Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures

Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (SPA)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (SPA)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (SPA)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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CEO of the Ministry of Culture’s Theater and Performing Arts Commission Sultan Al-Bazie. (Supplied)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
Special Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
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The third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites. (Supplied)
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Updated 24 January 2024
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Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures

Abha festival in Saudi Arabia shines spotlight on world’s mountain cultures
  • Historic sites of the Kingdom hosting local, international dance performances
  • 20 Saudi groups and 25 international groups from countries like Argentina, Spain, Uganda, Mexico and Peru paraded through the streets

JEDDAH: A festival to celebrate the cultural heritage of the world’s mountain regions is leaving a mark on the landscape of Saudi Arabia’s Asir region.

Organized by the Ministry of Culture’s Theater and Performing Arts Commission, the week-long third Qemam International Festival for Mountain Performance Arts will run until Jan. 27 across eight archaeological sites, showcasing the rich tapestry of mountain performing arts and drawing visitors from around the world.

The festival’s opening day featured an outdoor carnival parade along Prince Sultan Road in Khamis Mushayt. A total of 20 Saudi groups and 25 international groups from countries like Argentina, Spain, Uganda, Mexico and Peru paraded through the streets, presenting more than 40 mountain styles in diverse and colorful costumes.

For centuries, mountainous cultures have maintained traditions in some of the world’s most isolated places, preserving distinctive linguistic and cultural heritage that is rarely seen or heard by wider society. The Saudi cultural extravaganza not only entertained audiences, but also provided a glimpse into some of the oldest traditional dances from around the world.

Following the parade, Sultan Al-Bazie, CEO of the commission, told Arab News: “At the Theater and Performing Arts Commission, we are committed to hosting high-quality cultural events. We firmly believe that the uniqueness of mountain performance arts is unique and internationally recognized.”

The festival, which in 2022 began as a local event for the Kingdom’s mountain regions — from Tabuk in the north to Jazan, Najran and Asir in the south — has evolved into an international platform, creating global cross-cultural dialogue.

The second edition of the festival involved 14 countries and featured 16 Saudi groups presenting traditional dances from across the Kingdom.

This year, in its third edition, the festival further increased the number of countries represented, covering almost all the world’s continents, the commission reported.

Abha, the first city in the Kingdom to win the Capital of Arab Tourism title in 2017, played a significant role in hosting the celebrations.

Al-Bazie said: “The main goal of this event is to draw comparisons between mountain performances around the world. We find many commonalities, whether in rhythms, performances or body movements. This cultural blend between world nations provides diversity, connecting different cultures and giving the Saudi audience in the Asir region a chance to experience performing arts from around the world.”

In the audience was well-known Bahraini YouTuber Omar Al-Farooq, also known as “Omar Tries.” He told Arab News: “Despite traveling to many countries and continents, this massive carnival parade made me realize how vast the world is with its diverse cultures and traditions. I am now excited to visit these countries and explore their arts further.”

He added: “The lively spirit of the Latin American performances was especially beautiful and engaging.

This year’s event features 13 Saudi folk performances from the Asir region, five from Al-Baha, three from Najran, one from Tabuk, one from Madinah, one from Taif and two from Jazan.

Mashari Aseery, a local father of two daughters, said: “The festival was incredible! The energy, the music, and the overall vibe were just amazing. It was such a great way to celebrate our local culture and showcase the performance arts of our ancestors.”

Another Abha local, Salma Al-Malki, who is studying fashion design, said: “I attended the festival for the first time this year, and I was blown away. The organizers did a fantastic job of bringing together a diverse range of performers and activities from around the world. The highlight for me was the fashion area, where I got to explore more about ancient fashion from across the globe.”

The opening night ended with a musical concert with Yemeni singer Fouad Abdulwahed and Lebanese singer Melhem Zein, who captivated a large audience with Lebanese songs and diverse dabke performances.

