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RIYAD: Inside the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall in Riyadh, multimedia works of art are displayed on the two floors of the venue on the theme of Takween, which means ‘form’ in Arabic, and its relation to the identity of each.
As part of Misk Art Week’s fifth release, which runs through December 5, artists from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, North Africa and the wider international community present art that re-enacts question identity – particularly how an individual’s social, historical and cultural backgrounds influence their past. , present and future.
From AI-produced video works to paintings, textile art and installations, the art on display aims, according to the Misk Art Institute, to provide a “critical platform for the creative community”, fostering the cultural dialogue and intellectual exchanges.
Upon entering the room, visitors are confronted with two dark figures by Saudi artist Filwa Nazer, made of black polyethylene industrial mesh and titled The Other Is Another Body (2021). The figures appear to keep the brightly colored woven woolen tapestry work hanging on a wall between them, titled Palm (1985), by American artist Sheila Hicks.
The works are part of Here, Now, the third in a series of the Misk Art Institute’s annual flagship exhibition, this time curated by British writer and curator Sacha Craddock alongside Misk Assistant Curators Nora Algosaibi and Alia Ahmad Al-Saud.
The exhibition, which features a mix of emerging and established artists and runs through January 30, 2022, is the first in the Saudi capital to showcase work by Saudi and international artists, including well-known Saudi artists. such as Manal Al -The Black and White Abstract Work of Dowayan, I am Here (2016), Ayman Yossri Daydban’s Tree House (2019) and Sami Ali AlHossein’s colorful abstract figurative works on canvas. There is also a painting by famous Sudanese painter Salah Elmur titled The Angry Singer (2015) and delicate floral designs by Korean artist Young In Hong from 2009.
Without a global narrative, the show invites the spectator to wonder, like the title of the exhibition, “why here and why now?” It encourages the visitor to reflect on works of art and the nature of identity in a reflective, personal and subjective way.
Upstairs is Under Construction, an exhibition by Misk Art Grant beneficiaries who come this year from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Algeria. The grant funds up to SR 1 million ($ 266,632) and has been distributed among the nine participating artists and collectives.
Basma Al-Shathry, Chief Curator at the Misk Art Institute, said: “This year’s Misk Art Grant exhibition, ‘Under Construction,’ explores how identity is seen as an emblem of growth, continuity and endless iterations of cultural representation throughout history. It has been a pleasure to bring together artists and designers from the Middle East and North Africa to approach the theme as a process of development, repetition, distortion and incompleteness in a time of synthesis, understanding and of promise for the future.
The works on display also respond to the theme of identity by focusing on how identity can be seen as a method of growth and renewal, as well as social and historical continuity, through the incorporation of cultural representations through the story.
One of the most poignant works is that of Emirati artist and designer Latifa Saeed’s Sand Room (2021), which features an assemblage of sand-covered glass panels in the shape of a cube that one can enter to observe the desert sand sediments that she collected in construction sites around Dubai.
“My research and work is always about transformation, whether it’s a city or its mentality,” Saeed told Arab News. “I started by building a Dubai sand archive because the sites from which I collected the sand we can no longer visit because they are now construction sites.
Saeed visited development sites in Dubai, and before construction began, she collected sand in the area and tagged it accordingly. She now has over 200 different types of sand from these regions.
“I archive, preserve and document the Dubai landscape, the topography and the material itself,” she said.
Near Saeed’s fascinating sand specimen hall is End of a School Braid by Emirati artist Afra Al-Dhaheri (2021) – a large installation of twisted, crimped off-white colored rope that hangs from the ceiling. In this play, Al-Dhaheri examines how hair can be seen as the keeper of memories, preserving not only time, but also cultural norms and heritage.
Sacred Spaces by Bahraini artist Noor Alwan (2021), a series of textile-based hanging tapestry works, also seeks to preserve personal and collective memories. Growing up, she watched her grandfather ritually draw hundreds of designs on paper – a tradition that stems from her childhood and that immersed her in a meditative process of rehearsing. Alwan recalls his trance-like process of artistic creation and compares it to a shared Arab collective practice – with elements reflecting the fascinating geometric shapes of Islamic art.
Moving Through the Rapidly Developing Digital Landscape is a captivating work by Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi, titled Beyond Language (2021), in which a poem by the late Saudi poet Muhammad Al-Thubaiti Poetry (1952-2011), titled Salutation to the Master of the Arid Earth, is transformed into a video work with sound via artificial intelligence. For the artwork, which captivates the viewer through its colorful abstract images – some resemble palm trees while others appear to be figures – Alsafi trained AI through data collection and machine learning to understand poetry and produce visual representations of each verse with the accompanying machine. makes sound.
“The first art form in the region and the way we connected with each other was through poetry,” Alsafi, an artist who studied computer science, told Arab News. “Al-Thubaiti, one of the pioneer Saudi poets, changed the way poetry was written and read. Everyone sees AI as robotics, but my vision, I want to see how we can make the machine more human so that it understands language, learns and develops works of art according to the artist’s vision. . I think artists can use AI as a tool to develop their work.
Finally, there is the second iteration of the works created in the Masaha residency program, located in the basement of Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall.
The program, which is part of the Misk Art Institute’s mission to support Saudi and international practitioners from all artistic disciplines in the research and production of new works through mentorship opportunities, can be viewed on the ground floor. Entitled HOME: Being and Belonging, the works of 10 visual artists from the UK, Guatemala, Morocco, India, South Korea and across Saudi Arabia examine questions of how a sense of belonging individual and collective, and nostalgia for its culture and heritage derives from its socio-cultural and ethnic origin. The works on display explore how our sense of belonging changes and transforms over time.
The residency offers international artists the opportunity to create works on site in Masaha over a three-month cycle. Many participating artists present their work for the first time in the Kingdom, once again demonstrating the Misk Art Institute’s broader goals of expanding Saudi Arabia’s cultural landscape through international creative dialogue.