. There’s a lot to be excited about. They were large works and they were new works, completely new, modern and a new way of thinking.”

Several of the younger generation of Eastern Province artists are also exhibiting in Riyadh.

Tara Aldughaither. (Supplied)

Among them is Tara Aldugaither, 34, who grew up in Dhahran and in 2020 founded Sawtasura — “voice of the image” — a community-based platform that collects and reimagines the musical histories of Arab women.

Another is Mohammad Al-Faraj, a 31-year-old from Al Ahsa whose work reflects his environment. His playful pieces regularly feature palm trees.

The Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale is being held in the city’s JAX district and runs until May 24.