‘From the East to the East’ art exhibition in Riyadh bridges Arab and Chinese cultures

An event titled “From the East to the East and the Selected Exhibition of Famous Arab Artists Visiting China” was held in the Palace of Culture. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 December 2022

‘From the East to the East’ art exhibition in Riyadh bridges Arab and Chinese cultures

  • Palace of Culture event features 40 works by Arab artists
  • Arab-Chinese music and dance fusion enthralls attendees

RIYADH: While bolstering trade ties and strategic cooperation during President Xi Jinping’s three-day visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and China have also prioritized cross-cultural exchange to help cement the diplomatic relationship.

On the sidelines of Xi’s visit, an event titled “From the East to the East and the Selected Exhibition of Famous Arab Artists Visiting China” was held in the Palace of Culture to showcase the work of Arab and Chinese artists and musicians. 

Sponsored by the Saudi Ministry of Culture, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the Arab League, in cooperation with the Saudi Ministry of Information, the event featured a traditional Ardah performance and a Chinese dance routine.

With the faint sounds of the Chinese musical strings of the zheng, the Arabic version of the string instrument, the qanun, and the oud, a trio of Saudi and Chinese performers created a unique fusion of sounds. 

Since 2009, more than 170 well-known artists from 21 Arab countries have been invited to visit the People’s Republic by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China. The artists turned what they saw, felt and thought into more than 500 paintings, sculptures and ceramic works.

The exhibition features 40 of these works by an assortment of Saudi, Libyan, Algerian, Palestinian, Egypian, Bahraini, Iraqi and Jordanian artists alongside works by Chinese artist who visited Arab countries. 

It features Chinese paintings of Manama and Amman, and one of an Egyptian man with a camel, decorated with colorful strings and bells, against the iconic backdrop of the Pyramids of Giza.

Influences of the ancient Silk Road were also evident in several of the artworks and large screens covering the walls showing Chinese and Arabic calligraphy and heritage objects. 

The exhibition was organized by Bauhinia Culture Holdings Limited, executed by China Arts and Entertainment Group Ltd., supported by the China Artists Association.

A live art show also took place, highlighting the distinctive architecture of the Great Wall of China and Diriya’s Salwa Palace. 

“I found similarities in the way rock and stone was used here and in my country,” Chinese painter Wang Haikun told Arab News. 

“These similarities prompted me to apply it to my side of the mural as a symbol of our unity.”

Talking movies… Saudi Arabia holds first film critic forum 

Updated 31 March 2023

Talking movies… Saudi Arabia holds first film critic forum 

  • Jeddah event organized to boost Kingdom’s industry 
  • Similar forums to be held in five other cities

JEDDAH: Leading film critics discussed the future of Saudi Arabia’s cinema industry at the first Film Criticism Conference held in Jeddah’s Al-Balad district.

The two-day forum was organized by the Saudi Film Commission in partnership with Jeddah’s Islamic Arts Biennale and focused on “Spirituality in Cinema.”

Those in attendance enjoyed workshops that introduced concepts related to media and cinematic awareness and stimulated reading films critically and objectively. 

Among the local and visiting critics sharing their expertise and opinions were Naminata Diabate, Associate Professor at Cornell University and Book Author of Naked Agency, Saudi Ruba Al-Sweel, a writer and researcher of arts and culture, Indian Dr. Syed Haider, lecturer in world cinemas and Portuguese Sergio Dias Branco, a film critic and Assistant Professor of Film Studies at the University of Coimbra.

One of the main guests at the forum who is visiting the Kingdom for the first time, American Joe Kickasola, Professor, Film & Digital Media, Director of the Baylor in New York Program told Arab News that the Saudi Film Commission plays a critical role in forming the whole possibility of film-making within Saudi Arabia.

“It is creating an opportunity, it is creating a framework. The most important thing for film artists is to know the possibilities; otherwise, it is constantly challenging or trying to figure things out, but when you have a higher organization, it will help you out to achieve your goal and that’s the role of the Saudi Film Commission,” he said.

Saudi art expert Al-Sweel presented her recent research of media theory, looking at how platform capitalism and network spirituality breed a specific cultural moment. 

She said: “There has always been brilliant independent attempts at creating a film community that strives to tell stories from a local vantage point — where depth of subject matter matches that of technical knowledge. 

“Now and with the support and structures of institutions such as the Film Commission, we can expect an avalanche of critical films to come out of the country and into the world over the next decade.”

Forums are also to be held in Riyadh, Buraydah, Abha, Tabuk and Dhahran for people interested in the film sector in the Kingdom and abroad, and who specialize in film criticism.

It will also invite academic bodies concerned with local and international cinematic studies and research and local, regional, and international media outlets concerned with the cinema movement in the Kingdom.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman project puts its focus on Al-Jubail Mosque

Updated 30 March 2023

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman project puts its focus on Al-Jubail Mosque

  • The initiative aims to increase public awareness about the importance of preserving historical mosques

RIYADH: Al-Jubail Mosque, which is three centuries old and is located in the center of Thaqif in Taif governorate in Makkah, is to be the focus of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Project for the Development of Historical Mosques.