Dabke, a folklore dance popular across the Levant, and Lebanon in particular, involves performers — both men and women — forming a row, an arc or a circle. The first dancer leads the performance and guides the direction of the group, as well as displays extra motions that showcase his skill.

During the six-day festival, daily performances by 45 Saudi and international groups are taking place in eight heritage villages: Basta Al-Qabil, Shamsan Castle, Bin Adwan Heritage Village, Malik Historical Palace, Al-Mushait Palaces, Al-Abo Sarrah Palaces, the Castles of Abu Nuqata Al-Mutahmi and Bin Hamsan Village.

The villages are also hosting antique shops, live music performances, fashion displays, local food areas, art platforms, children’s activities and more.

The Qemam festival also features seminars and workshops on folkloric traditions, including the history of dabke, among other topics.

The festival has raised awareness of the theater and performing arts sector as a vital cultural field, and has also created job opportunities for talented people in the region.

The commission’s commitment to fostering international cultural exchange aligns with the goals of the National Cultural Strategy under the umbrella of Saudi Vision 2030.

The festival will conclude with a grand carnival parade and a closing musical concert.


‘Beauty is needed for your soul,’ Saudi artist Nasser Almulhim says

‘Beauty is needed for your soul,’ Saudi artist Nasser Almulhim says
Updated 30 May 2024
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‘Beauty is needed for your soul,’ Saudi artist Nasser Almulhim says

‘Beauty is needed for your soul,’ Saudi artist Nasser Almulhim says
  • The Saudi artist discusses societal shifts, art as therapy, and ‘putting it all out there’ 

DUBAI: The emerging Saudi artist Nasser Almulhim is an open book. A little over 10 minutes into our interview, Almulhim, speaking from his studio in Riyadh, admits to dealing with mental health issues, particularly depression. He copes, he says, by deep breathing, praying, walking barefoot on the grass, and getting in touch with his spiritual side. The topic arose when I asked about his childhood in Saudi Arabia, at a time when the country was much more restrictive.  

“I never confronted this question, because I always feared looking back at memories. It wasn’t an easy lifestyle for men or women,” Almulhim, who was born in 1988, tells Arab News. 

 'Balance' by Nasser Almulhim. (Supplied) 

Almulhim comes from a large family of four sisters and three brothers. They were raised in Riyadh’s Al-Malaz neighborhood, largely populated by an expat community of Sudanese, Egyptians and Jordanians, according to the artist. Interacting with people of different backgrounds enriched his upbringing.  

“My parents raised me well and taught me to respect people from a young age,” he says. “It was a very simple lifestyle. We didn’t have much, but my family provided us with safety and a good education. I studied in a public school and we were in the street a lot. We were playing football and we used to spray paint, just being rebellious, and the police would come,” he says. “Art was dead back in the day. It was haram.”  

Despite this, Almulhim, who enjoyed math and science as school subjects, was always sketching. “My parents saw something within me,” he says. It is also possible that Almulhim, who describes himself as a visual, nature-loving person, inherited his artistic sensibilities from his family. Almulhim says his grandmother was a poet, and his father was passionate about analog photography. 

The aritst's 'Distance is Near.' (Supplied)

“I believe he has an artistic side, but he is not embracing it,” he says. “He has a beautiful vision, even with the way he decorated the house. It came from someone who was vulnerable and sensitive.”  

During Almulhim’s high school years, he started to notice how ‘different’ he was as a Saudi, compared to other Arabs in the region. “We used to travel to Syria and Lebanon,” he recalls. “In Beirut, everyone was hanging out on the beach. People were doing their thing, and then I would come back to Riyadh, and it was the complete opposite. I would ask my dad, ‘Are we outsiders?’ And he would say, ‘There is a system. This is our tradition and culture.’ So I was always trying to do the opposite.” 

After graduating from high-school, Almulhim, who didn’t speak English at the time, travelled all the way to Sydney, Australia, to study intensive English courses, and later moved to the US to pursue a bachelor’s degree. “The funny part is, I went there to study engineering,” he says, adding that the men in his family were doctors or engineers. At university, he spent time with creative people studying music and theatre, and they noticed something about him.

