JEDDAH: A popular Saudi art gallery is celebrating its 10th anniversary with the launch of a major new exhibition.
Athr Gallery, in Jeddah, on Thursday opened its latest showcase of creative talent titled “Out of Place.”
Founded in 2009 by Hamza Serafi and Mohammed Hafiz, Athr is an art project space that for the past decade has played a key role in building the contemporary art scene in the Kingdom. In doing so, it has provided a creative platform to display the works of emerging and established regional and international artists.
Speaking to Arab News at the opening of the new exhibition, Serafi said it felt like only yesterday when the gallery first opened its doors to the public, but he and Hafiz had always believed the venture would be a success.
“If you believe in something with a passion, if you really put your heart into it, believing not only in yourself but also the artists, it can heal a society and be of tremendous value to the community,” Serafi said.
Athr’s “Out of Place” display focuses on creative content inspired and developed when artists work in unfamiliar environments, and the exhibition also aims to promote the value of residencies for the development and well-being of artists.
In its publicity for “Out of Place,” which runs until March 23, Athr said: “The works presented are the outcome of each artist’s distinct and singular explorations during their time spent in different cities and environments. For some, it enables existing ideas to take unexpected form. For others, it can trigger a whole new set of concepts and processes.”
The six-week expo features the works of more than a dozen artists who participated in residency programs around the world, including: Bethanien, in Berlin; Al Mansouria Atelier at Cité Internationale des Arts, in Paris; Deveron Projects, in Huntly, Scotland; and Artists-in-Labs, in Zurich.
“We teach the value of not only the beauty in art, but also the importance of the idea,” said Serafi. “In the contemporary world of art, it is about the idea, and with that you learn to listen to the opinion of others while also developing your own.”
Athr attracts both local and international visitors and exhibitors.
Saudi artist Sarah Taibah has 70 illustrations on display at the city gallery in a collective piece titled “Mirsal: Unsent letters.”
Two years ago, while doing her art residency in Berlin, Taibah was inspired to collect unsent letters from broken-hearted individuals and turn them into drawings and illustrations.
“It’s international. Along with Saudi Arabia, there are letters from San Francisco, Barcelona, Berlin, all around the world,” she said. “It’s fascinating to me that heartbreak is so universal. It’s the same everywhere: I read a letter from Peru and it felt like I wrote it.
“My artwork is either a reflection of the text or from a particular object that the author said was significant in their relationship. I just found this project very refreshing,” Taibah added.
Through “Mirsal: Unsent letters,” Taibah has fused contemporary art with art therapy in the hope of offering to individuals the comfort of knowing they are not alone in their suffering.
As well as vast exhibition halls, Athr houses a visual arts bookshop, an outdoor rooftop terrace, plus food and coffee shops.
Serafi said Athr was also involved in mentoring up-and-coming artists. “I am very proud of our ‘Young Saudi Artists Program.’ It is an annual event that we hold showcasing the latest Saudi talent in the field of art. It is a semi-residential program where we develop their craft and work with them for six months prior to the exhibition.
“In 10 years, we have placed Saudi art in renowned international museums, as well as found a home in some very important private collections around the world. For that we are very happy,” Serafi added.