The initiative aims at reviving the architecture of Al-Jubail Mosque and increasing public awareness about the importance of preserving historical mosques.

The area of the site will reach 310 sq. meters after renovation, while it will maintain its capacity for 45 worshippers.

The reconstruction of the mosque will utilize methods that maintain its main component, stones from the Sarawat Mountains, in addition to local wood which is to be used in ceilings, pillars, windows, and doors.

Following its refurbishment, the mosque will maintain its narrow openings, for which its unique architectural style is famous.

Originally built with juniper wood, which is known for its durability, Al-Jubail Mosque will be reconstructed using granite stones instead of cement to revive the old Sarat architectural style.

The second phase of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman project focuses on 30 mosques across the 13 regions of Saudi Arabia.

The renovation project strikes a balance between integrating modern and ancient building standards to achieve sustainability and development, while preserving the historical characteristics of the mosques.

Saudi companies specializing in old structures, along with engineers from the Kingdom, are involved in helping to preserve each mosque’s authentic architectural identity.

The project’s first phase involved the restoration of 30 mosques in 10 regions.

The project has four strategic objectives: restoring the buildings for worship and prayer; giving an urban authenticity to historical mosques; highlighting the cultural dimension of Saudi Arabia; and enhancing the religious and cultural status of the locations.

It also contributes to highlighting the cultural depth of the Kingdom by helping to preserve the country’s urban characteristics.

How Islamic customs complement local traditions during Ramadan across Saudi Arabia

Updated 31 March 2023

How Islamic customs complement local traditions during Ramadan across Saudi Arabia

  • The Kingdom’s 13 regions revive their own unique and beloved local habits and practices during the holy month 
  • Iftar gatherings include region-specific dishes, decorations and games, often involving the extended community

JEDDAH: For centuries, Muslims across the world have shared common traditions during the holy month of Ramadan stemming from Islamic practices, such as breaking their daylight fast with dates, water or laban, as was the Prophet Muhammad’s custom.

However, some local traditions, which are distinct to a particular nation or region, have found their way into the routines, feasts and celebrations that mark the holy month. Saudi Arabia, with its many diverse regions, is no different.

Every year, in the ninth month of the Islamic Hijri calendar, the Kingdom’s 13 regions, its hundreds of towns and cities, and more rural reaches will revive their own unique and beloved local habits and practices.

In the big cities, the streets are regularly packed with pedestrians and vehicles as shoppers race to make last-minute purchases, while devout worshippers find space amid the bustle for regular prayer and to read from the holy Qur’an.

Togetherness is an important theme of Ramadan, with families, friends and often whole communities gathering at long tables to share in the iftar feast each day after sunset in homes decorated with twinkling lights and lanterns.

The dishes served at these gatherings, and when important feasts take place, are often distinct to a particular local culinary culture and the availability of particular ingredients.

Traditional dishes at a southern table. (Supplied)

In Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, many members of the community will meet before Ramadan to share a last meal of familiar dishes that are uncommon during the holy month. The “ghabgah” is usually held on the night preceding Ramadan or a few days before.

During the month, the region’s popular dishes include balaleet (sweet vermicelli and eggs), asida (lump of dough made by stirring wheat flour into boiling water, sometimes with added butter or honey), samosas, and sago pudding.

Around the middle of the holy month in the Eastern Province and other parts of the Gulf region, children will dress in traditional clothing and go door-to-door in their neighborhood, singing songs in exchange for nuts and candy, in a tradition known as “gergean” or “knocking.”

A shopkeeper prepares an order for traditional sweets for a customer in the capital Riyadh on March 27, 2023, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP)

On the far side of the peninsula, in the western region of Hijaz, the dish exchange tradition is still alive today. “Al-to’ma” is a year-round custom where a plate is never returned empty. Everything from soups and samosas to traditional dessert delicacies such as qatayef, basboosa, or sago pudding is exchanged.

Many families also share subya, a drink made especially in Ramadan to quench one’s thirst, made from barley or bread soaked overnight with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, sugar and raisins, to give it its distinctive red color.

“It’s a family’s best kept secret,” Umm Khalid Mashady, a resident of Madinah, told Arab News.

Saudi men shop for traditional beverages during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in Riyadh. (AFP file)

“My husband takes pride in making the drink every year, and we share it with our neighbors, even those who moved away because that was the way back then. Many people prefer to buy it from stores today, but you’ll still find them following their family recipes.”

Mashady highlights the importance of family during Ramadan gatherings. “A Hijazi table is never without extra family involved,” she said.

“The calm before breaking our fast is common as every household is busy conducting their prayers or reading the holy book in the last hour before sunset, the golden hour. By doing so, even children pick up the habit and grow accustomed to it and will thus pass it down to their children after that.”

Foul (fava beans cooked to a mash) accompanied by tamees (a traditional bread baked in a tandoor) are also two popular staples on a Hijazi table that go hand in hand.