 'Face Your Own Madness.' (Supplied)

 “They saw me reading books, sketching, playing the guitar, watching art documentaries, and going to museums. They were telling me to shift my major. It was a big deal for me and for my family as well. I shifted to study fine arts, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I felt light, I felt like myself,” Almulhim, who graduated with a degree in studio art from the University of West Florida, says.  

As reflected in his colorful paintings, Almulhim isn’t afraid of embracing his feminine side, something that stems from his close relationship with his sisters.  

“I always felt comfortable talking to them, even about sensitive topics, which I couldn’t talk to my parents about. There was a gap,” he says. But, it has invited criticism from male viewers. “With using pink, for example, I’ve had men ask me, ‘Why are you using pink? You’re a man.’” 

He says he wants to go “back to basics” with his painting, by appreciating beauty again.  

“In art, beauty is my greatest inspiration. The late Lebanese artist Etel Adnan said that, nowadays in the art scene, we’ve neglected the idea of beauty and we’re just focused on the conceptual,” he says. “People like distraction, which makes sense because we live in distraction. But I feel like beauty is needed for your soul, your physical self, and being nice to other people.” 

Nasser 'Gazing at The Sea Horizon.' (Supplied)

Almulhim fills his calming canvases, composed of floating geometric forms, with open spaces of color.  

“In painting, I like colors that bring happiness and might heal you. It puts you in a state of mind that doesn’t numb you, but makes you disconnect from the distraction around you. I always say that art is therapy for me. Part of it is, I feel like I’m escaping, maybe from some pain that I need to heal from, and part of it is that I’m confronting that pain,” he explains, adding that he hopes to one day pursue a doctorate degree in art therapy. His paintings also contain a psychological and spiritual element, creating a universe of his own, where he is “channeling the Higher Power, Allah, this great universe, this divinity that is outside and within us.”   

On June 6, Almulhim will open his new exhibition, “On In-Between,” at Tabari Art Space in Dubai. Through his new paintings, the artist is tackling the psychological stages of the subconscious, pre-consciousness, and consciousness.  

“I’m telling the audience that we have to understand this world to heal and to know ourselves,” he says. “Also, it’s fine to flow between these two or three fields. I’m telling you as a humble human being, I am all of these things: My chaos, my order, my vulnerability, my beauty, my ugliness. I’m putting it all out there.”  

Almulhim is also driven at this stage of his career by collaborating with fellow artists in the Arab region. He would like to set up art-residency exchanges, where artists from Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan can work in his Riyadh space, and vice-versa. He says it was the ongoing tragedy in Gaza that sparked this idea.  

“I’m an artist, but, above that, I’m a human being,” he says. “How can I help? How can I contribute? How can we learn from each other as Arabs and as citizens of the globe? I feel in our region, we are in need of this unity.” 


HIGHLIGHTS: Rana Al-Mutawa’s exhibition ‘Everyday Life in the Spectacular City’ 

HIGHLIGHTS: Rana Al-Mutawa’s exhibition ‘Everyday Life in the Spectacular City’ 
Updated 30 May 2024
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HIGHLIGHTS: Rana Al-Mutawa’s exhibition ‘Everyday Life in the Spectacular City’ 

HIGHLIGHTS: Rana Al-Mutawa’s exhibition ‘Everyday Life in the Spectacular City’ 

DUBAI: The exhibition, which runs until July 4 at Dubai’s Kutubna Cultural Center, features images from Rana Al-Mutawa’s book of the same name, which is subtitled “Making Home in Dubai.”

‘Flanerie’ 

The exhibition is billed as an “urban ethnography that reveals how middle-class citizens and longtime residents of Dubai interact within the city’s so-called superficial spaces to create meaningful social lives.”  

