Saudi gallery celebrates 10th anniversary with new art exhibition

1 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Ali Khamg)
2 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Abdulaziz Alaquil)
3 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Abdulaziz Alaquil)
4 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Abdulaziz Alaquil)
5 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Ali Khamg)
6 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Ali Khamg)
7 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Ali Khamg)
8 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Ali Khamg)
9 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Abdulaziz Alaquil)
10 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Abdulaziz Alaquil)
11 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Abdulaziz Alaquil)
12 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Abdulaziz Alaquil)
13 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Abdulaziz Alaquil)
14 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Abdulaziz Alaquil)
15 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Abdulaziz Alaquil)
16 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo)
17 / 17
Athr Gallery’s ‘Out of Place’ expo runs through March 23 in Jeddah. (AN photo by Abdulaziz Alaquil)
Updated 09 February 2019
0

Saudi gallery celebrates 10th anniversary with new art exhibition

  • Athr Gallery attracts both local and international visitors and exhibitors

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.”

‘Unsent letters’
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.


How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption. (Supplied)
Updated 17 February 2019
0

How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

  • Western media mistaken in portraying app as a tool of repression, leading female journalist says

JEDDAH: Absher, the “one-click” e-services app launched by the Interior Ministry in 2015, is now regarded as the leading government platform for Saudi citizens, freeing them from bureaucratic inefficiency and endless queuing for everyday services.
However, in a recent New York Times article, the app was criticized as a “tool of repression” following claims by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and women’s rights groups.
Apple and Google were urged to remove the application from their devices over claims that it “enables abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”
In an official statement, the ministry rejected the allegations and said the Absher platform centralized more than 160 different services for all members of society, including women, the elderly and people with special needs.
The app makes electronic government services available for beneficiaries to access directly at any time and from any place in the Kingdom, the ministry said.
Absher allows residents of the Kingdom to make appointments, renew IDs, passports, driver’s licenses, car registration and other services with one click.
Many Saudis still recall having to queue at government agencies, such as passport control offices and civil affairs departments, for a variety of official procedures. Appointments could take weeks to arrange, with people relying on their green files, or “malaf allagi” — the 1980s and 1990s paper form of Absher that was known as the citizen’s “lifeline,” both figuratively and literally.
Hours would be spent as government departments ferried files back and forth, and if a form was lost, the whole transaction process would have to start again. As complicated as it was for men, women suffered more.
Muna Abu Sulayman, an award-winning strategy adviser and media personality, told Arab News the introduction of Absher had helped strengthen women’s rights.
Sulayman said she was disappointed at comments on the e-services platform being made abroad. “There are consequences that people don’t understand. It’s a very idealistic and naive way of understanding what is going on,” she said.
“The discussion on the guardianship law is internal and ongoing — it is something that has to be decided by our society and not as a result of outside pressure. We’re making strides toward equality and Absher is a step in the right direction,” she said.
“In a Twitter survey, I asked how many women have access to their guardian’s Absher. Most answered that they control their own fate. Men who don’t believe in controlling women gave them access to their Absher and that shows an increase in the participation of women in their own decision-making.”
Absher also provides services such as e-forms, dealing with Hajj eligibility, passport control, civil affairs, public services, traffic control, and medical appointments at government hospitals.
The platform is available to all men and women, and removes much of the bureaucracy and time wasting associated with nonautomated administrative systems.
On the issue of granting women travel permits, the law requires a male guardian to grant it through the portal, as well as for men under the age of 21.
Retired King Abdullah University professor Dr. Zainab M. Zain told Arab News: “I always had issues with my passport renewal as well as my children’s as they are both non-Saudi. For years it was risky not to follow up properly at passport control — you never knew what could happen, but now I can renew their permits by paying their fees online through Absher from the comfort of my home in Abu Dhabi.”
Ehsanul Haque, a Pakistani engineer who has lived in the Kingdom for more than 30 years, said: “Absher has helped tremendously with requests, such as exit and entry visas for my family and myself. I can receive approval within an hour whereas once it would’ve taken me days,” he said.
“The platform has eased many of my troubles.”
The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption.
In April, 2018, the ministry launched “Absher Business,” a technical initiative to transfer its business services to an interactive digital system.
With an annual fee of SR2,000 ($533), business owners such as Marwan Bukhary, owner of Gold Sushi Club Restaurant in Jeddah, used the portal to help manage his workers’ needs in his expanding business.
“There are many features in Absher that helps both individual and establishment owners,” he said. “I took advantage of the great features it provided, and it saved me a lot of time and trouble and also my restaurant workers. It’s a dramatic change. When Absher Business was launched last year, it organized how I needed to manage my workers’ work permits.
“Through the system, I could see the status of all my employees, renew their permits, grant their exit and entry visas, and have their permits delivered to my house or my business through the post after paying the fees. It saved business owners a lot of time and energy.
“I used to have to do everything manually myself or have my courier help. I believe it’s the government’s most advanced system yet with more features being added every now and then,” Bukhary said.
“Absher has eased our burden, unlike the old days when we needed to visit government offices and it would take four weeks just to get an appointment. One click is all it takes now.”