RIYADH: Stationed around Prince Faisal bin Fahad Arts Hall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, are numerous pop-up spaces selling artworks and handmade Saudi crafts. Hailing from across the Kingdom, these sleekly presented spaces constitute Misk Art Week’s marketplace, providing a platform for creative professionals across the country to grow their practices while also allowing international visitors to engage with Saudi Arabia’s growing art scene.
One artist has come from Al-Baha in the Kingdom’s Sarawat Mountains to showcase her work while another photographer has traveled from Jeddah. Other local craftsmen and women from around Riyadh smile warmly as they present their crafts — all of which reflect the traditional heritage of Saudi Arabia.
The theme of this year’s Misk Art Week is tradition, celebrating the richness of the Kingdom’s past and present heritage and culture.
“This year’s edition of Misk Art Week looks forward to celebrating art and artists, presenting rich artistic content for everyone,” Reeem Al-Sultan, CEO of Misk Art Institute, a nonprofit cultural organization under the Misk Foundation, established in 2011 by Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, said in a statement.
“It aims to stimulate and enhance cultural discussions in the region, providing the platform artists need to express themselves amidst the continuing success of the Institute’s programs in contributing to the development of the creative sector in Saudi Arabia and enriching artistic content and production through a range of programs.”
The annual week, now in its seventh outing, is taking place until Dec. 10 and has become a key moment in Saudi Arabia’s cultural calendar. The event features a dynamic program of exhibitions, talks, masterclasses, workshops, performances and also an art book fair. The latter constitutes its largest fair to date and features a range of art magazines and cultural books in both English and Arabic.
Several exhibitions are also being staged during the week. These include “Mirqab,” an exhibition that displays works by artists from Saudi Arabia and across the Arab world who explore the idea of rituals that transcend mere routines and become celebratory events on their own.
The exhibition is curated by Aram Alajaji.
“These rituals serve as a source of identity, continuity and a window into culture, uniting individuals across time and space through shared traditions and values,” the exhibition text states.
Highlights include Kuwaiti artist Farah Behbehani’s “Light Within the Heart” (2023) a mixed-media immersive installation made with hand-pierced paper, and a digital projection with audio recitation by Saudi singer Rotana Tarabzouni. The work was inspired by a poem by the 12th-century Persian philosopher Yahya ibn Habash Suhrawardi that explores the essence of divine light.
The work is additionally inspired by the geometric patterns employed in Islamic architecture.
Elsewhere, “The Infinite Now” (2022) is by Jeddah-based artist and poet Sara Abdu and explores, the artist explained to Arab News, “the simple act of creating a simple line. It is based on repetition, it is very ritualistic and I consider it a tool for documenting the infinite now.”
Positioned opposite “Mirqab,” artists can be found painting, drawing and sculpting throughout the week. A few steps away is a stage where musical and dance performances are taking place each night. Additionally, the Creative Forum, a talks program bringing together art professionals from the country and around the world, seeks to explore ideas relating to art creation and the art scene in the Kingdom.
Upstairs in the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall is an exhibition titled “Tracing the Absent,” celebrating the winners of the fourth Misk Art Grant, with a fund of one million Saudi riyals ($266,632) distributed among five artist from the Arab world.
As demonstrated by the theme of the exhibition, which centers on tradition, the 2023 participants were asked to reflect on notions of tradition, of an Arab’s society’s inherited rituals, practices, stories and ways of thinking, that have changed over time.
The Misk Art Grant recipients this year are Abdulla Buhijji, Hayfa Algwaiz, Hussain Alismail, Maisa Shaldan and Mohamed Almubarak.
In a structure outside the Prince Fahd Arts Hall stands “Tajalat,” an immersive experience converging art, technology and culture. The room, which features live moving projections of the works of 11 Saudi artists, is a wonder in itself, prompting visitors to stay, reflect on the art and experience the colors, lights and forms as they are projected onto the screens. Like Misk Art Week, this experiential exhibition also prompts a sense of community, uniting visitors from all backgrounds and cultures in a common moment of art appreciation.