 

‘Fountains’ 

In her book, Al-Mutawa argues that Dubai’s often-spectacular (at least in size) buildings, though regularly criticized as superficial and soulless, in fact “serve residents’ evolving social needs, transforming (these spaces) into personally important cultural sites,” perhaps disproving “stereotypes that portray Dubai’s developments as alienating and inherently disempowering.” 

 

‘A Sense of Belonging’ 

In a press release, Al-Mutawa says that the work is an attempt to show that “superficial” places are “important cultural sites: ones where social and gender norms are observed and negotiated.” She adds: “I hope (the work) can generate debate about how to go about understanding these places without repeating the stereotype about inauthentic Gulf cities.” 


Saudi animation on pandemic-era worship in Makkah draws praise in Cannes

Saudi animation on pandemic-era worship in Makkah draws praise in Cannes
Soraya Al-Shehri, Nabila Abu Al-Jadayel, Kariman Abuljadayel, and Salwa Abuljadayel. (Supplied)
Updated 27 May 2024
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Saudi animation on pandemic-era worship in Makkah draws praise in Cannes

Saudi animation on pandemic-era worship in Makkah draws praise in Cannes

JEDDAH: Saudi film “Wa Isjod Wa Iqtareb” (“Prostrate and Draw Near”) won the “Animation That Matters” award during the Animaze Animation Day event at Marché du Film, the industry networking section of the Cannes Film Festival.

Directed, produced, and written mother-daughter duo Suraya Al-Shehry and Nabila Abuljadayel, the film was created via production company Suraya Productions and explores the period of time during the COVID-19 pandemic when cleaning staff replaced the usual mix of international worshippers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

The film integrates traditional art and 2-D animation, but it is its subject matter that makes it unique, according to Al-Shehry.

“In the history of cinema, there has been a noticeable lack of films focusing on Makkah and the Holy Mosque, particularly in the realm of animation. Collaborating with my daughter … on our short animated film has brought me immense joy and a profound sense of fulfilment,” she said.

She added that the film portrays a significant moment in global and Islamic history by showcasing the Grand Mosque devoid of pilgrims, with the exception of the cleaning and maintenance staff who had the unique opportunity to pray there during the pandemic when no one else could.

Abuljadayel reflected on the nearly two-year project, saying: “For me, the best reward was the chance to collaborate with my mother, an experience that transcends any accolade.”

She emphasized that receiving the award aligned with the film’s core message of celebrating shared humanity.

“I firmly believe that what comes from the heart resonates with others, whether expressed through animation or my artwork, and the greatest testimony of that is the success of this film,” she said.

The creative duo seem to be keen to continue their success, with another project scheduled for completion next year.

 


Ancient castles in Sabya governorate reflect architectural heritage

Ancient castles in Sabya governorate reflect architectural heritage
Updated 25 May 2024
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Ancient castles in Sabya governorate reflect architectural heritage

Ancient castles in Sabya governorate reflect architectural heritage
  • The Sabya Archaeological Castle has origins that date to the early 20th century

RIYADH: The Sabya governorate in the Jazan region is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders, each with its own unique story.

Among these is the Sabya Archaeological Castle, whose origins date to the early 20th century. The castle, steeped in history, is a must-visit for any archeology enthusiast or researcher.

The castle is situated near Sabya Avenue, within King Fahd Park. It is part of the present city of Sabya, which offers a view of Wadi Sabya. 

The Sabya Archaeological Castle, an architectural marvel, boasts spacious rooms with high ceilings and thick walls. The walls, adorned with beautiful geometric and floral patterns, are a testament to the skill of the craftsmen who built them.

Local materials such as volcanic stone, wood, and limestone were used during construction. Some accounts suggest that the clay used in making bricks was sourced from the banks of Wadi Sabya.

The use of volcanic stones of various sizes and shapes in particular gives the castle a unique and captivating beauty. The stones were obtained from volcanoes near the city, including Jabal Akwa, located a short distance northeast of Sabya.

