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DHAHRAN: A popular Arabic song by a legendary Saudi singer inadvertently became the inspiration for an entire art exhibition that debuted last year in Jeddah. For the first time, this exhibition is now housed in Dhahran, where original works of art serve as personalized portals of nostalgia that allow viewers to take a trip down memory lane to real or imagined destinations. The works will be exhibited at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra, for three months, where the exhibition opened on June 30.
The exhibition struggles with the simple but profound question: “What does the notion of place mean to you?” At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of one’s “makan,” or “place,” became a space of contemplation for some and a refuge for others. Some escaped to a place created by their imagination, and others used their physical surroundings to construct their idea of a place.
In a special treat for residents of Shargiyya in eastern Saudi Arabia, the works of 27 artists previously exhibited in Jeddah, in addition to the work of local artist Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, have been exhibited locally. The exhibition was created for the ninth edition of 21.39 by the Saudi Art Council, founded in 2013 by a group of local patrons and directed by Princess Jawaher bint Majed bin Abdulaziz.
21.39 Jeddah Arts is a non-profit initiative organized by SAC. Using the geographical coordinates of the city of Jeddah (21.5433°N, 39.1728°E), it seeks to make Jeddah the main destination for the contemporary art scene in the Kingdom. The 28th artist, artist Shargiyya and author Al-Soliman, has been added by Ithra for this iteration to pay tribute to a local pioneer in the Saudi art scene.
The exhibition was curated by Venetia Porter, a world-renowned expert in Islamic and contemporary art from the Middle East, and was originally presented at SAC Jeddah from March 3 to June 3, 2022. This is the first time that it is presented outside of its hometown.
“The ‘Amakin’ exhibition is inspired by the song ‘All the places long for you’ by Mohammed Abdu, which everyone knows. The exhibition started in Jeddah – it was an exhibition that included 27 artists – and each artist tells us, through the work they create, of a place that means something to them, whether it is a physical place or a place in the imagination,” Commissioner Porter told Arab News.
“I am very happy to speak to you today about our very special exhibition organized in Gallery 1 entitled “Amakin” in collaboration with SAC. “Amakin” means “spaces”, which corresponds perfectly to our current situation. Ithra is a very unique space in itself and for what it offers,” Farah Abushulaih, head of the Ithra museum, told Arab News.
The exhibition is almost like a collage of emotional houses, where emerging Saudi and international artists present their interpretation of a “makan” alongside works by pioneering artists, representing various generations and styles. The works range from photographs to mixed media.
One such artist is Jeddah-born Obadah Al-Jefri, who brought the pages of his sketchbook to life, creating a dialogue with his past and present self, with each giant page representing a different version of his perspective.
“My work examines my relationship with a sketchbook and how I found different parts of my identity in the pages of my sketchbook. The work itself feels like a collaborative effort between my present and my younger self , and I explore those themes and honor my younger self for pushing me to become an artist and pursue art professionally,” he said.
Badr Ali, another artist, started with paper and moved on to another medium, using printmaking techniques to transfer his ideas to screen printing and using the marks of the five places he frequents, physically or emotionally.
His family comes from Jeddah, a place that has inspired him a lot, but he also grew up in London, worked in Paris and currently lives in Berlin. His fascination with Florence also inspired him to explore these destinations and create a new visual experience. He created designs for each of these locations and combined them to create new locations.
“My work is based on drawings I have made in cities I live or have lived in and have a personal connection to. I have created a whole series of drawings in each of these places, about 100. In each of them, I record memories, feelings, thoughts and sensations. I chose the screen printing method as a means of creating or combining elements in each of these places”, he told Arab News.
The 19 Saudi artists are: Abdullah Al-Othman, Abdulhalim Radwi, legendary artist Safeya Binzagr, Reem Al-Faisal, Bashaer Hawsawi, Emy Kat, Mohammed Hammad, Obadah Al-Jefri, Sara Abdu, Badr Ali, Asma Bahmim, Hussein Al-Mohasen, Muhannad Shono, Lujain Faqerah and Shadia Alem.
The Shargiyya artists are: Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, Talib Al-Marri, Bader Awwad Al-Balawi and Manal Al-Dowayan.
The other nine non-Saudi artists are: Taysir Batniji and Sadik Kwaish Al-Fraji from Palestine; Aisha Khalid and Imran Qureshi from Pakistan; Dia Al-Azzawi, Ghassan Ghaib and Nazar Yahya from Iraq; Ali Cherri from Lebanon and Catalina Swinburn from Chile.