Workers preparing the traditional "Qatayef" sweets, a folded pancake filled with cream or nuts, at a shop in Riyadh. (AFP file photo)

Also common on Saudi dinner tables during Ramadan are dates of all shapes and colors, oats soup, meat and cheese samosas, luqaimat (fried dough), Vimto drink, and kunafa.

These gatherings are about more than just food, however. Games and other family activities are also important traditions. A carrom board, a tradition brought to the Kingdom decades ago from India, is often brought out after the meal and Taraweeh prayers, while others prefer to kick around a soccer ball.

Today, many young men and women like to gather after evening prayers to play baloot, a popular card game in the region, similar to the French Belote.


This Ramadan the Grand Mosque in Makkah has launched a welcome initiative for pilgrims and Umrah visitors arriving in Saudi Arabia.

The Grand Mosque has 120 areas for prayer and 12,000 containers of Zamzam water to help ensure a comfortable visit for pilgrims.

Souqs in Saudi Arabia are the best place to buy Ramadan essentials and to experience the hustle and bustle of the holy month.

Al-Balad is Jeddah’s oldest neighborhood, founded in the 7th century A.D., and is home to a plethora of some of the oldest traditional markets.

In the Kingdom’s central region, many male members of Najd families typically break their fast at their local mosque, where they arrive bearing dishes from home.

Foreign workers their fast during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at a park in Riyadh on March 27, 2023. (AFP)

The tradition is believed to have stemmed from the area’s remoteness and harsh environment, where lower-income families found it difficult to provide for their families.

More privileged families shared their meals and distributed them to the needy as part of the holy month’s custom of helping the underprivileged.

Though it might seem slightly different today, many believe that once people sit at the table together, it does not matter what social class they belong to because they are all equal.

A Saudi man offers Muslim pilgrims Zamzam water upon their arrival in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP file)

“It didn’t matter which family or clan you belonged to. The month brings forth its blessings and we share them with our family and others,” Umm Waleed, 72, a resident of Riyadh and native of Hail, told Arab News.

“Our grandmother taught us that in order to be blessed, we had to share. It does not matter where you are. Our Islamic teachings meshed with our local traditions (have) became an essential part of our community.”

Turning to the northern region, an area close to the border with Iraq and Jordan, many households share traditions with their neighbors, focusing on large gatherings of family and friends with children serving their elders throughout the evening.

Like subya in Hijaz, camel’s milk is a staple ingredient in several of the region’s dishes, such as tarshreeb (pieces of bread soaked in stock and meat), jareesh, al-mlehiya and thareed.

ALSO READ: Makkah’s historic Ramadan cannon remembered 8 years on

Moving toward the southwestern region of the Kingdom, many families have maintained the tradition of breaking their fast at mosques and only have proper meals after evening prayers once they have returned home.

A rifle round is traditionally fired to announce the call of Maghrib prayer in the areas high in the Asir mountains.

Across Saudi Arabia, Ramadan’s Islamic traditions complement local cultures and customs as the close-knit Saudi community prides itself in honoring old ways of celebration and incorporating new ones that fit well into an ever-evolving society.


Artificial intelligence cannot ‘substitute’ for human thought in translation process, Ithra session told

Updated 29 March 2023

Artificial intelligence cannot ‘substitute’ for human thought in translation process, Ithra session told

DHAHRAN: The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran has held a private session dedicated to the importance of translation in all forms of literature.

Expert translator Dr. Bassam Al-Bazzaz defined the future of the practice as one which is “based on human thought — artificial intelligence cannot be a substitute for it.”

He added: “I do not imagine a future without translation, or with translation made by an artificial intelligence machine.

“Humanity will continue to need translation as long as books are multi-sourced and authors are multi-origin.”

He noted that sometimes word-for-word translations did not do the text justice. For select passages it required the translator to dig deeper into the meaning or to expand on the line between the lines in order to fully capture the concept or feeling and accurately present what was said.

He added that the spirit of the words and the personality of the writer should not be lost in translation.

The session emphasized that to translate a book into a different language it should first be successful — and understood — by the people for whom it was originally written.

It should require concerted efforts of institutions and individuals and to showcase the translated work at festivals.

Translation should be respected as one of the channels of literature and the translator should look at the bigger picture.

They should not be merely a translator of words but rather a transmitter of cultures. The translated book must have the validity of the original book, with the same effectiveness and influence.

The participants in the session concluded that the consumer of translated books was likely to be either a passionate reader or a creative writer, especially since the act of translation — and the resulting work — instantly multiplied the reader’s cultural output and expanded the horizons of the writer.

Saudi Cabinet condemns Qur’an burnings, calls for rejection of hate 

Updated 29 March 2023

Saudi Cabinet condemns Qur’an burnings, calls for rejection of hate 

RIYADH: The Cabinet condemned burning of copies of the Qur’an and called for tolerance and respect and a rejection of spreading hatred and extremism, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Kingdom on Sunday strongly denounced the burning of the Qur’an by a Danish extremist group outside the Turkish embassy in Copenhagen.

King Salman  chaired the weekly government session at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah on Tuesday.