The mosque, situated north of the castle, was also constructed using the same building materials as the castle and other structures in the area. It was intended for prayers and gatherings of religious leaders, dignitaries, and the people of Sabya. Its mihrab, or prayer niche, still stands despite some damage.

Some accounts suggest the presence of remains of other buildings in the vicinity of the castle, opening the possibility of conducting archaeological excavations to reveal more secrets about this site.

The Kingdom’s Heritage Commission is diligently working to preserve the Sabya Archaeological Castle, recognizing its significance as one of the most important archaeological sites in the Jazan region.


Artist captures Saudi charm with digital works

Artist captures Saudi charm with digital works
Updated 25 May 2024
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Artist captures Saudi charm with digital works

Artist captures Saudi charm with digital works
  • Ghada Al-Shammari says art can be a means to showcase nation’s rich heritage

RIYADH: Timeless Arabic songs and heartfelt poetry provide the inspiration for Ghada Al-Shammari’s digital art, which showcases the Kingdom’s culture and society.

Al-Shammari's first artwork in 2017 was inspired by a popular Saudi song by Majed Al-Esa called “Hwages,” which means “concerns” in English.

The music video provided a comment on society by using satire, showcasing women driving cars, skateboarding, and playing basketball — activities that at the time were not easily accessible for women.

“I liked how they portrayed women in the traditional Saudi abaya, which motivated me to draw it,” Al-Shammari told Arab News.

For one of her artworks Al-Shammari was inspired by a poem by literary icon Prince Badr bin Abdul Mohsen and popularly performed by the late Saudi singer Talal Maddah.

The drawing depicts a man glancing at a woman who has her eyes downcast, with an oud instrument between them, and the 1980 song title “Forgive Me” written in Arabic text above the illustration.

The Saudi artist said that she tries to capture the poet’s feelings with her artwork, adding: “Romantic songs with descriptions of the poet’s beloved have been particularly inspiring for me.” 

Al-Shammari draws inspiration from the beauty within the Kingdom’s culture. Many of her artworks depict women wearing traditional Najdi-style dresses and gowns with draping silhouettes and glimmering gold headpieces and turbans.

The men are depicted with striking features and wearing traditional garments like the head coverings called ghutra or shemagh, and bisht, the men’s cloak commonly worn in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

“Saudi culture and traditions have significantly impacted my work. Growing up, I used to think of Saudi Arabia as just what was around me in terms of environment, customs, and traditions,” Al-Shammari said. 

When she moved from her hometown of Hafar Al-Batin to the capital Riyadh, Al-Shammari said her friendships and acquaintances showed her a new world of ideas that elevated her artistic vision. 

She added: “They shared stories about their region, important landmarks, and fascinating tales that were unique to their areas. This motivated me to learn more about my country and enjoy drawing the diversity and differences I discovered in my artworks.

“Saudi Arabia is full of exciting things, and its diversity is what fascinates me the most. Each region has its own heritage, traditions, architecture, and unique dialect, which makes me eager to learn more and create works that reflect this beautiful diversity.”

Al-Shammari said she selects particular color combinations to evoke the emotions she aims to convey, opting for brighter colors for her cheerful and vibrant works. 

Al-Shammari graduated from the College of Arts and Design at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.

She added: “Through this specialization, I discovered many artistic and historical aspects, learned about various artists, and got to understand their ideas and philosophies, which transformed my perspective of my work.”

Her love of art began as a child when she would draw characters from her favorite anime and cartoons.

“I started focusing on drawing from an educational perspective at the age of 12 through YouTube tutorials on drawing anime and cartoons, which sparked my artistic journey,” Al-Shammari said.

She added that art is important as it showcases the cultural aspect of a country and its heritage, conveying its history and traditions that help define life in the past and present.

She said: “It serves as a way to preserve and transmit this heritage from one generation to the next, seeking to document knowledge and memories.

“Additionally, from an economic standpoint, art is considered a means to attract tourists interested in discovering the country and its civilization.”

For more information on the artist, visit her Instagram @gh.oi.